Heavy Cream, Whipping Cream, or Half-and-Half? Here's What to Use When
With all the options in the milk section, it's easy to get confused. Heavy cream vs. heavy whipping cream? What about heavy cream vs. whipping cream? Oh, and then there's half-and-half. Their similar names and placement right next to each other on retail shelves can baffle even advanced cooks and ultimately affect the consistency, texture, and flavor of certain dishes.
Here, we explain the differences between the most common types of creams used for cooking, the best substitutes for heavy cream and half-and-half, plus how to decode the labels and best uses for each type of cream.
Heavy Cream vs. Whipping Cream
Heavy whipping cream vs. whipping cream—think they're the same? Think again. These seemingly similar varieties of cream contain different amounts of milkfat, which can create very different products.
Heavy cream is a common ingredient found in both sweet and savory recipes. Heavy cream (aka heavy whipping cream) contains between 36 and 40 percent milkfat and is thicker than light cream, whipping cream, half-and-half, whole milk, and evaporated milk. Heavy cream's high fat content means that it won't curdle when heated and is the best choice for whipping into stiff peaks.
Whipping cream, on the other hand, contains between 30 percent to 35 percent milkfat, which means that it is a lighter product than heavy cream and heavy whipping cream. Whipping cream contains only 45 calories, 4.5 grams of fat, and 3 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon.
Most packages list the milkfat content so if you're not sure which cream is right for your recipe, just read the label. The 5 percent milkfat difference may not seem like a big deal, but it can drastically change the richness and thickness of soups, sauces, and sweets. The lower fat content in whipping cream means that it won't ever achieve perfectly stiff peaks when whipped, so for a truly impressive whipped cream topping on pies or cakes, use heavy cream.
When to use heavy cream: Heavy cream makes everything richer, creamier, and tastier. Heavy cream recipes like creamy cauliflower soup and Boston cream pie ice cream become more luscious with lots of heavy cream. Even a splash or two of heavy cream in recipes like slow-cooker Bolognese sauce and tarragon cream sauce can add a satisfying decadence to basic weeknight meals.
When to use whipping cream: Whipping cream is ideal for, you guessed it, whipped cream. It has as a lighter, airy texture due to the lower amount of milkfat; however, this does mean that it won't hold its shape as well when whipped. The end result will be similar to the consistency of Cool Whip, rather than a thick, intricate cream topping. Whipped cream made using whipping cream, not heavy cream, is perfect as a dollop on ice cream or a garnish for jelly bean meringues, berries and coconut cream, and this insanely beautiful sheet pan pavlova.
RELATED: Whipped Cream Recipe
Is heavy cream the same as heavy whipping cream?
Heavy cream and heavy whipping cream are actually the same product just with two different names. According to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, heavy cream and heavy whipping cream must contain at least 36 percent milkfat. Their nutritional info is also the same—both contain about 50 calories, 5 grams of fat, and 3.5 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon. Next time you see them packed next to each other in the grocery store, you won't have to think twice about which one to pick up. Different label, same delicious dairy.
Can you freeze heavy cream?
We were amazed to learn that the answer to whether or not you can freeze heavy cream is yes. While heavy cream stays fresh in the refrigerator for about a month, sometimes you end up with an overabundance of heavy cream, especially during the holidays.
How to freeze heavy cream: Pour 1 Tbsp. heavy cream into each cube of an ice tray and freeze. Defrost the cream cubes in advance, or pop them right into hot soup for enhanced creaminess. Consider basic conversions if using this method: 4 tablespoons per ¼ cup. You can also freeze an entire pint or quart of heavy cream in its package; just pour out about ½ cup of heavy cream to make a little room, as the cream will expand when frozen.
The Best Heavy Cream Substitutes
Perhaps you're cooking for someone who is vegan, or maybe you get halfway through your recipe before you realize you're out of this key ingredient. While these heavy cream substitutes don't work well for making whipped cream, they're the perfect alternative in most other recipes.
Half-and-Half vs. Heavy Cream
The main difference between half-and-half vs. heavy cream is the milkfat content. Half-and-half is literally made with equal parts of heavy cream and milk. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires that half-and-half contains between 10.5 and 18 percent milkfat. To make half-and-half at home, mix together a 1:1 ratio of heavy cream and milk and use in any recipe (or your daily cup of joe) that calls for half-and-half. Heavy cream, on the other hand, is a thicker and richer cream that contains at least 36 percent milkfat, nearly double that of half-and-half. If you're trying to cut back on fat, half-and-half is a suitable substitute. However, don't try to whip half-and-half for whipped cream; the product doesn't contain nearly enough milkfat to form luscious stiff peaks that will hold their own shape.
If you're cooking savory recipes like this potato-parsnip soup, Joanna Gaines's asparagus & fontina quiche, or mashed potatoes, heavy cream and half-and-half can be generally be used interchangeably. Just know that the consistency and richness of these dishes may vary based on which type of cream you use. Beyond that, you must temper half-and-half when adding it to hot liquid, otherwise it will separate and curdle. To temper half-and-half, add a little bit of hot liquid to a bowl with half-and-half and slowly whisk together; repeat two more times, then slowly stir the tempered half-and-half back into the original mixture. By doing this process, you are gently raising the temperature of the half-and-half, which prevents curdling.
When to use half-and-half: It's the perfect way to add a silky richness to creamy mashed potatoes, quiches, and caramel sauce. It's also a delicious coffee creamer However, half-and-half does not have enough fat to whip up into homemade whipped cream, so reserve that recipe for heavy cream only.
Light cream vs. half-and-half
There's even less of a difference between light cream vs. half-and-half than there is between heavy cream vs. half-and-half. The FDA requires that products labeled as light cream contain between 18 and 30 percent milkfat, which means that it is fattier than half-and-half but not as rich and creamy as heavy cream. Light cream is a perfect coffee add-in, as well as a drizzle over mixed berries, as a substitute for milk in these glazed cake donuts, or in Cajun skirt steak with creamed corn. Don't overdo the light cream is recipes that are heated for long periods of time, as the cream has the potential to curdle. Like half-and-half, the low milkfat content in light cream also means that it can't be whisked into fluffy whipped cream.
What is fat-free half-and-half?
Beware of anything labeled fat-free half-and-half; it sounds too good to be true because it is. Fat-free half-and-half is mainly made with skim milk, corn syrup, and half a dozen additives and artificial colors. Stick to regular half-and-half, which is a purer product with less chemicals and overall better for you.
The Best Half-and-Half Substitutes
DIY Half-and-Half Substitute
You can easily make your own half-and-half at home by mixing equal parts of heavy cream and milk in a mason jar (or any airtight container) and shaking vigorously. When half-and-half is made for commercial use, it is homogenized which means that the heavy cream and milk are mixed fully to prevent them from separating. Shaking thoroughly will avoid separation in your own half-and-half recipe.
You can also use half-and-half in recipes that call for equal parts of heavy cream and milk, like this panettone bread pudding. Instead of using 2 cups of heavy cream and 2 cups of milk, you can safely substitute for 4 cups of half-and-half (shopping hint: 4 cups of half-and-half is the equivalent of 1 quart).
Other Half-and-Half Options
Light cream (not light whipping cream) is the most similar dairy product to half-and-half; it contains between 18 to 30 percent milkfat and is just slightly thicker in consistency than half-and-half. Whole milk, light cream, whipping cream, and even heavy cream are also worthy half-and-half substitutes in any recipe where you're trying to add creaminess and richness. Use the same amount of half-and-half as what is called for in a recipe; just know that the consistency of your recipe may be different than intended (but still delicious).