From pumpkin pie to cake frostings, there are plenty of recipes out there that call for a can of evaporated milk. Even some drinks and smoothies call for this odd ingredient, but if you didn’t know you were going to need evaporated milk it’s easy to miss this one ingredient and still have everything else.
Fortunately, there are a lot of good substitutes to choose from, including some vegetarian and vegan options!
Here’s what you need to know about evaporated milk and the common substitutes for it!
What Is Evaporated Milk?
Evaporated milk is exactly what it sounds like. It’s normal whole milk that has had a significant amount of moisture evaporated off to concentrate the non-moisture content of the milk. It's usually evaporated to 60% water content, which means that the milk is a lot thicker and sweeter, with a higher concentration of milk fats, lactose, other sugars, and other components.
Heating the milk to evaporate it can also make the sugars convert into a sweeter form, which is part of why evaporated milk has such a distinct flavor and texture.
What Role Does Evaporated Milk Serve In Your Cooking And Baking?
Evaporated milk is typically used in baking and desserts, where it provides sweetness, helps to create a smoother texture, and also provides moisture and some fats. It can help reduce how much butter or oil you need in a recipe and also takes the place of some of the sugar so that you don’t have to worry about too many sweeteners making the dish crunchy or grainy.
Evaporated milk is also sometimes used in soups, salad dressings, or added to coffee, tea, and smoothies. In all of those uses it’s a sweeter, richer tasting alternative to milk or cream. That can be important in soups and similar uses because the thicker texture helps stop the milk from thinning out the soup too much.
Properly evaporated milk has an almost gravy-like texture, which means it’s a good option for already thickened soups when you don’t want to have to evaporate off excess moisture.
Still not sure how evaporated milk is used? See for yourself in these recipes that use evaporated milk!
The Top Evaporated Milk Substitutes For Home Use:
There are a lot of potential substitutes for evaporated milk, but a fair number of them will take a little extra time and effort to make them work. Be prepared to spend a little more time on your recipe if you’re substituting evaporated milk. And remember, the extra effort is well worth your time!
Whole Milk – Evaporate Your Own!
One of the easiest and most effective ways to substitute evaporated milk is just to make your own! Whole milk is usually the best option when you’re making your own evaporated milk, but you can use other varieties as well if you’re looking for a low-fat alternative.
Just be warned that 1% and 2% milks won’t thicken quite as much as whole milk, so you might still end up with some excess moisture in your recipe. Reduce the amount of evaporated milk and increase the amount of sugar slightly to make 1% or 2% evaporated milk work.
One important thing to remember when you are making this substitution is that you don’t want to let your milk boil while you’re evaporating, and you will need to stir the milk relatively frequently. Get it just hot enough to be steaming well, and then try not to let the heat increase from there.
You should also let your freshly evaporated milk cool off for a while before you add it to your recipe. It should be no warmer than room temperature when you incorporate it into your cooking unless you're adding it to a hot beverage! You can put your evaporated milk into the refrigerator to help it cool off.
Heavy cream is actually a pretty good substitute for evaporated milk. It has a similar ratio of fats and moisture, though heavy cream usually isn’t as sweet as evaporated milk. The intense milky flavor from evaporated milk is easy to get from cream though!
Plain heavy cream is also friendlier for people who are doing keto or similar diets.
If you want to add sweetness, you can add a little sugar. However, it’s important to stir the cream thoroughly to dissolve the sugar into the cream to avoid graininess.
Alternatively, you can also use honey, maple syrup, agave, or other liquid sweeteners to get the taste and texture of evaporated milk from cream, without having to worry about getting sugar to dissolve.
Half-and-half is another good option, and better than substituting heavy cream for people who want to avoid adding too much fat into their diet. This option is still going to be slightly more liquid than most evaporated milk, so you might want to evaporate it down the same way you can evaporate milk yourself.
Alternatively, you can just slightly reduce how much half and half you’re adding, so you’re not adding quite as much half and half as the recipe calls for. Or, add a thicker sweetener like honey or agave, and then measure how much you need, since that will help thicken it.
Powdered milk is one of the easiest substitutes you can make since all you need to do to make an evaporated milk substitute is to mix the powdered milk thicker than the recipe calls for.
To get a similar texture to evaporated milk, mix about twice as much powdered milk as normal into your pre-measured water. Test the mixture to see if it’s thick enough, and adjust as needed. It’s okay to add a little more water or a little more powdered milk until you’re satisfied with the taste and texture of the finished product.
Powdered Milk + Sugar
If you want to make your powdered milk evaporated milk substitute even closer to the real thing, add just a little sweetness. Powdered milk still contains the milk sugars like fresh milk, but they often don’t taste as sweet or as prominent once you’ve rehydrated the milk.
So, to overcome that problem, add a small amount of sugar, or even better, brown sugar, honey, or maple syrup until you’re satisfied with the taste and texture of the mix.
Make sure to re-measure your evaporated milk substitute before you add it to the recipe, since adding a sweetener will likely increase the volume slightly and you don’t want to add too much by accident.
Coconut Milk or Cream
Coconut milk is another great evaporated milk substitute in part because it already has a very similar texture and sweetness. This is probably the easiest substitute to make since all you need to do is make sure the coconut milk isn’t separated and then measure out the right amount.
You can replace evaporated milk with coconut milk 1:1. You can add honey or another sweetener if you want to make the coconut milk sweeter, but you don’t need to.
Plus, coconut milk is a great vegan alternative to evaporated milk. It’s also a safer option for people who are lactose intolerant or otherwise sensitive to dairy products.
Coconut milk also works particularly well as a substitute for evaporated milk in these 25 Indian Desserts recipes!
Soy milk is another good alternative and is one of the better vegetarian/vegan milk substitutes for evaporated milk because it tends to be either similar to milk texture, or slightly thicker.
You will want to evaporate the soy milk before adding it, using the same process as whole milk. The process is actually a little quicker with soy milk though, since it tends to have more natural thickeners in the milk.
However, plain soy milk is usually less sweet than regular milk. So, you’re actually better off using sweetened vanilla soy milk. You might be able to omit the vanilla extract in your baking when you make this switch, which can make baking even easier!
Nut milks are another good alternative, though the type of nut milk you choose can have a big impact on how thick the milk starts. If you are making your own nut milk you can use more of the nuts to get a thicker starting milk.
Or, like all the other milks on this list, you can evaporate the milk yourself at home.
Just remember that nut milks are going to have a slightly different taste profile. Like soy milk, you might be better off adding some sweetener, and maybe even a little vanilla to get the taste and texture you’re looking for.
Alternatively, you can also reserve some of the nuts used to make nut milk, blend them into a nut butter, and combine the two to create something similar to evaporated milk. The result will be higher in protein than normal milk, but it’s important to use unsalted nuts because the added sodium will mess with your results.
Rice milk is another good alternative, and often has more of an authentic milky taste compared with the other vegan and vegetarian alternatives. However, it’s also thinner than nut milks, soy milk, or even oat milk.
That means that you will either need to make your own rice milk and make it much thicker/stronger than usual, or that you'll need to spend some extra time evaporating a large amount of rice milk down into evaporated milk.
You can also thicken it with coconut cream or regular milk cream, and then sweeten it to something similar to evaporated milk, but since both coconut cream and milk cream can also be used as evaporated milk substitutes on their own, doing that adds extra steps.