The Milk Fat Percentages You Need To Know

March 20, 2015

In Overheard, we're sharing all of the best tidbits we couldn't help picking up on -- from smart tips on the Hotline to funny quotes heard around the water cooler and more -- so we can all be in the know.

pouring milk

Over on the Hotline, Diana B asked about using half and half in recipes calling for equal volumes of cream and milk. It seems like an obvious substitution, but depending on your recipe that might not work -- hardlikearmour explains why:

It's not a 50-50 ratio. Whole milk is approximately 4% fat, heavy whipping cream is 36 to 40% butterfat, and half and half is 10.5 to 12% fat. A 50-50 mix gets you about 21% fat. A better mix would be 1/4 heavy cream to 3/4 whole milk which puts you around 12.5% fat. (If you have plain whipping cream, which is 30 to 35% fat, you'll be at about 11% fat.)

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Jane Rosenbaum
    Jane Rosenbaum
  • boulangere
  • QwertyJuan
  • Lindsay-Jean Hard
    Lindsay-Jean Hard
I like esoteric facts about vegetables. Author of the IACP Award-nominated cookbook, Cooking with Scraps.


Jane R. March 21, 2015
i don't understand this... the question was could you substitute half and half for milk and cream in a recipe... and your answer is to use cream and milk... therefore not providing a substitute?
Lindsay-Jean H. March 21, 2015
Apologies for the confusion Jane. We thought it was an interesting point to make that half and half isn't necessarily the best substitute for equal measures of whole milk and cream. (Conversely, if you have a recipe that calls for half and half, you could try using hardlikearmour's ratio if you need a substitute.)

Head to the Hotline discussion for more on the topic:
boulangere March 20, 2015
QwertyJuan, the original thread has some additional useful information:
QwertyJuan March 20, 2015
P.S. If this "isn't" how it's done in the USA (which I am guessing you are from) then please disregard what I said. :)
QwertyJuan March 20, 2015
Seriously?? I'm not saying you are wrong... but in Canada this isn't the case.

Skim milk? 0% obviously.
Whole Milk? 3.25%
Half and Half? 18%
Heavy Cream? 35%

So... half and half IS half and half. Half heavy cream and half skim. 35% + 0% /2 = 17.5%
Lindsay-Jean H. March 20, 2015
Hi QwertyJuan, you're right, if a recipe calls for equal amounts of skim milk and cream, as your example shows, half and half could be a great substitution.

But oftentimes a recipe calling for cream is going to be calling for whole milk, not skim, arguably making hardlikearmour's ratio a better substitution. Plus, milk fat content of half and half can vary a lot, so it's not an exact science either way!
Lindsay-Jean H. March 20, 2015
Make that "making hardlikearmour’s ratio a better approximation of half and half" not a better substitution.