The types and uses of “creams” can get a bit confusing because there are differences between all the different types. Luckily, there are some standards that do separate all the variations.
Find yourself in the dairy section of a super market and you’ll be met with a cascade of different options. You can be looking for a cream with a specific use and not be sure which one to choose.
Here are some of the common creams and how they are set apart.
What makes creams different?
For dairy products like milk and cream, the differences come down to what butterfat percentage a substance holds. For example, the “2%” in 2% milk is the butterfat percentage. As the percentage changes, so do the names.
Lower percentages are called milk. While it may seem like whole milk would have a very high content of butterfat, it’s actually quite low compared to the creams. It stands at 4% butterfat - the high end for milk, but not enough to be considered cream.
Once the percentages get up to around 10, then things start being called cream.
Half and Half
As its name would imply, half and half is a 50-50 combination of whole milk and heavy cream. Its butterfat percentage is anywhere from 10%-18%. So be aware that there may be differences even under the “half and half” umbrella.
This is commonly used as a supplement for things like coffee or to use in a sauce. It isn’t thick enough to be fully whipped, but also too thick to be drunk on its own. Although, there are a few people out there that like to use it when eating breakfast cereal. To each their own!
Also referred to as light cream, single cream can be anywhere from 18%-30% butterfat. Like half and half, it doesn’t have enough fat to use for whipped cream.
It works great as a lower fat substitute in some recipes that call for heavy cream. Although, unlike heavier creams it will not thicken if it is beaten.
Most coffee creams will be half and half, but some people enjoy the richer single cream as an alternative. What this is very often used for is as an addition in soups or sauces.
Here is where you can start using the cream to make whipped cream. Heavy cream typically is 36% butterfat, which is a perfect percentage to be able to whip up into a fluffy delight.
It is possible to make whipped cream using something with a little less fat, but that threshold is right around 30% butterfat. Below that and the substance isn’t thick enough to retain any texture. Even 30% will only allow for soft peaks out of a whipped cream, but that’s still enough to have some texture to it.
Not only does the higher fat content give it the ability to hold texture, it also just makes things taste better. You can even use it as a major ingredient in homemade ice cream - a product that it is often used in.
This variation has the highest fat content out of all of the others coming in at around 48%. It makes for a great option when you want whipped cream. Be mindful when whipping though - its thickness makes it easier to over-whip and cause the cream to curdle. Look for the hard peaks - or use a whipped cream dispenser and charger to take out the guesswork.
The uses for it are very similar to the uses of heavy cream, but this provides an even richer option. It also holds up very well when used for baking. Adding it to soups for a rich flavour is common.
In fact, some people use it, unwhipped, as a topping for fruit or pastries. It’s a very versatile form of cream.
Though they all carry “cream” in the name, the different versions of it all have their own unique uses. Be sure to know whether the cream you are getting can actually do what you want it to.