Imagine drinking a glass of milk poured from a can. Sounds yucky, right? But when evaporated milk was introduced back in the 1920s, it was a lifesaver for folks without refrigeration. That it and its sweet cousin, condensed milk, are still popular speaks to the products’ versatility. We’re going to break down the backstory and offer tips on how to use it in this canned milk primer.
A Brief History of Evaporated Milk
Before refrigeration was widely available, fresh milk was delivered daily. The arrival of canned milk was a much-heralded convenience. Surprisingly, its invention has been connected to Prohibition — the dark era in our nation’s history when alcohol was illegal. A shuttered brewery was looking for another way to stay open, so it switched over from producing beer to making and canning evaporated milk.
What is Condensed Milk?
Years later, evaporated milk was followed up with a sugar-sweetened cousin known as condensed milk. It remains a staple for bakers around the globe.
How Canned Milk is Made
To make evaporated milk, fresh, homogenized milk is heated to a simmer until the liquid is reduced by 60 percent through evaporation, a common technique used by chefs when making sauces. The result is a milk that has a rich, creamy texture and a concentrated level of nutrients, especially calcium and Vitamin D. Cooking the milk breaks down the proteins known as casesin, which makes the evaporated product less likely to curdle when used in recipes.
Condensed milk follows the same slow-cook process, but there’s also sugar in the mix, so it becomes thick and caramelized.
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