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Googling this question turned up many articles claiming that instant pudding can be made with water instead of milk.

I gave it a shot just to see how different it is and... it's just not true. I expected the pudding to be a bit thinner than normal, but to my surprise it's worse than that.

It seems that something in the milk may cause a chemical reaction, because instant pudding with water failed to thicken at all, and I used one quarter cup less water than the called for milk.

So... what is it about milk that causes the pudding to thicken where water fails? And is there a suitable substitute for milk in instant pudding?

I keep pudding in my long term food storage pantry since it has an extremely long shelf life, but would like to make it with as simple ingredients as possible. Water would have been ideal.

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    You might want to post the ingredients list and the exact steps you took, because the starches used in instant pudding can set with water (at least from my reading of what's commonly used; the equivalents here are slightly different)
    – Chris H
    May 17, 2022 at 5:40
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    Yeah - considering the info I'm seeing on the web, it seems like it should generally work but it's possible you're using a different brand or there's some other issue going on.
    – Catija
    May 17, 2022 at 14:20
  • Not really an answer, but you could sidestep this problem by keeping powdered milk in your long term food storage pantry.
    – Brian
    May 18, 2022 at 13:02
  • We do also have powdered milk. Just trying to get a handle on the pudding on its own. May 18, 2022 at 18:19

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Okay, so instant pudding can be made with water. Full disclosure - I asked my son to make the first batch, and it was incredibly thin. He may have added too much water.

Both chocolate and vanilla instant pudding worked with just water. I recommend halving the required water, and it definitely does not taste as good as milk pudding.

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  • Thanks for your comments, and sorry for the wild goose chase. May 18, 2022 at 18:24
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    It was a reasonable question which now has an answer for people to benefit from, nothing to apologise for here.
    – dbmag9
    May 18, 2022 at 21:38
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I have two boxes of instant pudding from different companies and both state that dairy milk is required ("Pudding will not set if made with non-dairy milk" / "Pudding will not set if made with soy milk"). But why? Both contain (di)sodium phosphate and tetrasodium phosphate ("for thickening").

Reportedly, phosphates interact with dairy proteins in ways that are beneficial for pudding.

Phosphates ... support emulsification by interacting with proteins; and bind calcium in milk gels.

... tetrasodium pyrophosphate (TSPP) enhances the viscosity of chocolate milk by forming a weak calcium pyrophosphate gel. This gel interacts with casein to provide viscosity and appears to improve color.

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  • That might be something about that specific brand, because I’ve used soy and nut milks to make instant pudding before (both Royal and Jello brands)
    – Joe
    Mar 27 at 17:34
  • @Joe I've got two boxes of Jello Pudding in my hand (butterscotch and vanilla) and they both have the warning about using soy milk. Mar 27 at 18:52
  • Maybe they changed the recipe, then. I haven’t done it for many years. Or maybe the issue is that the pudding comes out a bit down and doesn’t look very good. (I also made it intentionally runny, as it was to shoot out of a cake, so maybe it doesn’t set up quite the same if you tried to make normal pudding)
    – Joe
    Mar 27 at 20:46
  • Well, my pudding boxes were best by 4 years ago, but it looks like instant pudding still has phosphate but cook and serve does not (since boiling liquid will activate the cornstarch) Mar 27 at 21:00
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Cook and Serve Lemon flavor pudding IS made with water rather than milk so seeing this question and resultant answers prompted me to mention the method used per box of major US brand includes an egg. I don't have the directions or a box on hand but I am certain it's somewhere on the web. I don't recall if it's only the yolk or whole egg but believe it's only the yolk. I also recall the directions have to be followed closely to avoid an eggy taste too.

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