Condensed Milk: How Canning Innovations Reshaped Dairy History
Image Credit: iStock

Condensed milk is a popular addition to meals and drinks. Vietnamese iced coffee—ever tried any? If so, you are aware that the smokiness of dark-roast robusta coffee is perfectly balanced by the sweet, syrupy taste of condensed milk, resulting in a robust beverage that is just as flavourful as it is potent.

Most people find it rather puzzling how condensed milk, which originated in America, became such a crucial component of Southeast Asian cooking and the cuisine of the entire world. We'll discuss what exactly condensed milk is as well as its history today.

What Is Condensed Milk?

Condensed milk is just ordinary cow's milk that has been compressed and sweetened with sugar. It is often referred to as sweetened condensed milk.

Sweetened condensed milk is a great component for desserts since it's extremely sweet and thick, with over 45 percent sugar. It has a two-year shelf life because of the canning method and the added sugar.

How Is Condensed Milk Made?

Condensed milk recipes vary across dairy companies. Even many instructions for creating a handmade version can be found online. Raw cow's milk, however, is the foundation of it all. In order to prevent the milk from disintegrating during processing, salt is subsequently added as a stabilising agent.

This process gives the condensed milk its distinctively thick and creamy texture. The milk is then flash-heated to around 185°F for a few seconds before being routed to the evaporator, where the water is removed. Approximately 45% of powdered lactose crystals are added to the milk once it has cooled. A lengthy shelf life—up to two years—is facilitated by the sugar in the milk product.

The History Of Condensed Milk

The original creator of this beloved dairy delicacy was Nicolas Appert, a French chef and confectioner. In 1804, he established the first canning business, and in 1827, he began producing condensed milk. However, it was William Newton, an English researcher, who proposed putting sugar in milk in 1835 to extend its shelf life, which increased the product's marketability.

Gail Borden created the New York Condensed Milk Company in 1856 after devising a method for the commercial production of condensed milk. The company converted about 75,000 litres of milk per day into condensed milk. Since his brand, Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk, was used as a field ration during the Civil War, Borden has received the most credit for popularising condensed milk.

The invention helped prevent food poisoning and other diseases associated with a lack of refrigeration and preservation methods during a time when nutrients weren't as easily available. Condensed milk is now a basic ingredient that every kitchen and pantry has to have.

Uses Of Condensed Milk

Condensed milk is used in many different recipes, including ice cream, baked foods, shaved ice, and more, only in Southeast Asia. Vietnamese and Cambodian iced coffees both contain condensed milk. Both of them use dark-roasted coffee and occasionally add cardamom, cloves, and chicory to their blend. Aside from Asia, condensed milk is also found in other countries. For instance, condensed milk is used in many candies and desserts in Scotland, Brazil, and the United Kingdom.