A Helpful Guide to Dried Milk: How to Store It and Use It

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Many dehydrated and freeze-dried foods are easy to add to our food storage pantries because we know what to expect when we buy them. There’s no big surprise when you open a can of dehydrated onions or freeze-dried strawberries. However, when it comes to dried milk, there are many confusing options.

Which are best for drinking? Baking? What about the so-called “milk alternatives”?

Having dry milk on hand is extremely handy whenever I run low on regular milk. Back in the day, when my kids were drinking cold milk by the gallon, having a backup ready to go was a life-saver. You can even turn it into buttermilk or evaporated milk with some tricks.

In fact, I do still have a lot of dried milk in my pantry. Although we don’t drink much milk now that my kids are older, I do use it for baking and in other recipes. I’ve stocked up on instant milk, with a can or two of milk alternatives to be prepared for recipes and maybe, someday, grandkids.

image: Letters M-I-L-K traced in dried milk poured from container on blue table

What is dried milk?

Dry milk is simply regular milk with the bulk of its moisture content removed. It’s still real milk; it can just last a whole lot longer on the shelf.

Why would I want to store it?

Dry milk is as versatile as fresh milk and can be used in much the same way. It has the advantage, however, of being a shelf-stable product. This longer shelf life makes it an excellent choice to stock in your food storage pantry for everyday and emergency use.

Why is it helpful to store for emergencies?

In particular, it supplies fresh milk that may otherwise be unavailable in emergencies. In addition, it’s an excellent source of vitamins A and D, calcium, and also protein at a time when nutrition is even more critical. However, note that non-fat varieties don’t contain Vitamins A and D.

Additionally, even if it’s not something you think you’d use, it could be an excellent item to keep on hand for bartering. It’s one of the less-expensive foods meant for long-term storage.

Two Primary Types

There are two primary types, both shelf stable for extended periods. They’re created using different processes, and although they can be used interchangeably, their unique characteristics make them better suited for different purposes.

Instant Dry Milk

Instant Dry Milk is non-fat and dissolves instantly in cold and hot water. This is your go-to product if you’re looking to stock up on milk used primarily for drinking. If your only memory of drinking dried milk is 20 years old, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the taste. The product has improved a lot since then!

Instant milk is made by a process called spray drying, in which milk is quickly dried by hot air. This produces a very fine powder, which helps instant milk dissolve quickly when mixed with water.

Some moms add a small amount of vanilla to the rehydrated milk, just to add a little extra flavor, and then serve it nice and cold. If you’re concerned about additives, check the label on the brand you’re considering buying. Some add only Vitamins A and D3, while others might contain additional ingredients.

You can also use this product in your cooking and baking recipes, so it’s quite a workhorse in your kitchen.

Store it carefully, however, in the coolest location possible. Its ideal storage temperature is in the 55-70 degree range (F), which is quite cool. Warmer temperatures lead to a gradual decline in vitamins and flavor; however, calories, carbs, proteins, and minerals remain constant.

Powdered Milk

Not all food storage companies sell powdered milk, but this dry milk is a little different from “instant” dry milk. It’s also non-fat but is intended for cooking and baking. It doesn’t need rehydrating before being added to your recipes. If your family doesn’t drink much milk, you may want to stock up more with powdered milk and less with instant.

Powdered milk is created in a process called drum drying. This process produces a dry milk with a different texture than instant milk, and since more heat is added in the drum drying process, the flavor changes slightly. You could still drink this, but it may be less palatable than the instant variety.

Additionally, the powdered milk particles aren’t puffed with air, making it more challenging to combine with water. Because of this, some moms mix powdered milk with a small amount of warm water first for easier blending, then add it to cold.

Another method is to add a small amount of water to the powder to form a paste, then slowly stream in the remaining water while continuously mixing.

Instant and powdered milk are low-fat, but if you want whole milk powder, try this one.

Finally, as a last resort and if you have power to spare (i.e. not an emergency), a blender or food processor could make quick work of mixing.

The Care and Use of Dried Milk

This variety of milk is pretty easy in most respects. Just a few guidelines are needed:

How to Convert to Fresh Milk

Both Instant or Powdered milk combine with water to produce milk suitable for recipes. Check your container of instant/powdered milk for instructions, but in most cases, you can use these measurements:

  • 1 cup water + 1/3 cup dry milk =  1 cup milk
  • 1 quart water + 1 1/3 cups dry milk = 1 quart milk
  • 2 quarts water + 2 2/3 cups dry milk = 2 quarts milk
  • 1 gallon water + 5 1/3 cups dry milk = 1 gallon milk

A #10 can of instant milk makes around 50-55 cups of rehydrated milk. That’s like keeping about 3-1/2 gallons of fresh milk around! And in 1/3 the space. That’s a food storage win right there, my friends.

How to Store

Dry milk can be a bit fussy when it comes to long-term storage. Food storage companies will claim that their dry milk will last 25 years in storage, but that’s in optimal conditions in temperatures ranging from 55 to 70 degrees (F)! Most homes are warmer than that, and household temperatures vary daily and seasonally. Inconsistent temperatures negatively affect any food in your pantry. (See my article about the enemies of food storage.)

Use the package best buy date as a starting point, but per the Utah State University (USU) Extension service packaged non-fat dry milk has a shelf life of 3 months to 3-5 years, per USU studies. The temperature the product is stored is the determining factor. Therefore, the general rule of thumb is to keep it as cool, dry, and dark as possible for the most extended shelf life.

Once opened, transfer the product to a metal or glass airtight container. It can pick up off flavors from plastic. Again, store in a cool, dry, dark location. Refrigerating and freezing can extend its storage life, provided it’s protected from moisture and oxygen.

USU gives opened dry milk a three-month life span. But, again, use this as a guide, not a hard and fast rule. We preppers know that many foods last longer than manufacturers and clinical studies recommend. Look for indications that it is gone bad, such as discoloration and a bad smell.

How to Keep A Fresh Supply in Your Food Rotation

Because milk is a little pickier than other foods, it may be wise to stock up on smaller amounts and put it in your regular food rotation. That is, use the dry milk with the oldest expiration date and then replace it with newer, fresher dry milk.

If you don’t use dry milk all that often but still want it in your storage, either buy it in smaller containers (#2.5 cans rather than the gallon-size #10s) or repackage it in canning jars or smaller mylar bags. This article contains instructions for repackaging foods. I only buy instant milk in Pantry Cans from Thrive Life.

Is dry milk versatile?

Yes! You probably know how to quickly transform regular milk into buttermilk, but you can also do the same and more with dry milk. For example:

  • Buttermilk – Add 1 Tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar to one cup of reconstituted milk. Stir and allow to set for 5 minutes. Add to any recipe that calls for buttermilk.
  • Sweetened Condensed Milk – In a blender, combine 1/2 cup hot water, 1 cup dry milk, 1 cup sugar, and 1 Tablespoon butter. Blend well and use in any recipe in place of sweetened condensed milk.
  • Evaporated Milk – Whisk or use an electric mixer to combine  1-1/2 cups water and 1/2 c. + 1 Tablespoon powdered milk powder. When thoroughly combined, use this in place of evaporated milk.

Tips to Improve the Taste of Reconstituted Milk

Ok, so maybe you like the idea of having a source of milk stored long-term but reconstituted milk just makes you gag. Well, here are some tips to help tame the ol’ gag reflex:

  • Add vanilla
  • Add sugar or another sweetener. Chocolate syrup is a great option, so is flavored coffee creamer, which can be stored in powder form.
  • Store the milk in glass jars. (A great-aunt always transferred her store-bought, liquid milk into a glass pitcher, insisting it tasted better. But come to think of it, soda pop from a bottle tasted better from a can or a 2-liter plastic bottle, too.)
  • Add evaporated milk to add richness. Heavy cream is another option, but you may not have this on hand long-term in an emergency.
  • Chill it for drinking. Some things taste better cold; this is one of them.
  • Add egg powder and a neutral oil. The egg powder acts as an emulsifier, allowing you to add fat in the form of oil. Then add vanilla or sweeteners to help with the taste. This method is definitely better suited to an electric mixing tool. Plus, who would want to do all that work in an emergency anyway?!
  • Use the freshest dry milk first for drinking; save the older stuff for cooking and baking.
  • Add salt. Just a smidge, though. Salt acts like a flavor enhancer and may also make it taste a teensy bit sweeter.
  • Store leftover powder in a metal or glass container to prevent the absorption of odd odors that can occur from plastic and affect the taste of the milk. If using glass, store it in a dark place to prevent light absorption.
  • For best taste, wait several hours after reconstituting before drinking.

Other Types of Milk & Milk Alternatives Suitable for Long-term Storage

Having a variety of milk options in long-term storage makes good sense. Layers, right? Backups to our backups, you know? Here are some other options:

  • UHT milk: Ultra-high temperature milk that is 99.9% free of bacteria with a shelf life of six to nine months until opened. No refrigeration is required. Once opened, treat it as you would regular milk.
  • Evaporated milk: Pasteurized milk is simmered until it’s reduced. Add water in a 1:1 ratio. I’ve successfully used it in specific recipes, think homemade mac-n-cheese, without reconstituting. You can also use a different water ratio that’s more to your liking. Refrigerate once opened.
  • Coconut milk powder: Made by dehydrating fresh coconut milk, this is a non-dairy option. No refrigeration is required until rehydrated.
  • Oat, almond, soy milks: All non-dairy, shelf-stable options requiring refrigeration after opening.

Bonus recipe

Try this yummy Hot Cinnamon Milk Mix!

  • 2 cups Thrive Life Instant Nonfat Powdered Milk
  • 1 cup dry powdered creamer
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

Mix all dry ingredients together and store in an airtight container. Add three heaping spoonfuls to a mug of hot water. Add a splash of vanilla, stir well, and enjoy!

Dry milk is as versatile as fresh milk and can be used in much the same way but has the advantage of being a shelf-stable product. This longer shelf life makes it an excellent choice to stock in your food storage pantry for everyday and emergency use.

What types of dry milk do you keep in your food storage pantry?

Originally published August 3, 2015; updated by The Survival Mom editors.

13 thoughts on “A Helpful Guide to Dried Milk: How to Store It and Use It”

  1. Pingback: Stocking Up on Dried Milk: A Tutorial | Prepper Junkie

  2. Pingback: Prepper News Watch for August 3, 2015 | The Preparedness Podcast

  3. In the mexican food section at walmart is canned whole milk. Powered,and dried. It tastes very good for a dried product and can be used as creamer or keep it around when you run out of fresh and have to make some over night to use until you can get fresh. I always have this in my kitchen.

  4. Can I just purchase dried milk from Walmart and use my vacuum sealer to package and store in food-grade buckets? Do you have an estimate of how long it will last if I repackage it this way? Are the mylar bags that much better than using my vacuum sealer bags and storing in a bucket?

    1. The original mylar bags are much less oxygen permeable than vacuum sealer bags. Just because is could hold water doesn’t mean a gas can’t move in or out.

  5. I purchased the Nestle Nido powdered milk from Walmart online because some of my family cannot drink instant non fat. This was the only kind I could find that was whole milk. I found it to taste really good, especially when it is cold. My concern is that it contains soy. Is there a whole milk powder out there that does not add soy to the product? I haven’t found one yet.

    1. The Survival Mom

      Dried whole milk is harder to find because it contains fat, making it whole and not lowfat, and therefore, has a shorter shelf life. The Nido brand is the only one I’ve found. Have you checked on Amazon for other brands that might not contain soy?

  6. Wow, I forgot all about milk for storing. As a boy, I remember my Mom always making carnation dryed, or powdered milk. I only wish I knew which. All I can remember is she mixed it with water. This is what I had with my cereals in the morning, and they tasted great. I’ll have to pick up a couple different kinds at Wal-mart and see which is best. Thanks Lisa for reminding me….:)

  7. Pingback: Conversion Chart for Powdered Milk - Preparedness AdvicePreparedness Advice

  8. JOI Plant milk is made from almonds or cashews depending upon your preference. It’s quite affordable as well!

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