In the 1860s, the United States was certainly in the grip of a civil war. Thousands of soldiers fought in the Union army and the government turned to milk to keep them nourished. But instead of raw cow’s milk, as was often drunk, they were given a ration of a safer, more shelf-stable version, which was sweetened and concentrated.
That was more than 160 years ago, but condensed milk is still consumed today—though not as often, it’s used in recipes rather than drinking straight out of the can. And, like many products over the decades, condensed milk has evolved so you can enjoy it without any animal products. Today, you can find vegan condensed milk on the shelves. Or, if you prefer, you can make a dairy-free version at home. Here’s how.
What is condensed milk?
By the 1800s, milk was consumed by many people throughout the United States and Europe. But there was one, big problem: it spoiled quickly, and bacteria often made people sick (which is why raw milk is now illegal in the US). Eventually, pasteurization was invented, making cow’s milk safe to drink.
But before that, an inventor named Gail Borden made condensed milk without evaporating the water from the milk, and the resulting liquid had a much longer shelf life than its raw counterpart. Today, condensed milk is made 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 is 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. Just like the regular version, it can be used in cooking to add a little extra sweetness to desserts and vegan cheesecakes, cupcakes and fudge. Nature’s Charm, Biona, and Let’s Do Organic also make their own versions of vegan condensed milk with ingredients like coconut milk and sugar.
Benefits of Vegan Condensed Milk
Many people prefer to use vegan condensed milk in cooking because it is not 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 hours, which, according to many animal-rights activists, causes significant distress to the cows. “After being torn from their mothers, calves will spend most of their lives in extreme confinement,” reports Animal Equality. “In fact, most will spend the first two to three months of life confined to solitary barren huts, fed milk replacers while humans drink milk intended for them.”
This method of farming is also harmful to the planet, as beef and dairy cattle contribute about one-third of human-caused methane emissions. Over the course of a year, research indicates that just one cow will spew about 220 pounds of methane into the atmosphere.
Also, vegan condensed milk is lower in saturated fat than dairy. According to Carnation, a can of its regular condensed milk contains about 2.5 grams of saturates, while the vegan version has 0.4 grams.
How do you use vegan condensed milk?
You can use vegan condensed milk in 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 prefer the cow’s milk version and you want an alternative, one option is to buy a carnation substitute. Or, if it’s not available to you, you can make your own. This recipe, for example, calls for coconut cream, sugar, vanilla, and salt, all mixed together and boiled to create a liquid that’s nearly identical to the real deal.
Vegan Condensed Milk Recipe
Vegan condensed milk can help make many delicious desserts. So, the next time you get 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 are not vegan. However, it’s easy to make your own, completely dairy-free, version at home. All you have to do is make your own condensed milk using coconut milk, sugar and vanilla extract and mix it with frozen vegan chocolate milk with milk cubes, cream, sugar and more vanilla. It’s delicious and so much more rewarding than hopping in the car and going to Wendy’s!
Get the recipe
Ginny K. McMinns
2 Magic Cookie Bars
These Magic Cookie Bars are the perfect balance of crunchy, sweet graham crackers, delicious chocolate chips, slightly sweet coconut, and chopped walnuts. If you have time, add some sweetened condensed milk for the coating or use a store-bought version instead.
Get the recipe
Baked by Chloe
3 Condensed Milk Caramel
For example, if you want a rich, indulgent dessert like Millionaire Shortbread, you’ll need a delicious layer of caramel, which, thankfully, is easy to make using vegan condensed milk, sugar, margarine, and vanilla extract.
Get the recipe
Top with cinnamon
4 banoffee pie
Planning a dinner party? This vegan banffie pie is the ultimate showstopper. Seriously, it’s sure to have your guests staring at you in amazement and asking for seconds. This recipe calls for Carnation Vegan Condensed Milk Substitute for a delicious dulce de leche filling.
Get the recipe
5 Caramel slices
Is there anything more delightful than biting through all the layers of a caramel shortbread slice? We will answer for you: there is not. Treat yourself to this ultra-gooey, crumbly, chocolatey dessert that features, you guessed it, vegan condensed milk.
Get the recipe