In the 1860s, the United States was, of course, in the grip of a civil war. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers fought in the Union Army, and to keep them nourished, the government turned to milk. But instead of raw cow’s milk, like most were drinking at the time, they were given rations of a safer, more shelf-stable version, which was sweetened and condensed.
That was more than 160 years ago, but condensed milk is still consumed today—although more often than not, it’s used in recipes rather than drunk straight out of the can. And, like many products over the decades, condensed milk has evolved so that you can enjoy it without any animal products whatsoever. Today, you can find vegan condensed milk on the shelves. Or, if you have the desire, you can also make a dairy-free version at home. Here’s how.
What is condensed milk?
In the 1800s, milk was consumed by many across the US and Europe. But there was one, big problem: it spoiled quickly, and the bacteria often made people sick (which is why raw milk is now illegal in the US). Eventually, pasteurization was discovered, which would make cow’s milk safer to drink.
But before that, an inventor called Gail Borden created condensed milk by vaporizing water from the milk without burning it, and the resulting liquid had a far longer shelf life than its raw counterpart. Today, condensed milk is made in the same way, with 60 percent of the water removed.
Not to be confused with evaporated milk, condensed milk is also sweetened with sugar, which is why it’s often added to desserts and baked goods.
What is vegan condensed milk?
In 2020, Nestlé’s dairy brand Carnation launched a vegan version of its condensed milk, which is made with oats, rice flour, and sugar, for the first time. Just like the regular version, it can be used in cooking to add a little extra sweetness to desserts and treats like vegan cheesecake, cupcakes, and fudge. Nature’s Charm, Biona, and Let’s Do Organic also make their own version of vegan condensed milk with ingredients like coconut milk and sugar.
Vegan condensed milk benefits
Many choose to use vegan condensed milk in cooking because it isn’t associated with the same environmental and ethical issues as the cow-derived version. To fuel the dairy industry, female cows are kept in cramped, factory farm conditions. There, they are artificially inseminated so that they can give birth to a calf and, in turn, produce milk.
Mothers and calves are often separated within a few hours, which, according to many animal-rights activists, causes the cows significant distress. “After being torn away from their mothers, calves will spend much of their lives in extreme confinement,” reports Animal Equality. “In fact, most will spend the first two-to-three months of life confined in lonely barren hutches, fed a diet of milk replacer while humans drink the milk intended for them.”
This method of farming is also harmful to the planet, as beef and dairy cattle contribute roughly one-third of human-caused methane emissions. Over the course of one year, research indicates that just one cow will belch around 220 pounds of methane into the atmosphere.
Plus, vegan condensed milk is lower in saturated fat than its dairy counterpart. According to Carnation, one tin of its regular condensed milk contains around 2.5 grams of saturates, while the vegan version contains 0.4 grams.
How do you use vegan condensed milk?
You can use vegan condensed milk in much the same way as regular condensed milk. Depending on your preference, you can add it to coffee, bake it into something sweet, like fudge or caramel, use it in a milkshake or smoothie, or make a rich, indulgent vegan dulce de leche sauce.
How do you make vegan condensed milk?
If your recipe calls for vegan condensed milk, or you just used to love the cow’s milk version and you’re craving an alternative, one option is to buy Carnation’s alternative. Or, if that is unavailable to you, you can also make your own. This recipe, for example, calls for coconut cream, sugar, vanilla, and salt, all of which are blended together and simmered to create a liquid that is almost identical to the real deal.
Vegan condensed milk recipes
Vegan condensed milk can help to create many delicious sweet treats. So, next time you have a dessert craving, here are some of our favorite recipes to try.
1 Copycat Wendy’s Chocolate Frosty
The taste of Wendy’s Frosty is iconic. But sadly, they’re not vegan. However, it’s easy to make your own, totally dairy-free, version at home. All you need to do is make your own condensed milk using coconut milk, sugar, and vanilla extract, and blend it together with frozen vegan chocolate milk, alongside milk cubes, cream, sugar, and more vanilla. It’s delicious and way more rewarding than just jumping in the car and driving to Wendy’s!
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Ginny Kay McMeans
2 Magic Cookie Bars
These magic cookie bars are the perfect balance of crunchy, sweet graham crackers, delicious chocolate chips, slightly sweet coconuts, and chopped walnuts. If you’ve got time, whip up some sweetened condensed milk for the coating, or just grab a store-bought version instead.
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Baked By Clo
3 Condensed Milk Caramel
If you’re craving a rich, indulgent dessert, like millionaire shortbread, for example, you’ll need a delicious layer of caramel, which, thankfully, is easy to make using vegan condensed milk, sugar, margarine, and vanilla extract.
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Top With Cinnamon
4 Banoffee Pie
Planning a dinner party? This vegan banoffee pie is the ultimate showstopper. Seriously, it’s guaranteed your guests will be looking at you in awe and asking for seconds. This recipe calls for Carnation Vegan Condensed Milk Alternative to make the delicious dulce de leche filling.
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5 Caramel Slice
Is there anything more indulgent than biting down through all the layers of a caramel shortbread slice? We’ll answer for you: there isn’t. Treat yourself to this ultra-gooey, crumbly, chocolatey dessert, which features, you guessed it, vegan condensed milk.
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