Milk 101: A Crash Course in Types of Milk

By TBSP Susan
Created March 10, 2017
If you've never really been sure what the difference between evaporated milk and condensed milk is, you're not alone. Here's the lowdown. MORE+ LESS-

You're familiar with the classic glass of white milk. But what about evaporated milk, sour milk, condensed milk, and buttermilk? What do you do with those?

Here's what you need to know:

Skim (nonfat), 1%, 2%, and Whole Milks

Ahh, these are your standard drinking and cooking milks, the kind of milk you grew up on. Whole milk is simply the product straight from the animal it came from, while 1% and 2% are milks that have had a portion of cream removed to lower the milkfat content. Skim milk has had nearly all of the milkfat removed, bringing the total to below 0.5%. This is the milk you use when "milk" is called for in a recipe. Try milk in these Rainbow Milk Shooters.

Evaporated Milk (AKA Dehydrated Milk)

Evaporated milk is made when about 60% of the water is removed from fresh milk. What's left is then pasteurized, sterilized by heating to a very high temperature, and canned. The resulting product is a thick substance that is shelf stable and can be rehydrated to be roughly the same as fresh milk. This is what you use in this Easy Pumpkin Pie Recipe.

Condensed Milk (AKA Sweetened Condensed Milk)

Condensed milk is similar to evaporated milk, which has had a large portion of water removed. However, in addition to the removal of water, condensed milk also has had a large amount of sugar added to it. Because of these sugars, the milk has a light brown color from caramelization and a very thick, almost glue-like consistency. The product is literally so sweet that it can last for years without needing refrigeration. This is what you use in this Easy Peanut Butter Fudge Recipe.

Powdered Milk

Powdered milk is the result of taking fresh milk and, through the process of evaporation, removing nearly all of the moisture. The result is a fine powder of milk solids that are frequently used more in industrial manufacturing of food products such as chocolates, caramels, and baby formula rather than for home cooking. Still, you can add powdered milk to water and drink it, making it a great pantry stock. You could rehydrate powdered milk for use in a recipe like this: Powdered Sugar Icing Recipe.

Soured Milk/Buttermilk

Soured milk is entirely different from spoiled milk, so don't feel like you have to cringe when reading this paragraph. Soured milk is created by adding an acid (such as vinegar or lemon juice) to fresh milk, stirring, and allowing it to come to room temperature. Buttermilk—the manufactured version of soured milk—is cultured with body-healthy bacteria that add health benefits and a distinct flavor. This results in a tangy, thick product that lends a very specific flavor to many of our favorite recipes, including buttermilk pancakes and biscuits. Buttermilk is great in this Lemon Buttermilk Cake Recipe and either sour milk or buttermilk could be used in these Classic Biscuits.

Yogurt (AKA Yoghurt)

Yogurt is another dairy product that is not entirely dissimilar from soured milk. Bacteria cultures are added to milk, producing lactic acid—the stuff that gives yogurt its creamy texture and tangy taste. While we may have been taught in school that bacteria are bad, the bacteria in yogurt actually provide some fantastic health benefits, such as calcium, protein, and B vitamins. Lactic acid is also thought to be a fantastic digestive aid. Yogurt is great in this Dill Dip – among many other things.

Got a milk question? Let us know in the comments!