What’s Condensed Milk? Here’s Everything You Need to Know

Sweetened condensed milk

Condensed milk, also known as sweetened condensed milk, is a thick, creamy, and ultra-delicious milk product that’s used as an ingredient in different dishes all across the world. It’s used in both savory and sweet dishes, and of course, our beloved Vietnamese iced coffee (cà phê sữa đá) but the best way to enjoy it is to scoop a spoonful straight from the can - don’t yuck our yum! 

Here’s everything you need to know about condensed milk, from how it’s made, its history, and the best way to enjoy it. 

Vietnamese iced coffee
Picture courtesy of Pixaby ​​

What is Condensed Milk and How is it Made?

Condensed milk is simply cow’s milk from which 60% of its water content has been removed. Once removed, sugar is then added, which acts as a preservative, extending the shelf life of the milk. The mixture is then heated further until the water content is reduced to around 25%, resulting in a thick, creamy consistency.

The heating process gives condensed milk a caramel-like flavor, making it a wonderful ingredient to add to desserts and baked goods. Once the heating process is complete, what remains is a thick, smooth milk product that has a long shelf life if remained unopened – which won’t be the case, trust us.

Condensed Milk vs Evaporated Milk

While both condensed milk and evaporated milk are quite similar, there are a couple of differences between the two. Condensed milk is sweetened with sugar, while evaporated milk remains unsweetened and has a more neutral flavor. Also, evaporated milk is slightly thinner and since it’s not as sweet, you cannot use condensed milk as a replacement for it in recipes.

The History of Condensed Milk

Condensed milk has a long and rich history, in fact, a rendition of it was described by Marco Polo in the 13th century when he was in Mongolia. However, in more “recent” history, condensed milk was invented in 1853 by Gail Borden, an American inventor, as well as by a Frenchman named Nicolas Appert in 1820. 

At the time, milk was a perishable commodity, and transportation and storage were difficult. Borden set out to find a way to preserve milk so it'd be easier to store and transport. After several failed attempts, he finally succeeded in creating condensed milk by heating and reducing fresh milk, then adding sugar to preserve it.

Borden's invention proved to be a game-changer, especially for soldiers during the Civil War, who were able to take condensed milk with them into battle. Over time, condensed milk became a staple ingredient in many households.

Glass of milk
Picture courtesy of Kt Rb via Unsplash ​​

Where is Condensed Milk Used?

Condensed milk is used in a variety of recipes such it’s most often in desserts, but it's even added in marinades for meat in savory dishes! It is commonly used to make fudge, caramel, and Asian desserts like Thai mango sticky rice. It is also used in ice cream, pudding, and cheesecake recipes.

This milk product is also a popular ingredient to add to several beverages across Asian and Latin American cultures. There are several types of Vietnamese coffee that use this milk, as well as Thai iced coffee, while in Malaysia it’s added to their iced tea. Brazilians add this delicious sweet milk to their lemonade which offsets the tangy, bitter flavor of lime.

Condensed Milk in Vietnam

Condensed milk has a unique history in Vietnam. Coffee was introduced to the country by the French colonists during the 19th century, and the French also brought condensed milk to Vietnam as they were unable to transport fresh milk. Over time, it was incorporated into local dishes and drinks, adding the vibrancy of traditional Vietnamese food.

Whether you’re eating a spoonful straight from the can or adding it to your marinades, condensed milk is delicious any way you have it. However, we’re a bit biased here, and we think it’s best enjoyed when paired with strong robusta coffee and made into Vietnamese iced coffee. Don’t believe us? Just snag a case of SANG and see for yourself!