Everything you need to know about evaporated milk—how it's made, where to find it, and what to do with it.

Tucked in the back of your pantry behind boxes of pasta and bags of flour are probably a few unopened, slightly dusty cans of evaporated milk. They’re humble in size, price, and appearance, and you may have no idea what to do with them. But evaporated milk can do a lot (yes, there are evaporated milk recipes for mac 'n' cheese, chicken, and even rich and delicious coffee drinks). Here's everything you need to know about it:

What Is Evaporated Milk?

Evaporated milk was invented in 1885 as a way to preserve milk for trans-Atlantic voyages. This was a good substitute when home refrigeration was a luxury, but children still needed a healthy, calcium-filled beverage.

The process of making evaporated milk remains the same to this day— approximately 60% of water is removed from fresh milk by slowly simmering it over low heat. The milk is then homogenized, which integrates all of the fat molecules so that they don’t separate over time (this also allows evaporated milk to have a longer shelf life). It's then packaged in cans and sterilized between 240°F and 250°F.

Transforming regular milk into evaporated milk by heating it creates a thicker and creamier product, as well as mild caramel flavor. Evaporated milk’s consistency makes it a popular substitute for half-and-half or heavy cream. However, unlike these two products, evaporated milk is naturally low in fat. In many ways, evaporated milk is the best of both worlds— it retains the luscious, decadent consistency found in cream without the high fat content. Brands like Nestle sell several versions of evaporated milk, but the most common version contains only 1.5% fat, plus additives like vitamin D.

Evaporated Milk Recipes:

Evaporated milk is more commonly used in savory dishes like this decadent mac and cheese, or in unique versions of our milk-braised chicken and baked spinach gratin. It can also add thickness and decadence to any milk-based smoothie or an indulgent coffee drink.

Where to Buy Evaporated Milk, and How to Store it:

You can find evaporated milk at every neighborhood grocery store, usually in a designated baking aisle near the flour and sugar. Evaporated milk has an average shelf life of 15 months, though this can vary based on fat content and additives (so always read your label). Once the can has been opened, refrigerate and use within five days.