Yes, all creams are made from milk fat—yes, another use for milk aside from pouring into your coffee or enhancing your cereal. And yes, all cream can make food taste richer and creamier, and all kinds are called cream. But knowing about different creams is important because it lets you choose the right one for your recipe, helping you get the best taste and texture and avoid wasting food and money.
In this article, I’ll help you do exactly that. Join me as I take a different look at different types of cream available for your use, each with its own texture, fat content, and use. You’ll find out how each one can make your culinary creations better!
Note: This article was originally written last March 18, 2018. This has been updated on September 24, 2023.
How are different types of cream made?
As mentioned above, cream is derived from milk, making any type of cream a dairy product. When fresh milk is left to stand, a layer of cream rises to the top, and this cream is then skimmed off. In modern dairies, this process is expedited using centrifuges called separators.
Do take note that the above is a general overview since different creams require different processes. For example, some commercial creams undergo ultra-pasteurization for longer shelf lives, while some creams are homogenized to ensure a uniform texture and prevent the fat from separating.
The cream obtained after the process can be of varying fat contents, which are then categorized into different types of cream.
Now we get to the heart of the article: what ARE the different types of cream?
Heavy cream, also known as whipping cream or heavy whipping cream, has more fat compared to other creams, with at least 36% fat. This makes it great for whipping as it holds its shape well. It’s often used to add richness to desserts, toppings, and fillings because of its creamy texture and taste—but because it’s so rich, it can form lumps more easily than lighter creams.
- Fat Content: Typically 36-40%
- Uses: Whipping cream is beloved for making whipped cream for desserts as well as custards, ice cream, sour cream, crème fraîche, and rich soups. Its high-fat content makes it whip up beautifully and can hold its shape—perfect for cake icing or frosting.
- Trivia: Heavy cream whipping results in a doubling of its volume!
If you haven’t heard of clotted cream, it’s perfectly normal! After all, it’s in England where it’s more common, usually for their scones and jams. If you thought heavy cream had high-fat content already, clotted cream has the most, with about 55-65%!
Clotted cream has an appearance similar to the whipped butter you might have with pancakes in restaurants—thick and rich. You can use clotted cream in sauces or fudge for a richer texture or spread on top of different desserts.
Want to try making it for yourself and, well, trying it out? You can, but you’ll need plenty of time and patience. Get heavy cream and cook it slowly in the oven to make the water evaporate and leave fat behind.
Take note that it takes about a day to make and cool it. It’s safe to keep for a whole week in the fridge.
- Fat Content: 55-60%
- Uses: A thick, rich cream with a golden crust on top. It’s a common treat in England, particularly enjoyed with scones and jam.
- Trivia: The cream is “clotted” by heating it slowly in shallow pans.
France is a source of many delicious things to indulge in, such as baguettes, opera cakes, and crème fraîch. Crème fraîch is a French cream with good bacteria, making it thick and taste nutty. While it’s similar to sour cream in some ways, it’s not as sour, so it’s great for baking.
You can use it for topping sweet foods such as cobblers or fruit pies—its unique taste adds another layer of flavor to the sweet fruits. You can even add crème fraîch to your mashed potatoes, soups, or stews for an added tang.
- Fat Content: Around 30-40%
- Uses: This tangy, thickened cream does not curdle at high temperatures, making it perfect for sauces and soups. It’s also delightful on desserts.
- Trivia: It originates from France, and its name literally translates to “fresh cream.”
Light cream has less fat compared to other creams, about 18% to 30% fat. Because it has a lower fat content, it doesn’t whip well, so it’s not ideal for topping desserts. If you plan to use light cream in hot sauces or soups, it’s not the best cream since it might separate due to the heat.
However, light cream is great to add to coffee or drinks for added texture and even flavor. That’s probably why light cream is known as coffee cream or table cream. Light cream also works well in recipes if you want a subtle cream flavor without overpowering the other ingredients.
- Fat Content: Between 18% and 30%.
- Uses: Commonly used to enrich the flavor of coffees and teas and suitable in recipes that don’t require whipping.
- Trivia: Even though it’s called “light,” it’s still thicker than half-and-half and plain milk!
Double cream is a type of cream made by using a special machine to separate the fat from the milk. As a result, double cream is thicker and richer than heavy cream but with a bit less fat than whipping cream. Speaking of whipping, double cream is great for it but be careful not to overdo it, or it will become butter. It’s perfect for making sauces or risotto thicker and creamier; it has so much fat it won’t curdle easily.
- Fat Content: About 48%
- Uses: It’s so thick it can be spooned out, making it great for topping various desserts. It can also be whipped, although it thickens rapidly and can become butter.
- Trivia: Double cream can be used to make clotted cream.
I know what you’re thinking: if there’s a double cream available, then there must be a single cream also, right? Well, you got that correctly! Single cream is a cream containing around 20% milk fat or even less and is similar to light cream or half-and-half.
Single cream is very versatile; you can pour it over desserts, add it to coffee or tea, and even use it to make sauces and soups smoother and more flavorful without making it too rich or heavy.
- Fat Content: Around 18%
- Uses: Perfect to pour over desserts or add to coffee.
- Trivia: It’s too light to whip but adds a creamy touch to dishes and beverages.
Since it’s the start of the Ber months by the time of this writing, you’re probably going to see plenty of all-purpose cream being stocked in groceries and local stores. Hey, it’s an important ingredient for the usual Pinoy Christmas food, right? But what exactly is all-purpose cream?
Well, as the name implies, it’s a versatile type of cream that is suitable for both cooking and whipping. This cream can be used in a variety of dishes like soups, sauces, desserts, and beverages to add richness, creaminess, and flavor. It usually has a fat content around 18-36%, making it a middle-ground option between light cream and heavy cream.
In short, it’s a handy option to have in your pantry as it can fulfill the roles of different types of cream, saving you from having to buy different kinds of products.
- Fat Content: Varies, typically around 18-36%
- Uses: Known for its versatility, it can be used in cooking, baking, and dessert-making. Used as a thickening component for fruit salads or the milk component for soups, stews and sauces. It’s also great for pastries and more.
- Trivia: It is processed to have a stable consistency, making it suitable for various culinary applications.
Whipping cream and heavy cream are often confused due to their similarities, but they do have some differences. The former has less fat, and while it whips well, it won’t form as stiff peaks as heavy cream would. It’s commonly used in making desserts like whipped cream and mousses and is also handy in soups, sauces, and gravies.
Be careful not to mix up whipping cream with the canned whipped topping found in the frozen aisle, as this is a different product made from a cream substitute and is not ideal for baking or cooking if you’re aiming for the best flavors.
In essence, aside from the slight variations in texture and fat content, whipping cream and heavy cream can generally be used interchangeably, explaining why the terms are often used interchangeably.
- Fat Content: Around 30-35%
- Uses: Use this to make whipped cream for topping pies, cakes, and other sweet treats. It’s also good for making a creamy frosting for cupcakes and cakes. You can also add it to soups and sauces for extra creaminess.
- Trivia: Some people interchange this with heavy cream, but they are different from one another. If you whip this too much, just like double cream, it can become butter.
You might have first heard about half-and-half at Starbucks; I know I did! It’s a favorite for coffee enthusiasts and often has a spot reserved in their fridges. Half-and-half is made by mixing equal parts of milk and cream and has less fat, around 10.5 to 18%.
Aside from it being a popular choice for coffee lovers, you can use it in various recipes such as clam chowder and creamy pasta dishes. However, you can’t use it to make whipping creams since it doesn’t have enough fat.
- Fat Content: 10-18% (usually made from half milk and half cream)
- Uses: A popular coffee creamer in the U.S., but is also be used in cooking and baking when a lighter cream is preferred.
- Trivia: You can’t whip half-and-half on its own, but if it’s all you have and you’re in a pinch, you can add a little melted butter to increase the fat content and whip it up.
Sour cream is a tangy and creamy dairy product made by fermenting regular cream with lactic acid bacteria and has around 20% milk fat. It is a staple for many cuisines and is used in dips, dressings, and as a topping for savory dishes like baked potatoes and tacos. However, sour cream is also a baking ingredient—you can use it to add moisture and tenderness to your baked goods for a more delicious experience.
Remember to keep it cool to avoid it going bad. Here’s an added trick: store your sour cream container upside down in the fridge to reduce the space for bacteria to grow!
- Fat Content: Around 20%
- Uses: Made by fermenting regular cream with certain kinds of lactic acid bacteria. It’s a staple in many dishes, from dips to baked goods to toppings.
- Trivia: Did you know that sour cream is often used in baking to produce a moist crumb in cakes?
Quick Tips On Using Different Types Of Cream
As you may have noticed, creams come in different thicknesses and fat content, and each one is good for different kinds of dishes. Some are best for pouring, others for whipping, and some can do it all! Here are some easy tips to help you figure out which cream to use:
- When choosing a type of cream, consider the fat content as well s the desired flavor and texture of your dish. This is because the fat in the cream can change the taste and feel of your dish.
- Heavy and whipping cream products are best for whipping and for making dishes that require a rich and creamy texture because they have more fat. More fat means they can get thicker when you whip them, and they can make foods taste richer and creamier.
- Light cream and half-and-half are good for adding creaminess to soups, sauces, and gravies. This is because they can mix well with other liquids and add a nice creamy taste without making the dish too thick or heavy.
- Sour cream and crème fraîche add creaminess and a tart flavor to dishes. Since they are thick and have a sour taste, they add creaminess and a little zing to make your culinary creation taste more interesting and feel smoother.
- Clotted cream is good for adding creaminess and a rich flavor to desserts.
Cream is a delicious and versatile ingredient that can be used to enhance the flavor and texture of many different dishes. With so many different types of cream available, there is sure to be a type of cream that is perfect for your recipe.
I hope the next time you reach for that carton in the refrigerator or supermarket aisle, you’ll know what you’ll get with your cooking and baking creations. Happy, er, creaming!
Oh, and of course, before I go, if you want the chance to try different types of cream for different kinds of dishes, whether sweet or savory, sign up at The Bailiwick Academy! With over a hundred courses, you can learn how to use different creams in your cooking and baking and find out how to make yummy dishes and treats that everyone will love.
See you in one of our classes!
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