Condensed milk, also known as sweetened condensed
milk, is cow's milk from which water has been removed and to which
sugar has been added, yielding a very thick, sweet product which
when canned can last for years without refrigeration if unopened. The two terms, condensed milk and sweetened condensed milk, have
become synonymous. Though there have been unsweetened condensed milk
products, today these are uncommon. Condensed milk is used in
numerous dessert dishes in many countries, especially in Brazil and
also Russia and the former Soviet Union where it is known as
"сгущёнка" (sguschyonka, literally "[that which is] thickened").
A related product is evaporated milk, which has undergone a more
complex process and which is not sweetened.
According to the writings of Marco Polo,
the Tartars were able to condense milk. Ten pounds of milk
paste was carried by each man who would mix the product with water.
However, this probably refers to the soft Tartar curd which can be
made into a drink ("ayran") by diluting it, and therefore refers to
fermented, not fresh, milk concentrate.
Appert condensed milk in France in 1820, and Gail Borden, Jr. in the
United States in 1856 in reaction to difficulties in storing milk
for more than a few hours. Before this development milk could only
be kept fresh for a short while and was only available in the
immediate vicinity of a cow. While returning from a trip to England
in 1851, Borden was devastated by the death of several children,
apparently due to poor milk from shipboard cows. With less than a
year of schooling and following in a wake of failures, both of his
own and of others, Borden was inspired by the vacuum pan he had seen
being used by Shakers to condense fruit juice and was at last able
to reduce milk without scorching or curdling it. Even then his first
two factories failed and only the third, built with his new partner,
Jeremiah Milbank in Wassaic, New York, produced a usable milk
derivative that was long-lasting and needed no refrigeration.
Probably of equal importance for the future of milk were Borden's
requirements (the "Dairyman's Ten Commandments") for farmers who
wanted to sell him raw milk: they were required to wash udders
before milking, keep barns swept clean, and scald and dry their
strainers morning and night. By 1858 Borden's milk, sold as Eagle
Brand, had gained a reputation for purity, durability and economy.
In 1864, Gail Borden's New York Condensed Milk Company constructed
the New York Milk Condensery in Brewster, New York. This condensery
was the largest and most advanced milk factory and was Borden's
first commercially successful plant. Over 200 dairy farmers supplied
20,000 gallons of milk daily to the Brewster plant as demand was
driven by the Civil War.
The U.S. government
ordered huge amounts of it as a field ration for Union soldiers
during the American Civil War. This was an extraordinary field
ration for the nineteenth century: a typical 14 oz can contains
1,300 calories, 1 oz each of protein and fat, and more than 7 oz of
Soldiers returning home from the
Civil War soon spread the word. By the late 1860s, condensed milk
was a major product. The first Canadian condensery was built at
Truro, Nova Scotia, in 1871. In 1899, E. B. Stuart opened the first
Pacific Coast Condensed Milk Company (later known as the Carnation
Milk Products Company) plant in Kent, Washington. Unfortunately, the
condensed milk market developed a bubble. Too many manufacturers
chased too little demand. By 1912, stocks of condensed milk were
large and the price dropped. Many condenseries went out of business.
In 1911, Nestlé constructed the world's largest condensed milk plant
in Dennington, Victoria, Australia.
Professor Otto F Hunziker, head of Purdue University's dairy
department, self-published Condensed milk and milk powder: prepared
for the use of milk condenseries, dairy students and pure food
departments. This text, along with additional work of Professor
Hunziker and others involved with the American Dairy Science
Association, standardized and improved condensery operations in the
U.S. and internationally. Hunziker's book was republished in a
seventh edition in October 2007 by Cartwright Press.
The first World War regenerated interest in, and a market for,
condensed milk, primarily due to its storage and transportation
benefits. In the U.S., the higher price for raw milk paid by
condenseries created significant problems for the cheese industry.
Raw milk is clarified and
standardized, and then is heated to 85-90-degrees C for several
seconds. This heating destroys some microorganisms, decreases fat
separation and inhibits oxidation. Some water is evaporated from the
milk and sugar is added to approximately 45%. This sugar is what
extends the shelf life of sweetened condensed milk. Sucrose
increases the liquid's osmotic pressure, which prevents
microorganism growth. The sweetened evaporated milk is cooled and
lactose crystallization is induced.
Condensed milk is used in recipes for the
popular Brazilian candy brigadeiro in which condensed milk is the
main ingredient (the most famous condensed milk brand in Brazil is
Moça, local version of Swiss Milch Mädchen marketed by Nestle),
lemon meringue pie, key lime pie, caramel candies and other
In parts of Asia and Europe, sweetened
condensed milk is the preferred milk to be added to coffee or
sweetened tea. Many countries in South East Asia use condensed milk
to flavor their coffee. A popular treat in Asia is to put condensed
milk on toast and eat it in a similar way as jam and toast. In West
Yorkshire in the years after world war two condensed milk was an
alternative to jam. Nestle has even produced a squeeze bottle
similar to Smucker's jam squeeze bottles for this very purpose.
Condensed milk is a major ingredient in many Indian desserts and
sweets. While most Indians start with normal milk to reduce and
sweeten it, packaged condensed milk has also become popular.
Condensed milk is drunk before most professional football games in
the UK. Professionals such as Ian Plumb endorse its use, stating its
many benefits: "I always score when I down a can of condensed milk
before a game, I'm not the same player without it".
In New Orleans, it is commonly used as a topping on top of a
chocolate or similar cream flavor snowball. In Scotland, it is mixed
with sugar and some butter and baked to form a popular, sweet candy
called a Tablet or Swiss-Milk-Tablet. In some parts of the Southern
U.S., condensed milk is a key ingredient in lemon ice box pie, a
sort of cream pie. In the Philippines, condensed milk is mixed with
some evaporated milk and eggs, spooned into shallow metal containers
over liquid caramelized sugar, then steamed to make a stiffer and
more filling version of crčme brulee known as leche flan.
In Mexico, sweetened condensed milk is one of the main ingredients
of the cold cake dessert (The leading brand is "La Lechera", the
local version of Swiss Milch Mädchen by Nestle), combined with
evaporated milk, marie biscuits, lemon juice and tropical fruit. It
is also used to make homemade Dulce de leche by baking it in an
During the communism era in Poland it was
common to boil a can of condensed milk in water for about 2 hours.
The resulting product is called kaymak - sweet semi liquid substance
which can be used as a cake icing or put between dry wafers. It is
less common nowadays but recently some manufactures of condensed
milk introduced canned ready-made kaymak. Boiling the can in this
way is central to the making of Banoffee pie and home-made dulce de
leche. In the southern United States, the product of boiling sealed
cans of sweetened condensed milk is also called "Danger Pudding."
To gain condensed milk from 1 cup
of evaporated milk one has to add 1 1/4 cups of sugar and dissolve
it by heating the milk.
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