Dining on a Dime: Canned Milk

by Anastassia Skarlinski

The other morning, after a weekend away, I added milk to my morning coffee which had unfortunately tried to turn itself into cheese. Fortunately, I had a can of evaporated milk on hand, and hence my next cup of coffee was saved!

There are a number of different kinds of canned or otherwise shelf-stable milks in stores. These are milks that have been prepared or preserved so that they do not require refrigeration before being opened. This has the added advantage of extending the shelf life of these products by quite a margin. They make for a convenient way to keep milk on hand if you do not use it much on a normal basis.

Typically, you find canned milks in the baking aisle of the grocery store. Of the dairy milks, you can usually find evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and UHT milk. Whichever you use is a good source of calcium, Vitamins A and D, phosphorus, and some protein. You may find rice and soy milks in this area and powdered goat milk, powdered buttermilk, and dairy milk. These are products for another day, however. So, what is the point of these products?

Evaporated milk is milk that has had around 60% of its water removed. It is homogenized and sterilized and then canned for storage. Since over half of its water content has been removed, it has nearly twice as much protein as regular milk. Evaporated milk is thicker, with a slight caramel color, and creamy consistency. Evaporated milk is commonly used as a substitute for coffee creamer, as one of the three milks in tres leches cake, and in savory soups and sauces. Evaporated milk is less prone to splitting than regular milk when being heated, for this reason, I usually use evaporated milk (rather than refrigerated dairy milk) in creamy soups and other milk dishes that require relatively high heat. Try the recipe for a super simple broccoli cheese soup at the end of the article!

Much like evaporated milk, Sweetened Condensed Milk is milk that has had around 60% of its water removed. However, sweetened condensed milk has extra sugar added to it. Sweetened condensed milk is thick and syrupy, far thicker than evaporated milk. It is used in making dulce de leche, as the second of the three milks in tres leches cake and key lime pie. In Asia, sweetened condensed milk is mixed with evaporated milk in equal amounts and used as a coffee or tea creamer. If you have ever had a sweet, creamy Thai tea or Vietnamese coffee, likely that was added. Sweetened condensed milk is very sweet, I would not necessarily recommend that you use it in savory dishes.

UHT milk is the most like regular refrigerated milk of the items on this list. UHT stands for ultra-high temperature. It refers to the extra temperatures used while pasteurizing the milk. This is done to sterilize any harmful bacteria lurking in the milk as well as deactivate enzymes that cause milk to spoil. Fortunately, this does not affect the texture, taste, or nutritional value of the milk much, if at all. This is an excellent product to keep on hand if you do not have much refrigerator space and can only shop once or twice a month.  It is important to note that while all of these products can sit on your shelf for quite a long time unopened, once you open them you should refrigerate them and use them within a week or so.

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