Turn basic recipes into rich, flavorful dishes with heavy cream. Below, we break down what heavy cream is, how to use it, and its nutritional information.

By Kelly Vaughan
Updated March 06, 2019
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Heavy cream is a staple ingredient in many cuisines— from Italian-American Fettucine Alfredo and all-American mashed potatoes to French crème brûlée and Indian chicken tikka masala, there’s a reason why it’s beloved in kitchens across the globe. So, what is heavy cream? Why does heavy cream taste so good? Heavy cream is a rich and creamy dairy product that enhances the richness and creaminess of dishes. It is typically sold by the pint or quart in all commercial grocery stores for less than $5. Read on to learn more about how heavy cream is made, its potential health benefits, and our favorite ways to cook with heavy cream.

What is Heavy Cream?

Heavy cream contains 36%-40% milkfat, which is what creates a silky consistency in recipes. It is the main ingredient in whipped cream and some ice creams, and can make both sweet and savory dishes more decadent. Heavy cream is fattier and thicker than light cream, whipping cream (yes, there is a difference), 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. While heavy whipping cream has about 5% less fat that heavy cream, they generally can be used interchangeably. Heavy cream is made by skimming or separating the fattest layer of liquid off the top of whole milk in a processing plant. Commercial heavy cream also often contains added vitamins, stabilizers, and thickeners like carrageenan, polysorbate, and mono and diglycerides.

How to Make Heavy Cream 

Of course, the easiest thing to do is to buy heavy cream from the store. However, if you're in a pinch (or just want to try something new), you can make it. Heavy cream powder ($14; Amazon) exists for this very purpose and it is magical. To make heavy cream, mix ½ cup of heavy cream powder and one cup hot water. Transfer to an airtight container and let sit in the refrigerator overnight to thicken. Strain through a fine mesh sieve to remove any clumps that didn’t fully dissolve. While this substitute isn’t ideal for making whipped cream or ice cream, it is a suitable creamer for soups, smoothies, and coffee.

How to Cook with Heavy Cream

Let’s face it— 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.