What's the Difference Between Heavy Cream & Whipping Cream?

What’s the difference between these high fat dairy products?

November 12, 2021
Photo by Mark Weinberg

Here’s the thing: It doesn’t really matter if there is a difference between heavy cream and heavy whipping cream. They’re both delicious dairy products that are the crucial elements behind some of our favorite recipes like whipped cream (duh), panna cotta, ice cream, crème brûlée pie...should I go on? But I understand that it can be confusing to decipher which one is right for your recipe, so I’m sharing what to know about these creamy ingredients.

Heavy Cream vs. Heavy Whipping Cream

Surprise! There is no difference between heavy cream and heavy whipping cream. They are the exact same product, just sold by different brands under two different names. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), heavy cream must contain at least 36 percent milk fat. It is pasteurized or ultra-pasteurized, and may be homogenized. The same can be said for any carton called heavy whipping cream. Again, different name, same rule. You can use them interchangeably, so my recommendation is to just look for which one is a better deal in grocery stores.

Heavy Cream vs. Whipping Cream

There’s heavy whipping cream and then there’s just whipping cream (and sometimes, light whipping cream). And they’re not the same thing! Let’s revisit the FDA’s Code of Federal Regulations (you know you want to): Light whipping cream is cream that contains between 30 percent and 36 percent milkfat. Although you can use light whipping cream to make whipped cream, it won’t form really stiff peaks. Otherwise, they function similarly and you can generally use light whipping cream in recipes that call for heavy cream without noticing the difference.

Heavy Cream vs. Half-and-Half

Now, do you think there is a difference between heavy cream and half-and-half? Think about it, really think about it, and then write your answer down. If you wrote, yes, there is a difference, then you’d be correct. Heavy cream and half-and-half are different from each other. According to the FDA, half-and-half must contain between 10.5 percent and 18 percent fat (and remember, heavy cream must contain at least 36 percent fat).

As its name would imply, this type of cream is squarely in the middle of heavy cream and milk. It’s your run of the mill coffee creamer, but it’s also a great way to add a luscious, creamy texture to certain recipes without using high fat cream. Heavy cream has a higher fat content than half-and-half and is, therefore, richer and adds more body for soups and sauces. In some cases, like mashed potatoes or tomato soup, you can use half-and-half in recipes that call for dairy products that have a higher fat content, like heavy cream. But it won’t work every time. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you cannot use half-and-half in place of heavy cream to make whipped cream. It doesn’t have a high fat content and therefore won’t whip properly or hold its shape. Save it for your coffee instead.

Do you prefer cooking and baking with heavy cream or half-and-half? Sound off in the comments below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Irene Van Nostrand
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Irene V. November 19, 2021
I thought this was the case but glad to find my suspicion to be true. Checking out at a grocer asking if I found what I needed: no I needed heavy cream but since I didn’t find it I bought whipping cream for my recipe. Even they didn’t think this was acceptable.
Janet V. November 19, 2021
Thanks for the explanation. I did wonder...was generally snagged into buying heavy and upon beating it found no difference to the just whipping cream.For cream soups ,light desserts etc..I generally use half heavy and half of the half and half mixed ..It generally is the cost difference and if you happen to have heavy cream in your fridge. I even use part half and half and 2% milk for my daily cappuccino. Best holiday !
Clare C. November 19, 2021
This article didn’t actually answer the question it poses. In the supermarkets near me, there is “heavy cream” and “whipping cream.” There is no “heavy whipping cream” (which seems to drop into the article from nowhere). So, are “heavy cream” and”whipping cream” the same or not?
trefoiles November 20, 2021
Look at the caloric count and the fat content. They are usually exactly the same in whipping cream and heavy cream
Carole K. November 18, 2021
And so…. What is the definition of “Light Cream”?
Lucille F. November 30, 2021
Since my husband will only use light cream in his coffee, I have the same question. Hopefully, someone can enlighten us.
Molly D. November 18, 2021
What is ‘cooking cream?’
Kim S. November 18, 2021
Great to see so many fantastic comments to expand our shared knowledge! I've found that heavy cream lasts longer than whole milk, and I don't regularly drink milk, so heavy cream is often the only milk product I consistently have in the fridge. If I need just milk for a recipe, I'm likely to "make" it by thinning heavy cream with water and some powdered milk from the pantry. I start with 1:1 cream to reconstituted milk ratio, and tweak until the flavor and mouth feel seems right.
Scott V. November 18, 2021
Some sources claim whipping cream as 30% and heavy cream as 46%. I.e.
Scott V. November 18, 2021
Sorry 36% not 46%. You need the edit comment feature
T A. November 18, 2021
I read many UK cookbooks which call for double cream. How does one get double cream or what would be an adequate substitute in the U.S.? I did purchase a 1940s-50s jar with a lever that supposedly puts butter fat into cream. Can Food52 do an article on this?
Molly D. November 18, 2021
I just came across a recipe that called for ‘cooking cream.’ Hm...can you enlighten as to what exactly cooking cream is? Thank you.
Diane S. November 18, 2021
I use the heavy cream whenever I make sweetened whip cream and I drizzle it on my soups. However, I use half and half for my soup like broccoli or tomato and it comes out perfect every time!
OldGuy November 18, 2021
I get 40% Heavy Cream from one supplier. It's great if you can find it.
Lea F. November 18, 2021
By far, heavy cream is the best when baking! Makes great biscuits!
Mitchell H. November 18, 2021
The article leaves out some important information. My experience is that containers labelled Heavy Cream have only cream as an ingredient. Whipping cream contains one of several types of emulsifying or stabilizing agents, such as carrageenan, mono- and diglycerides, and polysorbate 80. These are usually found in ultrapasteurized whipping cream. By far the best cream is just unadulterated heavy cream (not labelled "whipping cream"), and non-ultrapasteurized. If you can find this (and it seems to get harder and harder) you will be amazed by the flavor difference. The cream from the Jersey cows is even harder to find, but well worth it if available. Read your labels!
Molly D. November 18, 2021
Aha! Thank you from one Molly D. to another;) Sure enough, I went to my refrigerator and I bought whipping cream (pasteurized) yesterday thinking I was doing the smart thing. 🤷‍♀️
cosmiccook November 18, 2021
Its almost impossible to find ANY heavy or whipping cream that doesn't contain carrageenan these days. I bought some "real" cream from a dairy at our Farmers Market but the fat content didn't seem to same as OTC. I tried making Crème Fraiche using the dairy's cream AND buttermilk (real deal NOT cultured) wasted a cup of cream. I wish the article would have touched on that.
AlwaysLookin November 19, 2021
I find ULTRA-PASTEURIZED Half & Half has an odd flavor or aftertaste, and I only find a few Dairies that just make Pasteurized Half & Half.
Suzanne H. November 18, 2021
Thank you. I suspected that they were the same, but wasn't sure.
As far as heavy cream and 1/2 and1/2 I use !/2and 1/2 when i make desserts, but not for whipped cream.
Joanne J. November 18, 2021
Good information. Another point is that you can bring heavy cream to a boil and reduce it without adding any thickeners. And this is also true if full fat or 14% fat Sour Cream. You can add these to thicken pan juices by tempering the cream first and then it won’t separate and you’ll have a wonderful sauce without the need for adding any thickeners.
Christine S. November 18, 2021
Many years ago I found ‘heavy cream’ in Loblaws - a Canadian grocery chain. Fat content was 45% and one could stand a spoon up in the carton. Just like English cream! Wonderful. Unfortunately, due to North America’s problem with fat, it didn’t sell and therefore disappeared and we are now stuck with whipping cream. Interesting that the UK and Europe love the real thing and don’t have the weight and health issues that North America has!
Molly D. November 18, 2021
Go figure. Well, we drive everywhere.
MamaCruz4 November 18, 2021
Yeah, I don't think they add high fructose corn syrup to everything under the sun, either.
ChristinaHughes November 18, 2021
I prefer heavy cream because it does whip better because of its fat content
NancyfromVictoria November 18, 2021
I am in Canada and for heavy cream all we have is whipping cream. Heavy cream doesn’t exist here. Very frustrating.
Joanne J. November 18, 2021
I am also in Canada but in Ontario and we have a number of Heavy Cream vendors. It’s possible a smaller chain or independent might carry it on the island.
kaylabakes November 17, 2021
What about double cream? I see it a lot in British recipes and I don’t know what the US equivalent is. Any insight?
kcsunshine2us November 17, 2021
Double cream is denser and has higher butterfat content than heavy cream. Due to its high-fat content, double cream can be poured over hot food objects, and it does not separate.
Molly D. November 18, 2021
So, can you find it in the US?
cosmiccook November 18, 2021
Maybe as Devonshire cream which coming from UK I'd have to question the quality vs. buying the "real" deal from there. Its expensive (at least in New Orleans) clocking in at $7-8 for 6 oz or less.
jpriddy November 16, 2021
If I wanted half-and-half, I'd just add milk to cream. Half-and-half always feels like cheating somehow, which makes no sense, I know.