By Leslie Kelly

Imagine drinking a glass of milk poured from a can. Sounds yucky, right? But when evaporated milk was introduced back in the 1920s, it was a lifesaver for folks without refrigeration. That it and its sweet cousin, condensed milk, are still popular speaks to the products' versatility. We're going to break down the backstory and offer tips on how to use it in this canned milk primer.

Evaporated Milk vs. Condensed Milk

A Brief History of Evaporated Milk

Before refrigeration was widely available, fresh milk was delivered daily. The arrival of canned milk was a much-heralded convenience. Surprisingly, its invention has been connected to Prohibition -- the dark era in our nation's history when alcohol was illegal. A shuttered brewery was looking for another way to stay open, so it switched over from producing beer to making and canning evaporated milk.

What is Condensed Milk?

Years later, evaporated milk was followed up with a sugar-sweetened cousin known as condensed milk. It remains a staple for bakers around the globe.

Photo by Meredith

How Canned Milk is Made

To make evaporated milk, fresh, homogenized milk is heated to a simmer until the liquid is reduced by 60 percent through evaporation, a common technique used by chefs when making sauces. The result is a milk that has a rich, creamy texture and a concentrated level of nutrients, especially calcium and Vitamin D. Cooking the milk breaks down the proteins known as casesin, which makes the evaporated product less likely to curdle when used in recipes.

Condensed milk follows the same slow-cook process, but there's also sugar in the mix, so it becomes thick and caramelized.

Substitutions and DIY

If you don't have evaporated milk available, it's possible to substitute a cup of light cream. Or you can make your own: Evaporated milk, as the name suggests, simply involves simmering milk -- whole or reduced fat -- until the liquid has been reduced 60 percent. The homemade evaporated milk should be cooled in the fridge before use in most recipes. It can be stored in an airtight container for up to 10 days.

If you don't have sweetened condensed milk, you can make your own using evaporated milk, or you can substitute this mixture: bring 3/4 cup white sugar, 1/2 cup water, and 1- 1/8 cups dry powdered milk to a boil and cook, stirring frequently, until thickened, about 20 minutes.

Photo by Leslie Kelly

How to Use Evaporated Milk

Its velvety quality makes evaporated milk the "secret" ingredient in many sauces. It makes the creamiest macaroni and cheese, fluffs up mashed potatoes and turns soup extra spoon-able without the heaviness of cream. It's the cornerstone of many puddings, including flan, frosting and fudge. Pumpkin pie wouldn't exist without it.

How to Use Sweetened Condensed Milk

Sweetened condensed milk is a must for many crave-worthy Magic Cookie Bars, cakes -- hello, Tres Leches! It's what gives Thai Iced Tea its creamy sweetness, and forms the foundation for the decorative icing known as fondant. It likes to party in the winter, turning snow into Sweetened Condensed Milk Ice Cream.

Photo by footballgrl16

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