What Is Sweetened Condensed Milk, Anyway? (2024)

DON’T DRINK THE MILK! Not because it’s bad. But because it’s not regular milk. It’s sweetened condensed milk. Which begs the question: What is sweetened condensed milk, anyway? It’s weirdly thick (thicccc) and sticky and kind of looks like Elmer’s glue. In short: It looks gross. But if you’re putting it in things, not just drinking it from the can, it’s not gross at all. Let’s break down the two words in the name and learn a bit about this dairy-based concoction.

Condensed: How do you condense milk? You don’t shove it into a small room (or a trash compactor, for all you Star Wars heads out there). And you don’t abbreviate it to MLK in the fashion of some millennial tech start-up. Milk is condensed by removing water via heat. You’ll probably recognize that process as evaporation. Yes! The part of the water cycle where liquid water turns to a gas that we learned about in fifth grade science! Condensed just means that the milk was cooked down in order to remove some of the water from it, the same way you would cook down a stock or a sauce to concentrate its flavor.

Sweetened: Yeah, you guessed it. There’s sugar added to sweetened condensed milk. The main purpose of adding sugar is to prolong the shelf life of condensed milk, which can sit on room temperature shelves for years. Sugar prevents microorganisms from growing in the milk and helps to thicken it even further—it's added after the milk has been boiled, reduced, and effectively pasteurized.

It’s also worth noting that there is unsweetened condensed milk, but that’s usually referred to as "evaporated milk." You shouldn’t substitute one for the other. They are apples and oranges, as the saying goes.

What Is Sweetened Condensed Milk, Anyway? (2024)
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