Here's What You Can Substitute For Condensed Milk

Every chef has a stash of secret ingredients tucked away in their pantry — the one thing that will make a recipe sing in its own signature way. For some, that ingredient is condensed milk, but if the recipe calls for it and you don't have it, what can you use to replace it

First, don't let the name of the product confuse you. Whether your can says sweetened condensed milk or condensed milk, rest assured they're the same product. That's because unsweetened condensed milk is sold as "evaporated milk" (via The Spruce Eats). Condensed milk is thick, sweet, and rich with dairy flavor. When it's called for, it brings a lot to the recipe. It's commonly included in all sorts of desserts, from puddings and pies to ice cream and candy (via The Kitchn). But if you don't have any in your cupboard — or if you accidentally grabbed a can of evaporated milk at the store instead — here's what you can use as a substitute. 

How to DIY condensed milk

This first option can come in handy if you accidentally picked up a can of evaporated milk at the store, or if you just happen to have a bunch of it on hand in anticipation of pumpkin pie-baking season. 

This recipe looks at the basic makeup of sweetened condensed milk and then recreates it. Sweetened condensed milk is simply a mixture of evaporated milk and sugar. This easy shortcut calls for adding 1 1/2 cups of sugar to 12 ounces of evaporated milk. Bring the mixture to a boil, cooking until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is slightly thickened, and you've got homemade condensed milk (via Allrecipes). 

Another substitute can be made with nonfat dry milk powder, which is a really handy shelf-stable ingredient to keep on hand. Just mix a cup of nonfat dry milk powder with sugar, margarine, and boiling water, and you've got a thick, sweet condensed milk substitute that has the same dairy richness it's known for (via Allrecipes). 

With these two substitutes in mind, you should be all set the next time you forget to pick up condensed milk at the store. 

Make a dairy-free alternative to sweetened condensed milk

Sweetened condensed milk is definitely not dairy-free. It's made by simmering milk to remove the water content, which thickens the milk but does not remove the lactose. If you're following a dairy-free diet, your best bet is to make your own sweetened condensed "milk" using your favorite non-dairy milk. In theory, you could use any alternative milk (including soy milk, rice milk, oat milk, coconut milk, almond milk, or cashew milk). The ingredients vary by brand, so you may want to do some trial-and-error batches to find a specific type you like.

Once you pick your alternative milk, pour 2-1/2 to 3 cups into a small saucepan. Using more liquid will create a richer condensed milk, but it will also take longer to reduce. Gently simmer the liquid, stirring frequently to prevent the bottom from scorching, until the liquid is reduced to about one cup. Add 2/3 to 3/4 cup white sugar to the mixture, depending on the desired level of sweetness.

If you're hoping to make vegan dairy-free sweetened condensed milk, you'll want to make sure the sugar is vegan-friendly, too. Some sugar is filtered through bone char, so look for unfiltered, raw, or organic sugars.

Use canned cream of coconut instead

Looking for an alternative to sweetened condensed milk that doesn't require any work at all? Cream of coconut is the way to go. You'll find it at the grocery store in the same aisle as the canned coconut milk. Don't get confused by the cans labeled "coconut cream," though. Coconut cream is made like coconut milk (according to Spoon University) by simmering shredded coconut with water until the liquid separates into a thick and thin layer. The thick layer is packaged as coconut cream and sometimes contains guar gum as a thickener. Cream of coconut, on the other hand, is significantly thicker. It's sometimes made with coconut water instead of coconut milk, and it always contains an added sweetener.

Use cream of coconut as a one-to-one substitute for sweetened condensed milk. Keep in mind that it will add a strong coconut flavor that may or may not be appropriate depending on the recipe. It should work just fine for cake fillings and pies. Before using it to make baked goods or recipes like 3-ingredient banana bread, you might want to test the recipe to be sure it works before serving it to a crowd.