The Best Way To Substitute Sweetened Condensed Milk

A key ingredient in Vietnamese coffee, key lime pie, and tres leches cake, sweetened condensed milk brings a rich and multifaceted flavor profile and a thick, creamy consistency. As its name suggests, sweetened condensed milk is essentially a milk reduction made by simmering milk and sugar until it becomes a thick dairy-based simple syrup. The production process both pasteurizes and preserves sweetened condensed milk, giving it a long shelf life and a popular canned staple lining dessert aisle shelves.

If you're looking for the easiest substitute for sweetened condensed milk, cream of coconut is another long-lasting, easily accessible canned product with a comparable texture and depth of flavor. However, the best way to substitute sweetened condensed milk is by making your own from scratch.

Cream of coconut is rich, sweet, and creamy, but it has a distinct nuttiness that's markedly different from the caramelized dairy notes of sweetened condensed milk. While cream of coconut's tropical sweetness would work well in many typical sweetened condensed milk recipes like curries, coffee, and no-bake cheesecakes, it will still alter the flavor profile of the dish as a whole. Still, it's the most convenient way to substitute condensed milk, and you can use it interchangeably with sweetened condensed milk in a one-to-one ratio. However, the only way to mimic sweetened condensed milk's unique flavor is by making your own. Luckily, homemade condensed milk is straightforward and uses staple ingredients that you're likely to have on hand.

How to make your own sweetened condensed milk

You might think the easiest way to substitute sweetened condensed milk is to add sugar to its unsweetened canned doppelganger, evaporated milk. However, you wouldn't achieve the consistency and caramelized flavors you seek. That said, you can use a can of evaporated milk and sugar; You just need to incorporate the two ingredients on the stove.

Since sweetened condensed milk is made by reducing milk and sugar into a thick milk syrup, making your own requires heating milk and sugar together at a slow simmer. You can use any type of milk you have on hand, whether it's whole milk, non-fat, or even plant-based milk like soy, almond, or oat. You'll use ¾ of a cup of sugar for 2 cups of milk. The reduction process will take around 45 minutes.

While it's not as quick and easy as opening up a can, making your own sweetened condensed milk from scratch is straightforward, preservative-free, and has a more pronounced milky flavor. You can also customize a recipe by adding cocoa powder, vanilla, or baking spices. Consider adding cocoa-flavored sweetened condensed milk to iced coffee to convert it into a creamy and decadent iced mocha.