Heavy Cream vs. Whipping Cream: Which Should You Buy for Your Recipe?

Updated: Nov. 23, 2023

Confused about which type of cream to buy? Learn about heavy cream vs whipping cream so your recipe turns out just right.

You’re in the dairy aisle looking at all the different creams. There’s heavy whipping cream, heavy cream and whipping cream. How do you know what to buy when you want to make whipped cream, cream sauce or creamy potato soup? What about when the store is out of your first choice and you need a substitute?

Here’s an explanation of heavy cream vs whipping cream to help you understand what’s behind each product’s name.

Heavy Cream vs. Whipping Cream

Laws determine which products can be labeled and sold as cream in the United States. These laws are spelled out in a tome called the Code of Federal Regulations. One section of the code describes heavy cream, and another section describes whipping cream.

What Is Heavy Cream?

Heavy cream (also called heavy whipping cream) must contain at least 36% milkfat. It must be pasteurized or ultra-pasteurized to kill harmful bacteria. It does not have to be homogenized. (Homogenization disperses fat globules throughout for a uniform creaminess; non-homogenized dairy products have the cream floating on top.)

It also doesn’t have to be pure cream. The FDA allows producers to add certain ingredients to heavy cream, including emulsifiers, stabilizers, sweeteners and flavorings. The product must be labeled as such.

For comparison, light cream has 18% to 30% milkfat, and half-and-half has 10.5% to 18% milkfat. Milk contains at least 3.25% milkfat.

What Is Whipping Cream?

Federal regulations don’t set standards for “whipping cream,” but rather for light whipping cream. It must have 30% to 36% milkfat. Just like heavy cream, it can also have flavorings or sweeteners added, can be homogenized or not, and must be pasteurized or ultra-pasteurized, and these things should be noted on the label.

The Bottom Line

In sum, the difference here is that heavy cream has the most fat—36% or more. Whipping cream has 30-36% milkfat.

Reading the Labels on Different Types of Cream

Checking the packaging or the company’s website is the best way to find out what a cream’s milkfat content is and whether it has any food additives.

If the label doesn’t state the fat content, you can get an idea by checking the nutrition facts. The more grams of fat, the more milk fat.

For example:

  • Straus Family Creamery’s organic heavy whipping cream is 36% milkfat. It doesn’t have any stabilizers or thickeners, and it’s not ultra-pasteurized. (A high fat content is also the secret behind Amish butter.)
  • Organic Valley’s pasteurized heavy whipping cream is 40% butterfat. The company also sells an ultra-pasteurized version in nearly identical packaging.
  • Kroger‘s store brand creams don’t state their milk fat content, but the regular whipping cream has 45 calories per tablespoon, while the heavy whipping cream has 50 calories per tablespoon, indicating a higher fat content. You may find additives such as carrageenan, mono and diglycerides, and polysorbate 80 in their creams.

Can I Use Whipping Cream Instead of Heavy Cream?

In most recipes, yes, you can use whipping cream as a substitute for heavy cream.

If you like to keep a stocked kitchen so you can cook whatever strikes your fancy, pasteurized heavy cream or pasteurized heavy whipping cream will be the most versatile, but they also have a shorter shelf life. Ultra-pasteurized products will keep almost four times as long.

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