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There is a Difference Between Sweetened Condensed Milk and Evaporated Milk

You're in the middle of trying a new recipe and you realize you're out of milk. What to do? Deep in the back of your pantry, you have two red, white and blue cans of milk. Which one do you grab?

Before you make that decision, you need to know the difference between sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk. Both can get you out of a tight spot if you run out of milk in the refrigerator, but they can both also be useful in all kinds of different recipes.

The Difference Between Sweetened Condensed Milk and Evaporated Milk

Both types of canned milk are concentrated whole milk, heated to remove around 60 percent of the water content. That's where the evaporated in evaporated milk comes from. And Both kinds of milk are pasteurized and shelf stable, which means they don't require refrigeration.

But condensed milk has one main difference: sugar. Condensed milk is made up of about 40 to 45 percent sugar. While the can says sweetened condensed milk, you can safely assume that all condensed milk is sweet, because otherwise it would simply be evaporated milk, which is always unsweetened.

Evaporated milk can be used anywhere you would use regular milk. Remember, it's concentrated, so to replace one cup of fresh milk, use a half cup evaporated milk and a half cup of water. Evaporated milk can be used with high heat and it won't curdle, which makes it perfect for savory dishes that need a creamy texture. Use it instead of milk or heavy cream in sauces, pudding, in your slow cooker or Instant Pot, and for coating meat, fish, poultry and vegetables before breading. Try it in creamy pasta dishes like mac and cheese or in a potato gratin, too.

Sweetened condensed milk, because of the high sugar content and caramelized flavor, is excellent in a variety of desserts. It's a key ingredient in key lime pie, fudge, tres leches cake, and cheesecake, and sweetened condensed milk is also great in cakes, pies, and bar cookies of all kinds.

Dulce de leche is a caramel sauce that you can use on pretty much anything (or nothing; we won't tell if all you need with dulce de leche is a spoon). The easiest way to make dulce de leche is to use a can of condensed milk. You can boil the unopened can in a pan of water, but that's dangerous since the can might explode if the water in the pan boils off. Better to pour the condensed milk into a pie pan, set the pie pan inside a roasting pan that has an inch or two of water in it, and bake in the oven for about an hour and a half or until the milk is brown and thick.

Because of its long shelf life and multiple uses, sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk is good to keep around, just in case. Just make sure you know the difference between the two!

Watch: Out of Brown Sugar? Here Are Our 6 Favorite Substitutions