Evaporated milk is one of the oldest alternatives to regular milk and was developed out of the need for milk that wouldn’t spoil, begging the question: does evaporated milk go bad?
If you’re no stranger to cooking and baking, chances are you probably have a can of evaporated milk hanging around in your kitchen cabinet.
It might even be an expired can of evaporated milk, and you’re a risk-taker (a foodie maverick, if you will) who knows the limits of your evaporated milk shelf life.
But if you’re new to the kitchen, or wondering if food safety has changed, this FAQ is where you will learn more about what evaporated milk is and what you can do with it.
Its myriad uses – recipes in diverse cuisines, beverages, a dairy products substitute when diluted, etc. – make evaporated milk a perfect pantry companion.
Because of its history and reputation as a long-lasting milk product, it can be easy to assume that evaporated milk lasts forever; it can also be easy to let that squat can in the back of the cupboard collect dust well past the “best by” expiry date.
That’s why it’s essential to know whether or not evaporated milk goes bad, how to store it once it’s opened, and some creative ways to use the leftovers.
In this article, I cover all things evaporated milk, from its invention and evolution to its general shelf life, and how to tell if evaporated milk has gone bad to help you avoid food poisoning, to storage techniques and ways to use open cans evaporated milk and even how to make your own evaporated milk!
I also tag in the dairy, agriculture, historical, and brand experts, so you get answers straight from the …cow’s… mouth about much of this.
Look for my CookingChew tip below that will help you keep your dairy at peak quality for the longest time.
Happy cooking, baking, substituting, and all the other fantastic things evaporated milk can help you do!
Evaporated milk is a type of concentrated milk heated to high temperatures, also sometimes referred to as unsweetened condensed milk.
The concentration happens as a result of heating milk until about 60% of the water has evaporated and the texture of the milk becomes creamier than the original whole or 2% milk you started with.
This process creates a milk product that is either a natural white or light cream color, slightly sweeter in taste, and has a thicker, creamier texture.
While the most readily available evaporated milk is made of cow’s milk, I’ve discovered evaporated goat’s milk, evaporated oat milk, and evaporated coconut milk as well.
USDA and FDA standards also determine a specified amount of milk fat and added vitamins and nutrients for commercial evaporated milk; these standards also determine acceptable packaging for evaporated milk, such as cans, bottles, or “laminated paper containers” – a.k.a. Cartons.
Evaporated milk is often used in modern-day cooking and baking, but it has been around for a very long time.
In the fall of every year, Thanksgiving pumpkin pie is the first thing I think of when I am cruising the aisles to stock up on evaporated milk.
A brief history of evaporated milk in America
Condensed milk was invented in 1852 by entrepreneur Gail Borden, who sought to solve the problem of milk’s short shelf life.
Borden discovered that by boiling the water out of milk, he could extend its longevity, helping a wide range of populations from young children on passenger ships to soldier nutrition.
He received his first patent for condensed milk on August 19, 1856, and opened the New York Condensed Milk Company (later renamed Borden Company) with business partner Jeremiah Milbank in Wassaic, New York, in 1861.
Originally, Borden’s condensed milk invention contained added sugar and became wildly popular with soldiers during the Civil War; however, competitors aimed to create an unsweetened product.
After some trial and error, product evolution, and different methods by new manufacturers, a man named John Baptist Meyenberg founded the Helvetica Milk Condensing Company in Highland Park, Illinois, in 1885, the first-ever commercial brand of unsweetened evaporated milk.
In the early 20th century, evaporated milk was LONG AGO used as baby formula, rather erroneously hailed for its low cost and high nutritional value (It is no longer recommended that infants be fed evaporated milk as it does not contain proper nutrition for their growth and development, in accordance with the Infant Formula Act of 1980).
It was also used as a general milk product in places where refrigeration wasn’t readily available because of its ability to withstand spoiling.
These days, evaporated milk is used in recipes from entrees to desserts as well as in beverages like coffees, teas, and smoothies; it can also be diluted to a skim milk, whole milk or 2% milk consistency and used accordingly.
Evaporated milk has also evolved to include cow’s milk alternatives, like evaporated goat’s milk, evaporated soy milk, evaporated coconut milk, and evaporated oat milk.
What an incredible culinary world we live in. 🥰
Evaporated Milk: What’s the difference?
Let’s look at the differences between evaporated milk and a few other types of dairy.
Since evaporated milk presents yet another milk option, it’s helpful to know what exactly distinguishes it from other types of milk used in recipes like regular milk, buttermilk, and condensed milk.
What’s the difference between evaporated milk and “regular” milk?
Evaporated milk starts as regular milk but has been processed: over half of the water content has been cooked out of it, so it’s thicker, slightly sweeter, and creamier than regular 2% or whole milk.
What’s the difference between evaporated milk and buttermilk?
Buttermilk is fermented with a type of lactobacillus culture, which is why buttermilk packaging that you buy at the grocery store often says “Cultured Buttermilk.”
It has a lower fat content and a tangier, more sour taste but a similar creamy consistency as evaporated milk.
Out of most other milk products, evaporated milk probably has the least in common with buttermilk in flavor and uses.
What’s the difference between evaporated milk and condensed milk?
- Canned condensed milk: Very sweet from added sugars with a very thick texture; more calories than evaporated milk per serving.
- Evaporated milk: Creamy but not super thick, and has no sugar added in the concentration process.
Evaporated milk has the most in common with condensed milk since it’s technically a type of condensed milk, but the difference between the two lies in one ingredient: sugar.
Typical “condensed” milk is sweetened condensed milk, while evaporated milk is unsweetened condensed milk.
Does evaporated milk go bad?
While evaporated milk was created as a means of keeping away spoilage as long as possible, at the end of the day, it’s still a dairy product and therefore does go bad – eventually.
The length of time a can, carton, or bottle of evaporated milk will last depends on whether or not it has been opened and where and how it’s stored.
Unopened evaporated milk can be kept in the pantry or any other cool, dry place for quite some time before it goes bad, generally, about a year.
Once opened, evaporated milk loses its quality and freshness rather quickly, going bad in about 48 hours unless expertly stored, in which case it may last for up to five days from the date it was opened.
Many food professionals suggest these products can be used for up to a few months past that date as long as there are no signs it has gone bad, no breaks in the seal, and no dents or perforations in the can.
Since dairy, in particular, is a type of food you never want to take a chance with when it comes to viability and freshness, it’s best to consult the manufacturers’ expert advice.
Luckily, most major evaporated milk brands offer suggestions for shelf life, storage, proper storing techniques, and uses, which we’ve compiled for you here in one place.
How long does evaporated milk last?
According to Nestle, the makers of Carnation products, the shelf life of an unopened can of evaporated milk is 360 days – so about one year.
After all, extended longevity was the whole purpose for creating evaporated milk in the first place and just one of its many benefits.
Of course, each brand prints a “best by” date on the bottom of the can or container, denoting how long the product will hold its highest quality, and they also suggest storing unopened cans or containers in a dry, cool place.
Evaporated milk manufacturers – like Carnation and PET, for example – do not recommend consuming evaporated milk past that date, as they cannot guarantee its freshness or nutritional value after that time.
However, “best by” dates and expiration dates are not one and the same, and most food experts advise that canned and other sealed food products remain in good form for months past the date on the package in some cases.
Traditional canned evaporated milk does fall into this category, but because it’s still a dairy product, it’s recommended that you still use the milk within two to three months from the date on the unopened, undamaged container – assuming, of course, it shows no signs of spoilage once you open it (i.e., changes in appearance, texture, smell, or taste).
How long does opened evaporated milk last? Common question.
Depending on the packaging and brand, opened evaporated milk, when stored at cold temps of around 40F, may be good to use for about five days.
Note that’s not as long as most whole, or “regular,” milk available at the grocery store.
Opened evaporated milk just does not last very long and should be chilled and used as soon as possible to ensure the best taste and quality.
Major producers of evaporated milk I found suggest using their products within 48 hours after they’re opened, but they also specify that the milk may last up to five days if stored properly (in a tightly sealed airtight container in the refrigerator).
How to tell if evaporated milk has gone bad
Evaporated milk, much like regular, shows tell-tale signs of spoilage such as changes in color, texture, and smell.
The general rule of thumb is that anything outside of the norm should be considered “bad,” and the product should be tossed.
Since evaporated milk is not typically a daily use product, however, let’s review what’s normal.
As we described earlier, evaporated milk should be white or a slightly off-white/cream color, so if it appears darker than that or yellow, it may not be good.
Evaporated milk’s texture should also be a thick and creamy yet smooth consistency.
If you’re looking at an entire can and wondering should evaporated milk be chunky, your answer is no, never chunky; if you see any chunks or if the milk is lumpy, it’s gone bad.
Smell and taste are typically the most reliable indicators that food, and especially dairy, has spoiled.
Although if your milk is not the right color or consistency, I wouldn’t recommend tasting it anyway.
Evaporated milk poured directly from the can or container should taste and smell very similar to regular fresh milk but slightly sweeter; it should never smell foul, sour, or rotten, or appear to have a have a curd-like texture, so go ahead and toss it if there’s any odor emanating.
Aside from those three main indicators, it’s safe to assume that unopened evaporated milk more than three months past the date on the package or opened evaporated milk that has been stored for more than three to five days is no longer suitable for consumption.
In summary, the best way to tell if evaporated milk is bad is to ask yourself a few questions and mind the recommendations:
- What color should evaporated milk be? The color of still-good evaporated milk is white or off-white/cream colored, never a darker color or gray.
- Can you use evaporated milk after expiration date? If the date has gone by, open the container and check the smell and appearance—it should be cream-colored, creamy yet smooth, never curdled or lumpy, with no mold in or around it.
- What does evaporated milk taste like? The taste should be close to normal dairy milk, perhaps slightly sweeter, never foul or sour.
Can you freeze evaporated milk?
No, and here’s why.
One of the most frequently asked questions about evaporated milk is whether or not you can freeze it, and the answer is no.
Freezing evaporated milk – whether it’s an unopened can, carton, or bottle, or an opened and resealed container – is a bad idea for many reasons.
According to Carnation’s FAQ page, when evaporated milk is frozen, its physical properties change.
This means that by freezing evaporated milk, you’re compromising its color, consistency, taste, and other physical traits, which is not recommended as it can change the outcome of recipes and ruin the product for its many other uses.
Carnation – as well as other evaporated milk manufacturers – caution against freezing unopened cans of evaporated milk, as the freezing process can tamper with the seam and lead to spoiling.
While freezing is a common method for keeping products fresh for an extended period of time, this technique is not a good fit for evaporated milk.
Your best bet for enjoying and using evaporated milk at its best is to use it by the date on the container or to use it within three to five days of opening, making chilled proper storage a priority,
How to store opened evaporated milk
The key to keeping a longer stable shelf life for opened evaporated milk good for as long as possible is making sure it’s covered as tightly and kept refrigerated to 40F.
The easiest and most accessible way is to leave the unused evaporated milk in its can and cover it as tightly as possible with plastic wrap or aluminum foil and keep it in the refrigerator; you can even use a rubber band to create a seal around the top.
If you’re using evaporated milk from a tetrapak (like this Lactose Free Evaporated Milk) or bottle that comes with its own lid or in resealable packaging, you can simply twist the lid back on tightly or reseal the package and store it in the refrigerator.
This is a good option if you plan to use the remainder of the milk again soon – in one to five days.
However, if you’re not sure when you’ll get around to using your leftover evaporated milk, PET suggests transferring the contents from the can to an air-tight storage container and refrigerating it.
By refrigerating the milk in a separate and tightly sealed container, you can keep it for up to five days, which should give you some time to decide how you can use what’s left.
You have a few different options for storage containers, but I recommend either an air-tight plastic container (i.e., Tupperware, etc.), a glass container with a tightly closed lid (like a mason jar), or a freezer bag.
Carnation warns that prolonged exposure to air will cause a milk skin or film to form on top of the evaporated milk, so it must be kept in an air-tight container
CookingChew Tip: We coffee drinkers tend to leave our containers of dairy out on the counter while we enjoy our coffee, causing the cream to come to room temperature. I realized that it was shortening the life of my precious milks. Like heavy cream or half-and-half, take your open can of evaporated milk out of the refrigerator only long enough to measure and use, then put it back in your refrigerator immediately. Learning this has helped me keep my dairy from going bad as quickly, saving me money in the long run and avoiding unnecessary waste.
Best ways to store opened evaporated milk
Storing opened evaporated milk is quick, easy, and allows you to enjoy it multiple times for multiple things.
Be sure to follow the instructions below when storing leftover evaporated milk in a separate container.
It’s also important to not leave your opened evaporated milk sitting out on the counter for too long before rehoming and refrigerating it; use it and return it to a chill.
1. Air-tight plastic container
Pour the leftover evaporated milk into your chosen container and place the lid on tightly, making sure it is completely sealed and will not allow in any air.
Place the air-tight plastic container in the refrigerator.
It’s also a good idea to write the date on the container, so there is no question of how long it’s been stored; you can use a dry erase marker or some masking tape and a sharpie to do this.
Reuse what’s left of the evaporated milk within five days from the date it was opened.
2. Glass container with a tightly closed lid
Pour any unused evaporated milk into the glass container – this could be a glass bottle, a mason jar, or even a glass bowl with a rubber lid.
Put the lid on the container, being sure to close it tightly.
If you’re using a bottle or mason jar, twist the lid as tightly as possible; if you’re using a glass container such as pyrex, press the lid on tightly, taking extra care to press and seal around the edges.
Use a dry erase marker or masking tape and a sharpie to write the date on the container.
Enjoy the leftover evaporated milk in five days or less.
Always give it the sniff test before using; I caution against leaving out milk even for a few minutes each time you go to use it, as it warms up a little every time, causing it to spoil faster.
3. Freezer bag
Leftover opened evaporated milk can also be poured into a plastic freezer bag and sealed tightly.
You may want to use a funnel when pouring the milk into the bag to avoid spills or getting milk stuck in the seal.
Try to eliminate as much air as possible from the bag before sealing it, and write the expiration date on the bag with a sharpie before placing it in the refrigerator.
Evaporated milk stored in a freezer bag can be used within five days after thawing.
Ways to use an opened can of evaporated milk
So if you’ve been asking yourself, “How can I use leftover evaporated milk?” I have a few suggestions here to put your remaining evaporated milk to good use:
- Use it as a coffee creamer or in tea.
- Froth it or steam it for espressos and other hot drinks.
- Chill the can, dilute slightly, then use it like regular milk for cold cereal.
- Use it in place of heavy cream or half-and-half in recipes.
- Bake with it in place of regular milk: 2 parts evap milk to 1 part water.
- Substitute it for whole or 2% milk to make foods richer; e.g., mix it into your Kraft Mac N’ Cheese.
- Make homemade ice cream.
- Top your oatmeal, grits, or Cream of Wheat with a swirl of evaporated milk.
- Add it to smoothies, boba teas, and a splash to iced lattes.
- Instead of whole milk, make your French Toast with evaporated milk.
- Create a three-ingredient alfredo sauce with evaporated milk.
- Use it to make white sauce, white gravy, and dressings, like this German Salad Dressing and Creamy Italian Dressing.
- Make your canned cream soups richer and creamier than just adding water or skim milk.
- You can even whip it to make “whipped cream.” (The trick is to freeze the can!)
How to make evaporated milk
If evaporated milk is not necessarily a grocery staple for you – like, say, regular milk, eggs, or bread – you may be wondering if you can make your own evaporated milk on those occasions when you do need it.
Rest assured that you can, in fact, make your own evaporated milk at home.
It’s both easy and relatively fast; all you need is whole milk, a saucepan, and a stovetop.
Step 1: Add about 2 ¼ – 2 ½ cups of whole milk to a small or medium saucepan.
Step 2: Heat the milk on medium, bringing it to a simmer.
Step 3: When the milk begins to simmer, reduce the heat to low and allow it to simmer again for 25-30 minutes with the lid off; stir the milk periodically, so it doesn’t burn.
Step 4: By the end of the simmering time, the milk should be reduced by a little more than half of its original volume, leaving you with about one cup of creamy, homemade evaporated milk.
Step 5: Allow the evaporated milk to cool and use it right away, or transfer it to an airtight container and store it in the refrigerator, kept cold and covered, for up to six days.
Did you know? Evaporated milk is used to make chocolate malt powder!
Can I make evaporated milk with dry milk powder?
Now, what happens when you need evaporated milk and have none, but you’re also out of whole or 2% milk?
Well, as long as you have powdered whole milk, you can make it work.
Powdered milk, also called “dry milk,” is yet another type of milk product, and it’s made by a heating process that removes all of the liquid from the milk – not completely unlike evaporated milk.
Powdered milk also has a longer, stable shelf life, keeping for up to four years when kept dry.
Its longevity and cost-efficiency make powdered milk a great choice for families on a tight budget as well as some types of restaurants.
Normally, powdered milk is combined with water to make fluid whole milk or 2% milk (one cup of water and three tablespoons of powdered milk).
However, you can also achieve the consistency of evaporated milk using dry milk powder; you just have to adjust the proportions:
- To make ½ cup of evaporated milk with dry milk powder, combine four tablespoons of powdered milk and only four ounces of water.
You can then use the resulting milk product just as you would use regular evaporated milk.
It’s worth mentioning that if you’re diluting evaporated milk to make normal milk, it may not have the same fresh taste, so it may be best for cooking rather than drinking or having with cereal.
On another note, if you’re out of evaporated milk, whole or 2% milk, and powdered milk, or if you have a lactose intolerance and are searching for a dairy-free alternative, there are some perfectly suitable evaporated milk substitutions out there that still work like a charm – just be mindful of the proportions.
The bottom line
Evaporated milk was an inventive response to the need for longer-lasting milk.
While it does have a long shelf life, evaporated milk will go bad at some point, so it’s important to watch for spoilage signs:
- a sour smell
- a stale, rancid, or sour taste
- a gray or green color
- and/or signs of mold around the edges of the container.
Once you open evaporated milk, you can enjoy it in a number of delicious ways and store the remaining evaporated milk to be used within five days as long as it’s been kept very cold.
You can also make your own evaporated milk from regular milk and even dry milk powder.
All in all, evaporated milk is useful, versatile, and certainly lives up to the hype.
- 3 c whole milk
- Add the milk to a medium nonstick saucepan.
- Heat the milk on medium, bringing it to a simmer.
- When the milk begins to simmer, reduce the heat to low and allow it to simmer again for 25-30 minutes with the lid off; stir the milk periodically, so it doesn’t burn.
- By the end of the simmering time, the milk should be reduced by a little more than half of its original volume, leaving you with about 1.5 cups of creamy, homemade evaporated milk.
- Allow the evaporated milk to cool to room temperature before using in a recipe.
- Use or transfer the evaporated milk to an airtight container and store it in the refrigerator, kept cold and covered, for up to five days.