In a nutshell, the best replacements for condensed milk are evaporated milk, DIY sweetened condensed milk, heavy cream and sugar, powdered milk, etc. Choose the right option based on your dietary needs and the recipe.
Sweet, creamy, and rich, sweetened condensed milk is used in desserts, fudge, sauces, cakes, and drinks.
Recipes that include this creamy ingredient are sure to yield an indulgent and delicious treat regardless of whether it’s a sweet and tart lemon pie filling, ice cream, iced coffee, or a caramel sauce for a warm winter pudding.
If you’re ready to start baking and you realize someone has snatched the last can out of the pantry, don’t change your plans just yet. There are a number of alternatives you can reach for that won’t cost you a trip to the store.
If you are lactose intolerant or follow a vegan diet, you don’t have to forego your sweet treats either. There are plenty of dairy-free substitutes too!
In this guide, we’ll help you choose the best substitute for sweetened condensed milk according to your dietary needs and the dessert you’re making.
What is Sweetened Condensed Milk?
Also referred to as condensed milk, this ingredient has a creamy syrup-like consistency. It is made from cow’s milk that has been heated to remove around 60% of its water content.
Sugar is added to sweeten the reduced liquid, yielding a very smooth, sweet, and thick creamy liquid. It is generally available in a can, and when unopened, it will last a few years unrefrigerated.
Best Sweetened Condensed Milk Substitutes
1. Evaporated Milk
This is sometimes referred to as unsweetened condensed milk and undergoes a very similar process whereby the dairy product is heated to evaporate and reduce the water content. The only difference is that no sugar or sweetener is added. This results in a rich and creamy outcome with a slightly thinner consistency and much less sweetness.
There are two ways you can use it to substitute sweetened condensed milk:
You can replace it in equal quantities in sauces, coffee, tea, iced coffee, and some desserts. In all these cases, you will need to add some extra sugar to achieve the same level of sweetness.
If you don’t want something quite as sweet, it can be a perfect replacement on its own.
We don’t recommend using it as a straight swap in recipes such as lemon or lime tart fillings that require setting. In these recipes, the lemon juice acid reacts with the condensed milk to set in a pudding-like consistency when refrigerated. Due to the lower sugar content and thinner consistency, evaporated milk won’t set in the same way unless gelatine is added.
Alternatively, you can make your own identical replacement by mixing one 12-ounce can of evaporated milk with 1.5 cups of granulated sugar in a saucepan. Heat the mixture over medium heat and keep stirring until the sugar dissolves.
Cook until the liquid starts to thicken slightly and let it cool. It will thicken a little more on cooling. Replace it in equal amounts in any recipe.
2. DIY Sweetened Condensed Milk
If you only have regular cow’s milk and sugar on hand, you can easily make your own sweetened condensed milk alternative. Whole milk is the best choice, but you can use whatever you have on hand.
Heat 2 cups of milk over low heat on the stovetop and let it simmer until it reduces to half. If you have cream, use 1.5 cups milk and half a cup of cream instead. Adding cream will cook down the mixture more easily without scorching. This may take up to 30 minutes as you don’t want it to boil.
Once reduced, add 2/3 cup of sugar and a small pinch of salt and keep stirring until completely dissolved. Optionally you can add a few drops of vanilla extract. Let it cool completely before using it as a substitute in equal quantities.
3. Heavy Cream and Sugar
If you don’t have enough time to make sweetened condensed milk by simmering dairy for half an hour, you can achieve the same result faster by using heavy cream since it already has a creamy consistency.
Mix one cup of heavy cream with ¼ cup of white sugar. You may want to heat the cream on a low setting just to dissolve the sugar more evenly. Make sure it dissolves completely before letting it cool and using it as a replacement in equal quantities.
4. Powdered Milk
If you have powdered milk in the pantry, this is another easy, quick fix. When reconstituting the powder, use less water than usual to get the right consistency.
Mix equal parts of hot water and the powder until you get a creamy texture and smooth consistency. Add sugar to taste and optionally add a tablespoon of butter and one or two drops of vanilla bean extract for a richer flavor.
Replace the reconstituted mixture in equal quantities.
5. Canned Coconut Milk
There are a few different types of coconut products that can all be used as a vegan substitute without dairy products. First up, we have canned coconut milk.
It is important to note that the boxed and canned milk are very different. The boxed version is very watery and won’t make a suitable condensed milk replacement.
Full cream canned coconut milk, on the other hand, is much creamier and can be prepared in a similar way to regular dairy to make your homemade sweetened condensed milk.
Empty a 13.5-ounce can of full-fat coconut milk into a saucepan and add a ¼ cup of granulated sugar. Use a low heat setting and simmer for around 30 minutes or until slightly thicker and all the sugar is dissolved.
Let it cool completely before using it as a replacement in equal measures.
See more: Full fat coconut milk substitute
6. Coconut Cream
Another non-dairy, vegan-friendly alternative with a coconutty flavor is coconut cream. This is a much easier option than coconut milk since it already has a thick consistency and luscious creaminess.
If you prefer a less sweet alternative, use coconut cream as is in equal measures. To achieve a similar sweetness, add a ¼ cup of regular sugar (or coconut sugar if preferred) per can of coconut cream. Stir to dissolve or heat it slowly just until the sugar is completely and evenly dissolved. Keep in mind, it might add a slight tropical flavor to your dish.
7. Cream of Coconut
Unless you love your piña coladas, you might not have this on hand, but it makes a great dairy free substitute without needing any heating or mixing.
Cream of coconut has already been mixed with sugar which makes it the perfect dairy-free, vegan alternative straight out of the can.
8. Dairy-Free Milk and Sugar
If you don’t want the coconut flavor that comes with using a coconut replacement (or have coconut allergies), this is another good dairy-free alternative for condensed milk.
In the same way that you can reduce dairy milk down with sugar to get a thicker consistency, you can reduce almond milk, oat milk, soy milk, or another nut milk. We don’t recommend using rice milk, since it has a very thin consistency.
Cook down two cups of almond milk (or another non-dairy option you prefer) over medium-low heat until reduced by half to about one cup. Add 2/3 cup of white sugar, frequently stirring until dissolved.
Leave the mixture to cool before using it as a sweetened condensed milk substitute measure for measures in your favorite recipes.
Whether you have leftovers from a can or have some of the sweetened condensed milk substitutes left after making your recipe, there are plenty of ways to use the leftovers. Use it in a smoothie, coffee, tea, or hot cocoa for delicious flavor. Drizzle it over pancakes, ice cream, cake, waffles, or even a peanut butter sandwich. You can use it to make sauces for sweet and savory dishes (think coconut curry pork marinade) and make dulce de leche. It can be used to make the frosting, drizzled over porridge, and French toast with cinnamon.
Yes, it is ideal for making thick, creamy caramel by simmering until the sugar turns light brown. This type of caramel can be used on cakes, tarts, pastries, and cookies.
Place the unopened can in a pot of boiling water, ensuring that the can is completely submerged. You may have to top up the water during cooking. Simmer uncovered for three hours. Let the can cool completely before opening it to find your delicious caramel.
To make caramel in the microwave, pour the condensed milk into a microwavable bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Leave a small section open for steam to escape. Microwave in 30-second intervals on medium power, whisking between every interval to ensure even heating. Caramel will start to form after around 2 minutes.
Yes, after the can has been opened, it should be transferred to a glass or plastic container with a lid. If kept in an airtight container in the fridge, it can last for up to 3 weeks. Homemade sweetened condensed milk might only last up to a week.
An unopened can will last between 18 months to two years if kept in a cool, dry place such as a kitchen cupboard or pantry.
Yes, it can be stored in the freezer for three to six months. Decant it into an airtight container or airtight freezer bag for freezing.
Yes, you can use milk as a substitute for condensed milk, but you’ll need to adjust the recipe to account for the differences in sweetness and thickness. To mimic the consistency and sweetness of condensed milk, you can simmer regular milk with sugar until it reduces and thickens.
Sweetened condensed milk is the secret ingredient for no-churn ice cream, fudge, and Vietnamese coffee. It is used in tart and pie fillings, baked goods, sauces, and a host of other sweet treats.
Finding a substitute or making your very own at home is easy to do. For vegans or those with lactose intolerance, there are also plenty of substitutes for sweetened condensed milk, so you’ll never have to deprive your sweet tooth.
*image by firstblood/depositphotos