The 5 Best Substitutes for Evaporated Milk

Because who wants to go back to the store when you only need one can?

September 29, 2021
Photo by Bobbi Lin

It’s a classic recipe blunder: You’ve assembled your mise en place, preheated the oven, even carefully buttered and floured the pan. Then, you see it: “one cup of evaporated milk.”

It was right there in the ingredients list the whole time, of course, but you’re definitely just seeing it for the first time now. You poke around the pantry in hopes you’ll get lucky. While you do find four cans of pumpkin, six cans of garbanzo beans, condensed milk, coconut milk, AND powdered milk, there’s no evaporated milk to be found. What now? Go back to the store? Uh, no thanks. If you’ve already cooked the pasta and started the bechamel sauce for ultra-creamy macaroni and cheese, you’re not going to stop now. If you’ve had your heart set on baking ice cream or a mud cake, the craving isn’t just going to go away because you’re out of evaporated milk. Abandon the recipe and make something else? Less than ideal.The answer: none of the above, because there are actually plenty of substitutes for evaporated milk.

First, you need to know what you’re replacing.

What Is Evaporated Milk?

Evaporated milk is canned, shelf-stable, highly concentrated (typically 2 percent) milk. It’s often used in recipes like pumpkin pie and tres leches cake. To make the product, about 60 percent of the water is evaporated from cow’s milk, after which the liquid is canned and heat-sterilized. This process makes the milk shelf-stable for months, sometimes even years. Technically, when mixed with 1 ½ parts water, one part evaporated milk can be reconstituted into the proportional equivalent of regular milk.

Evaporated Milk vs. Condensed Milk

You may think that these two shelf-stable canned milk products are one in the same, but they’re not. Both condensed milk and evaporated milk are types of concentrated milk, but that’s where the similarities end. The main difference between evaporated milk and condensed milk is that the latter has lots of added sugar, making it a naturally (or unnaturally, depending on how you want to look at it) sweet product. That’s why you can easily drizzle a can of condensed milk over magic layer bars or use it for quick-cooking chocolate fudge. There’s very little legwork needed when cooking or baking with condensed milk.

On the other hand, evaporated milk is unsweetened, so you wouldn’t want to substitute one for the other, as it can greatly affect how sweet your recipe will taste.

Five substitutes for evaporated milk

1. Regular Milk

Unsurprisingly, the milk you already have in the fridge will be a fine substitute for evaporated milk—with a bit of tinkering. For the most foolproof evaporated milk substitute, make your own: Into a saucepan, place approximately 60 percent more milk than called for in the recipe, bring it to a boil, and gently reduce it until the desired amount is reached. Cool the mixture, then move on with the recipe.

So for example, if a recipe calls for one cup of evaporated milk, you’d need to use about 1⅔ cups of regular whole, 2 percent, or skim milk.

2. Non-Dairy Milk

Although you can find vegan evaporated milk made with coconut milk in some specialty grocery stores, you can also make your own dairy-free substitute for evaporated milk. Follow the above method with non-dairy milk like soy, rice, oat, or almond milk instead of cow’s milk.

3. Half and Half

Good news: you can substitute half-and-half for evaporated milk! Half and half’s thicker consistency is similar to evaporated milk, and can easily be used as a substitute in recipes. Your end result may be a bit richer, but who will be mad at that?

4. Heavy Cream

Ditto for cream—again, the fattier liquid will make the recipe turn out richer than if you’d used evaporated milk, but it won’t be bad. If you happen to have both cream and regular milk on hand, mix together half cream and half milk and use that as a substitute. That’s also how you make a quick and easy substitute for half-and-half!

5. Powdered Milk

In the unlikely chance you have powdered milk somewhere in your kitchen, you can also rehydrate the powder into evaporated milk—that’s not even really a substitute. Simply add 60 percent of the amount of water called for to reconstitute the product into regular milk, and you’ll be good to go. This is the closest alternative to using evaporated milk, but it also uses a less-common pantry ingredient so feel free to try out one of the more conventional swaps.

Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments below.
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Rebecca Firkser is the assigning editor at Food52. She used to wear many hats in the food media world: food writer, editor, assistant food stylist, recipe tester (sometimes in the F52 test kitchen!), recipe developer. These days, you can keep your eye out for her monthly budget recipe column, Nickel & Dine. Rebecca tests all recipes with Diamond Crystal kosher salt. Follow her on Instagram @rebeccafirkser.


Kimberly C. November 24, 2020
Thank you for the info. Saved me a dreaded trip to the store a day before thanksgiving.. Eric K. and Smaug Thank you for the laughs your banter was great!!!
Diane November 23, 2020
Enjoyed the comments. Back to Rebecca's question: coconut milk (not the "light" version) but be sure to mix it well before measuring.
SandraH February 17, 2020
Just have to say these are the best comments! Smaug and Eric K, you made me laugh! Thought I was cool. Now wish I was Kewl or even Kuwel, with a capital K.
AntoniaJames February 11, 2020
I always have powdered milk on hand because it's indispensable for making great homemade yogurt. Plus it improves many bread recipes. ;o)
Eric K. February 11, 2020
Love that tip! Thanks, AJ.
Christinaa1 December 7, 2021
Hi AntoniaJames that sounds interesting I would always like to have bread making tips would you have a recipe I could try ☺️
Christinaa1 December 7, 2021
Hi AntoniaJames that sounds interesting I would always like to have bread making tips would you have a recipe I could try ☺️
Smaug February 11, 2020
Powdered milk is a good substitute (and you really should have some if you bake or make ice cream much- it keeps). I would be leery of the others, as milk proteins will bond with water molecules when cooked, having considerable effect on the result- substituting fat or non dairy won't have at all the same effect.
AntoniaJames February 11, 2020
Smaug, how do you use it in ice cream? Thanks! ;o)
Smaug February 11, 2020
Just as an add in- most of the science of ice cream making is about tying up water molecules so that they won't form large ice crystals when frozen. Using milk proteins is one way this is accomplished- cooking the milk/cream is part of this, and longer cooking will increase the effect. Additionally, some ice cream and sherbet recipes call for adding powdered milk to increase the available milk protein.
Eric K. February 11, 2020
Kewl. Didn't know that!
Smaug February 12, 2020
Did you know that crocodiles have upwards of 60 teeth, yet they don't chew their food? What on earth does "Kewl" mean?
Eric K. February 12, 2020
It's how cool kids say "cool"—catch up!

How about this: Did you know that penguins propose with rocks? They sift through piles of stones in search of the perfect pebble to present to their mate.
Smaug February 12, 2020
My life has been an ongoing quest to avoid catching up with the kuwel kids. Watch it or I'll tell you about capibaras.
Eric K. February 12, 2020

Obviously tell me everything you know about capybaras.
Smaug February 13, 2020
In retrospect, capi(y)baras are too easy (no y in Portuguese, and it's i in Spanish, which pretty much covers its range- y in English)- I would merely suggest you not accept dinner invitations from them. When giraffes wish to mate, the male rubs the female's behind with his head until she urinates, then drinks the urine. That may or may not be why the species is in decline.
Eric K. February 13, 2020
That’s so unfortunate considering what they look like when they sleep.
The T. August 10, 2020
This has been the most interesting and educational conversation I have seen in a very, very long time. AND I learned about evaporated milk...haha...Thank you!