The decadent richness of cream is derived from skimming the surface of cow’s milk to obtain fat. The many varieties are graded on percentages of fat. A richer cream taste is usually accompanied by saturated fats and many cooks are reserving the use of heavy creams for special occasions.

The term “cream” is also a process of blending ingredients by spoon, whisk, or electric mixer to create a smooth, or creamy, texture.


  • Heavy cream/heavy whipping cream – Used for whipping and much less likely to curdle during cooking. Milkfat content must be at least 36%.
  • Light whipping cream/whipping cream – Can be whipped and also resists curdling. Milkfat: 30%-36%.
  • Light cream – Cannot be whipped as is and used mostly for table service. Milkfat: 18%-30%.
  • Half and half (pouring cream in Britain) – Least butterfat content and prone to curdling. Does not whip as is. Milkfat: 10.5%-18%.
  • Devonshire cream/clotted cream – Thick enough to use as a spread, but separates when heated. Milkfat: 55%.
  • Double cream – Milkfat content is 42%. Can be whipped.
  • Crème fraiche – A fresh cream with 39% milkfat content.
  • Sour cream – When bacteria is added to cream it is soured. Milkfat: 18%.

Whipped cream also is canned as a foam and available in tubs in the freezer section.

Powdered cream is marketed in some regions.

Buying Tips

  • Most products sold in the U.S. are “ultrapasteurized,” which means they have been heated for longer shelf life. When used for whipping, the taste of foods may change.
  • Be sure to purchase the right type of cream to meet the cooking requirements.
  • Créme fraîche tends to be expensive, but is easily made from scratch.

Storage Tips

  • Refrigeration is required for all creams, but freshness dates will vary. Some creams should be used within a few days, while others may last several weeks.
  • Cream does not freeze. However, after whipping, heavy and light creams can be frozen.

Usage Tips

  • To thicken low-fat creams, use cornstarch or flour.
  • When using a cream for whipping, chill the bowl and beaters for faster results.
  • Use only the freshest cream to add to coffee.