Half and Half vs. Heavy Cream – Cream Substitutes

The dairy aisle is home to so many options – milk, butter, yogurt, many different types of eggs, and much more – and it often seems like new products, brands and varieties are being added every day. But the are full of longtime residents, too… namely, half and half and heavy cream. These creamy, dreamy wonders have been staples in our fridges for decades, lightening up our morning coffees, giving soups and sauces the perfect velvety texture, and adding creaminess to all manner of desserts (Ree’s Vanilla Ice Cream Drummond is a great example of this 😍). But… what is the problem with these two products? When it comes to half and half or heavy cream, is there really a difference? And more importantly (especially for the bakers and home cooks among us), are they interchangeable?

The answer comes down to fat. The key, you see, is to understand the different types of milk fat content involved, because if you are looking to make a substitution it is important to assess whether the difference in milk fat content will alter radically your dish. For example, if you’re looking for a splash or two in your coffee, consider them interchangeable. But if you’re planning on making a batch of whipped cream, well, that’s another story – and various types of cakes and other desserts will require the use of just one. Where The other. Read on – we’ll dive into all the delicious dairy details below!

What is heavy cream?

Whipped cream

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Heavy cream (or heavy whipping cream) is the thick, fatty part of the milk that rises to the top during production. According to the USDA, heavy cream should contain between 36 and 40 percent milk fat, making it one of the highest fat dairy products on the market. No wonder it’s the secret to beloved glorious candies such as whipped cream and ganache.

You may also have seen something called “whipping cream” in the dairy aisle – this product is also known as “light whipping cream” and has a slightly lower milk fat content than heavy cream (about 30 to 36%). This box be used in place of heavy cream, but if you whip it you’ll want to note that you won’t get the same distinct stiff peaks as its fattier counterpart.

What is half and half?

heavy cream substitute half and half pitcher

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You’ve probably used it half and half in your morning cup of coffee…or to add thickness to dishes like pot pie and green bean stew. (Yum!) In fact, you might even have a box in your fridge right now. But what exactly is half and half? Well, as the name suggests, it’s equal parts whole milk and heavy cream. And, as the USDA requires, anything labeled “half and half” must contain between 10.5% and 18% milkfat.

Are half and half and heavy cream interchangeable?

The two products may be similar, but they are not the same thing. So it really depends on what you’re making. As we discussed, half and half is part milk, part heavy cream (hence the name!), meaning it has less fat than full heavy cream. So if you’re cooking something forgiving like soup or mashed potatoes, heavy cream and half and half are pretty much interchangeable in equal amounts, yes, both will give you that creamy texture we love and let’s all aspire. Remember that heavy cream contains more fat, so it will taste much richer. For this reason, if you’re using heavy cream instead of half and half, you might want to consider thinning it with a little water first. And on that note, if you’re not sure what to do with a large amount of leftover heavy cream (because topping everything with whipped cream isn’t socially acceptable, tragically), just mix it with equal parts whole milk . Now you have half and half. Magic!

How much half and half should I replace with heavy cream?

Good question. In most cases, you can think of this as a “one for one” exchange. There is only one exception, and it is important: whipped cream. No amount of whipping will turn half and half into whipped cream! If you’re in dire need of whipped cream and don’t have heavy cream in sight, don’t worry: a little butter can save the day. Melt some butter (equal to about 1/8 of the amount of half-and-half you’re using) and whisk (and we mean WHIP!) in the half-and-half until it starts to thicken. It might not taste exactly the same as whipped cream, but it’s certainly an acceptable substitute in an emergency. And hey, we’ve all been there.

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