Is half-and-half bad for you? The same as heavy cream? Low carb? We’ve got answers.

By Kelly Vaughan
Updated March 15, 2019
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Half-and-half always has a place in your refrigerator, but you may never know when to use it. Even if you’ve never given it much thought, you’ve probably wondered “what is half-and-half?” Well, half-and-half is the happy medium between milk and heavy cream. Half-and-half is what’s inside those little plastic containers in hotels and diners all across the country. It’s also an easy way to enhance the rich, velvety consistency in recipes like cheesy asparagus gratin and kale and goat cheese frittata. Below, we explain how half-and-half is made, what's actually in it, and offer more.

RELATED: Knowing Whether to Use Half-and-Half or Heavy Cream Can Make or Break Your Recipe

Half-and-half is a delicious coffee creamer, a way to make soups and sauces more decadent, and a dairy staple—but what is half-and-half? This dependable dairy product is pretty self-explanatory; half-and-half is literally made with equal parts of heavy cream and milk. Whether you’re using ½ cup or 4 cups of half-and-half, the product will always be an even, 1:1 ratio of regular milk and ultra-rich heavy cream. Half-and-half is the perfect way to add a silky richness to creamy mashed potatoes, quiches, and caramel sauce. However, it does not have enough fat to whip up into homemade whipped cream, so reserve that recipe for heavy cream only.

According to the FDA, half-and-half must contain between 10.5 to 18 percent milkfat. For comparison, heavy cream contains at least 36 percent milkfat and regular milk contains at least 3.25 percent milkfat. If you’re trying to cut back on calories and fat, then half-and-half is a good alternative to heavy cream. On the other hand, if you’re trying to increase your fat consumption (such as being on the keto diet), then half-and-half is not the best option. Two tablespoons of half-and-half contain 40 calories, 3g of fat, 2g of saturated fat, and 15mg of cholesterol. By comparison, the same amount of heavy cream contains 50 calories, 5g of fat, 3.5g of saturated fat, and 20mg of cholesterol.

RELATED: You Need to Know This Difference Between Heavy Cream and Whipping Cream

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). 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). These seamless substitutes for half-and-half are perfect in cheddar and beer soup, slow cooker gingerbread hot chocolate, and apricot-coconut cake.

Beware of anything labeled fat-free half-and-half. Sound too good to be true? You’re right. 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.

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