The Canned Good To Substitute For Sweetened Condensed Milk

Sweetened condensed milk is a must-use product in recipes from Vietnamese coffee and creamy tres leches cake to tangy six ingredient key lime pie. Because of its uniquely rich and syrupy texture and intense yet delectable sweetness, you may think there are no great substitutes for this canned dairy staple. However, there is another canned good that can do the trick: cream of coconut. 

No, cream of coconut is not some kind of dessert-inflected canned soup. This product, which is most famously used in cocktails like the piña colada, is made by processing sugar and coconut cream. Though the names are similar, coconut cream is unsweetened coconut milk that has a higher fat content and less water than regular coconut milk. It shouldn't be confused with the sweeter cream of coconut, though they can be swapped out for each other in a one-to-one ratio.

Going back to ingredient swaps, cream of coconut has a syrupy consistency that is very similar to sweetened condensed milk. It brings the right amount of sweetness and richness to a recipe, along with a delicious nutty undertone. Its tropical flavor is not overly pronounced, so don't worry about your dessert being overwhelmed by coconut. This product is also an ideal option if you are adjusting a recipe to be dairy-free, but if you really have a phobia of coconut, there are other condensed milk substitutes (including plant-based ones) to try out.

What else can you use in place of sweetened condensed milk?

Sweetened condensed milk is just milk that has been cooked down with sugar, so by giving either dairy or plant-based the same treatment, you can make a suitable substitute. Use whichever kind of dairy or plant-based milk you prefer, and simmer it on the stove with sugar over low heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture has thickened. This should take about 30 minutes or so. If you're not willing to spend the time, you can find dairy-free, sweetened condensed coconut milk at certain supermarkets, which is undoubtedly the fastest route to take.

Evaporated milk can also stand in for sweetened condensed milk, with some modifications. This milk product has a similarly concentrated milky flavor, but it does not contain sugar. You will have to increase the amount of sugar in your recipe to compensate. The texture is also much thinner, so evaporated milk is not the best substitute on its own, but when cooked down with sugar, the result will be very similar to sweetened condensed milk (and the evaporated milk will take less time to thicken up).

Desserts that shine with cream of coconut

Though cream of coconut leans more sweet and creamy than overwhelmingly coconut-y, you can dial up the coconut flavor if your dish includes complementary tastes. Ingredients that go well with coconut include almonds, walnuts, pineapple, mango, passion fruit, chocolate, lime, and banana. In some recipes, cream of coconut boosts the flavors even better than plain condensed milk. 

For example, if you want to make seven layer dessert bars, using cream of coconut in place of condensed milk combines well with the chocolate, butterscotch, shredded coconut, walnuts, and graham crackers. We've also already mentioned that this ingredient is a must-use in certain drinks and cocktails. Beyond the piña colada, cream of coconut is used in Painkillers, Bushwackers, and even in coconut martinis.

Similarly, using cream of coconut in coconut macaroons is a no-brainer. You could also make cream of coconut chocolate fudge, and then top it with shredded coconut and toasted almonds. Swirl it into refreshing Thai iced coffee to echo the frequent use of coconut milk on the country's cuisine, or blend cream of coconut with frozen mango to make a base for a super easy vegan ice cream. You might find yourself reaching for this product on its own merits, rather than just as a substitution for condensed milk.