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Making time to prepare traditional holiday treats is something many of us do this time of year. Whether it’s Auntie’s frosted cinnamon rolls, Grandma’s strawberry fluff or cookies and milk for Santa, we’ve all got our favorite food rituals. If your family is like ours, those recipes tend to include a few delicious dairy ingredients Grandma used to up the “wow” factor. But really, what’s the difference between evaporated milk and condensed milk?

Before you get started on the secret family recipe, here’s a few fun facts about some of our favorite ingredients:

Evaporated Milk- is cow’s milk that’s been thickened through, you guessed it, evaporation.

This concentrated type of milk is made when pasteurized milk is placed in an evaporator, removing about 60 percent of the water! Less water makes evaporated milk thicker, and it is often used to provide a creamy taste and smooth texture to casseroles and soups.

After the water has been removed, it is homogenized and then fortified with vitamin D (and sometimes Vitamin A) before it is vacuum-sealed into cans to create a longer shelf life. Evaporated milk can be made from both whole and skim milk, so you can choose full or reduced fat options depending on your preference.

This versatile ingredient makes a great kitchen stable. Check out some of these recipes for inspiration.

white chicken lasagna

Sweetened Condensed Milk- is cow’s milk that has been concentrated and then sugar is added. 

Basically, it’s evaporated milk that’s been sweetened! This syrupy milk is known best for its use in desserts. Condensed milk is made when pasteurized cow’s milk is placed in an evaporator to reduce the water content. Once it’s been reduced, sugar is added and then vacuum sealed in a can, making it shelf stable for about 2 years. It’s perfect for creating scrumptious fudge.

candy making

Half-and-Half- is a 50/50 mixture of whole milk and light cream.

It averages 10 to 12% fat, which is significantly more than whole milk but less than cream. Due to its lower fat content than cream, it can’t be whipped to make pie toppings and such, but makes an excellent creamer for coffee and lower calorie ingredient option for cream soups.

Heavy Cream or Heavy Whipping Cream- is the high fat portion of milk separated out when milk is processed.

Heavy Cream is the secret ingredient to that perfect homemade whipped cream. It’s 36-40% fat, a necessity for creating those light and fluffy dollops on your hot cocoa or pumpkin pie. Heavy Cream is also used to make ice cream, half and half and can even be evaporated or dried.

Make your own whipped cream in a jar, easy as 1, 2, 3!