How to Make Pumpkin Pie without Evaporated Milk

A slice of pumpkin pie with whipped cream topping on a white plate.

What can you substitute for evaporated milk?

Have you ever found yourself in the kitchen on Thanksgiving or Christmas morning, with half the ingredients for pumpkin pie already in a mixing bowl, and suddenly realize that you have no evaporated milk in the cupboard?

Now what are you going to do? 

Most grocery stores are closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, although the trend these days is that some are open in the morning for a few hours. But can you leave the house with the ham or turkey already in the oven and several side dishes in various states of preparation?

Who has time to go to the store at the last minute and fight the crowd? 

But every recipe we've ever read for pumpkin pie requires a can of evaporated milk. Can we substitute something else for evaporated milk? 

There must be a way to make pumpkin pie without evaporated milk.

What is evaporated milk?

Evaporated milk is something that has always mystified me. Milk is liquid, and yet this is "evaporated" milk. Wouldn't that make it a solid? Or invisible? (Just kidding.) 

 Actually, fresh milk - in other words, milk in a carton, not in a can - is 13% solids and 87% liquid. Interesting, isn't it? As it comes from the cow or goat, the solids in milk consist of approximately 3.7% fat and the rest is "solids-not-fat." (Source) Just a trivia tidbit for you. 

Evaporated milk is cow's milk that's been heat-treated to remove about 60% of the water, which makes it more concentrated as well as shelf-stable. 

So it's partially evaporated. 

After removing some of the water, some additional ingredients are added: dipotassium phosphate, carrageenan (a thickener), and vitamins C and D3.

Dipotassium phosphate is a man-made chemical that combines phosphate, phosphorus, and sodium, and is used primarily as an emulsifier, stabilizer, and to change texture. According to the Good Mylk Co. website, dipotassium phosphate is considered "fairly safe." It's linked to kidney disease among other health problems.

So why are we using a product that contains this chemical anyway? 

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Substitutes for evaporated milk

As a matter of fact, there are many possible substitutions for evaporated milk, so you'll just need to decide which one to use. 

Try one of the following as a substitute for evaporated milk in pumpkin pie. Remember: one 12-ounce can = 1½ cups of evaporated milk.

  • 1 cup of whole milk*
  • 1½ cups of milk plus one beaten egg
  • 1½ cups of milk plus 1 Tablespoon of cornstarch
  • 1 cup of half-and-half
  • 1½ cups of heavy cream
  • 1 cup of cream plus 1/2 cup regular milk
  • 1½ cups of plain yogurt, Greek yogurt OR sour cream
  • 1½ cups coconut milk

*I recommend using whole milk instead of 2% fat or less, because low-fat milk contains more water and is thinner than whole milk. 

Go open the door of your refrigerator and cupboards and take a look. Which of these do you already have on hand? 

If you have several of these ingredients but not enough of one to use it as an evaporated milk substitute, you can combine some of the possible substitutions above.

For instance, if you only have one cup of plain yogurt, you can use it plus a half-cup of whole milk. Here are a few more possible substitutions:

  • one cup of yogurt plus 1/2 cup of heavy cream
  • one cup of yogurt plus 1/2 cup of whole milk
  • one cup of cream mixed with 1/2 cup of sour cream
  • 1/2 cup of cream plus 1 cup of coconut milk

Be creative, and use what you already have on hand - because no one has time to go to the grocery store on a holiday morning, right?

2 pumpkin pies on a baking sheet, fresh out of the oven.
Image by Mary Woolard. Used with permission.

Here's what I used as a substitute for evaporated milk

Because I have fresh goat milk on hand, that's what I've used. 

I use goat's milk and cow's milk interchangeably every day. I would have used cow's milk if that's what I had in my refrigerator. 

And since I was making a pie with pumpkin puree I'd made from fresh pumpkin, and fresh pumpkin has more liquid than canned pumpkin puree, I reduced the amount of milk a bit. I used one cup of goat milk instead of 12 ounces (1½ cups) of evaporated milk. 

Our pies were super-creamy and rich. Delicious! The consistency was perfect, and our pumpkin pie set up just like it should. 

I've also used a combination of plain, unflavored yogurt and milk, again with delicious results.

We'll be eating rich, creamy pumpkin pies made without evaporated milk from now on. I won't have to remember to buy evaporated milk ever again, and I'll be giving my family a safer, healthier alternative to that can of evaporated milk.

No more holiday mornings being frustrated by a simple can of evaporated milk or the lack thereof. No worrying about whether or not the grocery store will be out of this necessary ingredient. You have been set FREE, my friend! 

If you're looking for a pie crust recipe that's easy to make, try this one! And here's my family's holiday recipe collection if you're looking for some inspiration or new sides to accompany your traditional family meal. 

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Is it possible to make pumpkin pie without evaporated milk?

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