Kitchen Hacks

8 Heavy Cream Substitutes for Cooking & Baking

What are the best heavy creams substitutes? From half-and-half to coconut milk, here are the best dairy and vegan options—plus when to use ‘em.

March  2, 2023
Photo by James Ransom

If you asked me what I dream about at night, the answer would be heavy cream in all its silky, creamy glory. Heavy cream is responsible for chart-topping recipes like Our Best Vanilla Ice Cream, Stovetop Mac & Cheese With Garlic Powder & White Pepper, Scalloped Potatoes with Caramelized Onions, and Warm Eggnog. If creamy comfort food is my dream, then running out of heavy cream is my nightmare. Few things hurt my soul more than pouring a generous amount of heavy cream into freshly mashed spuds only to find that there’s a drop or two left of the cream. What’s a girl to do? Cry. Panic. Call my mom. Or maybe do three minutes of breathwork and then open my refrigerator or pantry again to search for a substitute for heavy cream.

Alternatives for heavy cream may be another kind of dairy product or they may be vegan. There are thousands of recipes on our site that call for heavy cream, like chicken tikka masala and French onion soup and mac and cheese...but do you actually need the cream? Can you replace it with milk? Or coconut milk? Or something else entirely? Today, we’re going to answer those questions and more. Ahead, find the best heavy cream substitutes that work every tears necessary (but I’m still going to call my mom).

But first, an ask-me-anything heavy cream lightning round! Let’s go:

What is heavy cream?

Cream comes by way of milk. As food science authority Harold McGee explains it, “Cream is a special portion of milk that is greatly enriched with fat.” So, if you find yourself with a bucket of straight-from-the-cow milk, and you let it hang out for awhile, the fat will rise to the top, yielding a layer of cream.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), heavy cream should not contain less than 36 percent milkfat. It is either pasteurized or ultra-pasteurized, and may be homogenized. So what about heavy cream vs. heavy whipping cream—where does the latter fit into all of this? Heavy whipping cream is actually the exact same product as heavy cream (meaning that it also must contain at least 36 percent milkfat), but brands may call it different names. You might also see it under the name “whipping cream” and yep, that’s the same thing, too.

Can I substitute light cream for heavy cream?

Depends on the recipe. Light cream generally has a fat content of 20 percent, while heavy cream is at least 36 percent. If you need the cream to whip, light cream won’t cut it (there isn’t enough fat to form a foam—try to say that five times fast). But if the recipe is more forgiving (like a pureed soup or mashed potatoes), swapping in light cream shouldn’t cause any major issues.

Can I make whipped cream with half-and-half?

Sorry, no. Half-and-half’s fat content hovers around 12 percent, which is great for pouring into coffee and over fresh fruit, but isn’t fatty enough for whipping.

Can I substitute whipping cream for heavy cream?

Ah-ha! Trick question. As previously mentioned, they’re pretty much the same. Pretty much because whipping cream has a fat content of at least 35 percent, while heavy cream (which also goes by heavy whipping cream) has a fat content of at least 36 percent. Which is to say, both are good for the same things, like whipping, reducing in cheesy gratins, and posset-ing.

Can I substitute evaporated milk for heavy cream?

Again, depends on the recipe. Evaporated milk is pressure-cooked until it loses roughly half of its water content; the beige-hued result has a high concentration of lactose and protein. If you’re making whipped cream or a baked good (say, cream scones or apple butter pie), stick to what’s called for. But, if you’re working with a soup or saucy-something, you can do a 1:1 substitution of evaporated milk in place of heavy cream.

Heavy Cream Substitutes

These are some of the most common cream replacements. We'll get to know each ingredient, then learn how to put them toward specific recipes in the section below.


Half cream, half milk, this dairy hovers between 10–12 percent fat. It can’t be whipped and shouldn’t be swapped into baking recipes, but is great for enriching soups and mashed or creamed vegetables.

Light cream

Heavier than half-and-half, but lighter than heavy cream, with an 18–30 percent fat content. Still too lean to whip, but good for enriching soups and mashed vegetables, and can be used for sauces.

Whole milk

With about 3.5 percent fat, this is the creamiest milk around, but still significantly leaner than heavy cream. Use for mashed vegetables or other forgiving cooking preparations. Trying to reduce milk like cream would cause curdling (though sometimes this is on purpose).

Evaporated milk

This canned product has had 60 percent of its water content removed. To use as a heavy cream substitute, look for the whole-milk variety, which contains at least 7.9 percent fat. It works very well in sauces, but has a slightly cooked, caramelized flavor.

Coconut milk or cream

Rich in fat, both of these products are a great vegan substitute for heavy cream. Try in sauces and soups; the cream can be whipped. However, it doesn’t quite have the body that heavy cream (or heavy whipping cream) has, so it won’t ever form stiff peaks like whipped cream does. Avoid light varieties and don’t confuse with cream of coconut, which is sweetened.

Cashew cream

Another great vegan substitute, with a much milder flavor than coconut. You can make your own cashew cream by soaking nuts, then blending them until smooth. If you’re buying store-bought, make sure to avoid sweetened varieties.

Onion "Cream"

Yep. This sorta-substitute, made by roasting and puréeing onions, is so out there, it's Genius. Don't even think about using it for sweets, but "you can swap it in for cream in your risotto, add to pasta with fresh herbs for a healthier, brighter, but still decadent-tasting dish, whip it into your mashed potatoes, or use it in a quiche to lighten up the base," according to its creator chef Grant Lee Crilly.

How to Substitute Heavy Cream in Recipes

Now, onto some specific recipes. Below are six heavy-cream-loving dishes. We’ll break down whether or not you can substitute, and which substitutes are your best bet.

Can I substitute the heavy cream in mashed potatoes?

Short answer: Yes.
Recommended substitutes: Whole milk, evaporated milk, coconut milk, onion cream.
Caveats: Dairy is a free-for-all in mashed potato recipes. If you read enough of them, you’ll come across heavy cream, milk, cream cheese, goat cheese, sour cream, butter, and often the freedom to pick your favorite (like when a recipe says "1/2 cup whole milk or half-and-half"). So, there’s a lot of flexibility here. Just keep in mind that if you opt for a vegan option, like coconut milk, you’ll notice its flavor.

Can I substitute the heavy cream in soup?

Short answer: Yes.
Recommended substitutes: Evaporated milk, whole milk, coconut milk, cashew cream, onion cream.
Caveats: A lot of non-dairy milks are sneakily sweetened. Double check the ingredient list to make sure you aren’t about to turn your chowder into dessert.

Can I substitute the heavy cream in Alfredo sauce?

Short answer: Technically, Alfredo sauce isn’t supposed to have heavy cream in it—in traditional versions, the creaminess actually comes from the starchy pasta water, butter, and cheese—but, yes, a lot of contemporary Alfredo recipes do contain cream, and yes, you can substitute it.
Recommended substitutes: Evaporated milk. Or, pureed cauliflower!
Caveats: Because of the way it’s boiled down, evaporated milk has an almost sweet, caramely flavor. To make sure this isn’t too noticeable, don’t skimp on the Parm.

Can I substitute the heavy cream in quiche?

Short answer: Yes.
Recommended substitutes: Half-and-half or whole milk.
Caveats: Some quiche recipes call for all cream, some call for a mixture of cream and whole milk (with a popular ratio of 1:1), and some call for all milk. You can swap out the cream for half-and-half or milk, but it will result in a less flavorful, less silky custard. Don’t use lowfat or nonfat milk, which would give the custard a blander flavor and spongier texture, with a higher risk of curdling.

Can I substitute the heavy cream in whipped cream?

Short answer: Yes.
Recommended substitutes: Coconut cream.
Caveats: While you can’t swap out heavy cream for a lower-fat dairy, like half-and-half or milk (it won’t whip up), you can turn to a dairy alternative: coconut cream. You can either buy this straight or refrigerate a can of coconut milk for at least 12 hours, then scoop up the cream layer on the top.

Can I substitute the heavy cream in ice cream?

Short answer: Sort of.
Recommended substitutes: Half-and-half. Or, go vegan.
Caveats: Many ice cream recipes call for a 2:1 ratio of cream to milk. You can replace the cream portion with half-and-half, or you can replace both the cream and milk with half-and-half. Just remember that the less butterfat your ice cream has, the icier and harder it will turn out (aka not creamy). To compensate for this, you can swap out some of the granulated sugar for a liquid sweetener, like corn syrup or honey, which will encourage a creamier result. On the opposite side of the spectrum, you can skip the dairy altogether and make a vegan ice cream with coconut milk or cashew cream instead (here is our full guide on how to make dairy-free ice cream).

These Cream-Filled recipe are the, ahem, cream of the crop

(But you can still use a swap!)

Cream Biscuits

These biscuits call on heavy cream instead of the classic buttermilk for a simpler mixing process, and a rich and tender final product. If you don’t have heavy cream on hand, feel free to use half-and-half or milk, or better yet, just go back to basics and use buttermilk for a tangier biscuit.

Pre-Seasoned Mashed Potatoes

By heavily seasoning the cooking water for the potatoes with salt, garlic, peppercorns, and aromatics, you can skip the step of seasoning after they’re mashed. These potatoes emerge from the water brimming with flavor and perfectly cooked, meaning you can mix them less, which lowers the risk of over-working your mashed potatoes into a gluey, starchy mess. Just add a little butter, cream, and plate up your potato-y perfection.

Rigatoni with Vodka Sauce

We love this recipe from editor Rebecca Firkser for many reasons. As Firkser writes, this vodka sauce gets the bulk of its creaminess from “a mixture of grated Parm and pasta water, both of which are more salty and nuanced than cream.” Music to any lactose-intolerant ears! It does still call for some cream, which can be subbed for a little half-and-half or whole milk, without compromising the whole dish (as is typical of cream-less attempts at vodka sauce).

Creamy Mushroom Soup

This mushroom soup delivers on the promise of creamy, with an ultra-comforting, bisque-like consistency. A little cream goes a long way here, as does a touch of cognac. For a more sophisticated depth of flavor, use a mix of mushrooms: cremini, shitake, button, hen of the woods, oyster, and chanterelle will all do nicely here.

Apricot Almond Baked

When baked, oatmeal becomes the ideal antidote for a chilly morning. Simply throw together a mix of oats, spices, dried fruits, and nuts, then pour over some cream and milk and toss it in the oven. Within thirty minutes, you’ll have yourself a crunchy, creamy, sweet, spicy breakfast.

Editor's note: We've corrected the statement that evaporated milk is also known as condensed milk. As many of you pointed out, condensed milk is sweetened and not the same as evaporated milk.

How do you feel about heavy cream? Let us know below!
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Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


Jamie W. November 18, 2022
Where can I find the measuring cup pictured in this article?
Westaudrey66 May 23, 2022
Can I use coconut milk whipped cream in place of heavy cream in a banana pudding? The recipe calls for 3.5cups heavy cream and I have 2 cups (1pint) of it only. I'm wondering if I can replace the remaining 1.5cups with some coconut milk heavy whipped cream I happen to have in the freezer? Will it whip well combined with the heavy cream?
Patricia L. December 14, 2021
1) For mousse recipe above, pls advise which substitutes will work instead of heavy cream.

2) Also wondering which substitutes work for other pudding and pots de creme recipes instead of heavy cream?....thinking table cream, half&half, whole milk options.
Rosalind P. November 18, 2021
my issue is that there seems to be no non-ultra-pasteurized cream at all, in any markets. I live in one of the densest neighborhoods of NY with some of the most sophisticated food stores in the city, and purportedly some of the most sophisticated food shoppers as well (not counting me, folks.) But all the cream, in all of the shops, is ultra-pasteurized. It has a canned-milk flavor and can't come close to the older, just pasteurized product. Another victory for the industrial food complex. Longer shelf life reduces costs for them. Yuk!
Todd E. May 11, 2021
The article suffers from a couple omissions, and I'm really surprised you dropped the ball that many times
1) Coconut cream works, but it works A LOT BETTER if you add a little cream of tartar if you plan to whip it
2) Aquafaba
3) There's a number of really good commercial products, especially the one from Silk, which combine aquafaba or coconut or both with hydrocolloid magic to make VERY good heavy cream/whipping cream substitutes.
demi April 16, 2020
I'm making a cheesecake and it calls for heavy could I use light cream instead and and more butter? or just use the light cream?
Emma L. April 17, 2020
Hi! Light cream might work, though it's hard to say without seeing the full recipe. In case it's helpful, here's our guide to making cheesecake without a recipe: (It provides a template you can mix-and-match with under "The Filling" section.)
Jenny M. August 14, 2019
You did leave out one important Do Not Substitute: making fresh cream of tomato soup requires heavy cream as 1/2 & 1/2 or milk do not have enough fat to bind with tomato. The result with lower fat options is a broken soup. I found out the hard way.
Beth August 15, 2019
Really? But lots of recipes for fresh tomato soup call for milk or evaporated milk. I'm sure cream would taste awesome, though. What do you mean by broken soup, did it curdle, or what? I'm really curious.
Rosalind P. November 18, 2021
agree with you. I've used milk, half-and-half, light and heavy cream. All worked. No curdling.
Beth August 10, 2019
Cool whip doesn't bake very well. Tends to melt and fall apart. I don't know what it's made of, kind of afraid to find out, but it can't be less caloric than real cream and apparently that's not a problem anyway. Does well in a refrigerator pie though.
vhoney9023 August 10, 2019
Can I use cool whip in place of heavy cream for a thicker in pecans , brown sugar, corn syrup,van. & butter then eggs, salt, & WHICH CREAM ?? just to blend the two together to thicken and pour on top of a cheesecake, and finish baking ? ? Thank you for any help !!
Emma L. August 12, 2019
Hi Vickey—as Beth noted, I wouldn't recommend using Cool Whip as a substitute for heavy cream in baking.
Maxine V. August 6, 2019
If I have recipe for a 9 inch pie pan but wanna make it 13x9 how would I get right measurement for 8ngredients
Beth August 6, 2019
A 13 x 9 dish will hold almost twice as much as a 9 inch pie pan. Whatever you're making, if that's a little too much for the 13 x 9 inch pan, you can maybe cook the rest in a smaller dish or a custard cup. I would try twice as much and adjust it from there. Hope that helps.
Hannah August 5, 2019
I am hoping to find a substitute for heavy cream in baked goods - what options could I use?
Emma L. August 8, 2019
Hi Hannah! It really depends on the specific recipe. If you share an example that you're thinking of, I can try to help!
Hannah August 8, 2019
I have an old recipe for a cake that requires heavy cream in the batter. Would, say, whole milk be ok instead? I don’t know if heavy cream is supposed to give it richness, helping in the batter rising, or both.
Emma L. August 9, 2019
Got it! Assuming the cream doesn't get whipped, light cream or half-and-half should work fine. Whole milk *could* work, but it's harder to predict since the fat content is so much leaner than heavy cream. If you give either a try, let me know how it goes!
rktrix August 3, 2019
Is whipped chick-pea water better used as a substitute for egg whites? It seems creamy, but since there is no fat it would probably break down too easily. Has anyone played with this stuff?
ED August 3, 2019
I have cookie recipe that calls for 1/3 cup whipping cream in the dough. Is there a substitute for that purpose?
Emma L. August 8, 2019
Interesting! I haven't seen heavy cream in a lot of cookie dough recipes. Half-and-half, milk, or full-fat coconut milk are probably your best bet.
acecil August 3, 2019
I can’t wait to try this “onion cream” thing. I have so many ideas! Thanks for the article.
Danielle August 2, 2019
Any tips on a good sub for condensed milk? I love the coconut macaroons from this site, but I’m lactose intolerant.
Cate August 3, 2019
I am as well so when a recipe comes up using creams, butter, etc. I take Lactaid, which takes care of the problem when eating dairy for those of us who are intolerant.
Also when the recipe is more forgiving, I use Lactaid milk either alone or combined with a regular cream. It lowers the amount of Lactaid I have to then compensate for with a tablet. I have come across lactose free sour cream as well, which is good to use. Whole Foods carries it.
Once, I needed an emergency substitute, so I used a lactose free vanilla ice cream, mostly melted, and it worked well. Crisis become the mother of invention!😉
Danielle August 3, 2019
Lactaid pills don’t work for me at all.
Yirgach August 2, 2019
This is a nice article on alternatives, but actually for all the wrong reasons. It's the trans fat which is a problem! Your body produces it's own cholesterol for a good reason. Learn the difference and you will be able to enjoy the taste of food as nature intended.
See here:
James B. August 2, 2019
When I worked at a local Italian restaurant years ago, we used full-blown "manufacturing cream" (>40% butterfat) in our Fettucine Alfredo sauce. I've managed to scale-down the artery-clogging potential by subbing Half & Half with a caveat: After browning the minced garlic and flambeeing with dry vermouth, I lowered the heat, added the cooked pasta into the pan and slowly added the half & half letting it absorb somewhat into the noodles before sprinkling/folding in the grated Parmesan. As soon as it became a creamy, cheesy sauce, I immediately plate it before it separates with the cheese sinking to the bottom of the pan and the half & half cruddling up. Takes some practice, but it's an acceptable substitution.
Nicole P. August 3, 2019
Milkfat is GOOD FOR YOU!!! Artery-clogging is a myth! Don't believe the hype!
Carla K. September 23, 2019
I know it’s off topic, but that sounds wonderful. Can I come over for dinner?
Beth August 2, 2019
Back before whipping cream was readily available, I had several recipes that used whipped evaporated milk. In order for it to whip it has to be really cold, practically frozen, so I would pour a can of it into an ice tray and freeze it until it was partially crystalized. I put my mixer blades and the bowl in the freezer too. Then into the cold bowl with sugar and vanilla and it whips up quite nicely and tastes almost like real whipped cream.
Katharine F. August 2, 2019
buttermilk, in baking of course, in mashed potatoes also...
doristeo July 19, 2019
Evaporated milk is not condensed milk! The consistency and sugar level is totally different!