We often see heavy cream listed as an ingredient in recipes, but what is heavy cream? How is it different than other dairy products like milk and half-and-half? With so many different varieties of dairy products at the store, it's important to know the difference between them so you put the right product in your recipe. What is heavy cream, you ask? Let's find out.

What Is Heavy Cream?

Heavy cream, also labeled as heavy whipping cream, is a cream that contains a milk fat content between 36 and 40 percent, one of the highest levels of fat in the dairy section. The higher fat content a liquid has, the easier it is to whip into solid peaks. This is why heavy cream is used to make whipped cream. 

Higher-fat liquids, like heavy cream, are also more resistant to curdling, so when heavy cream is heated it stays smooth. Next time you have a thick soup that has a velvety consistency, there's a good chance heavy cream was used as the base.

Whole milk, on the other hand, has a fat content of less than 3.5%, so it's nowhere near as thick as heavy cream. Only heavy cream can be whipped into peaks, because other liquids don't have enough fat content.

How to Store Heavy Cream

pasta, homemade, penne alla vodka, cream
Tess Citron

Heavy cream should always be refrigerated because it's highly perishable. If you want your heavy cream to be of the best quality, try putting it in the coldest part of your fridge. It's extremely important to keep heavy cream cold throughout your baking or cooking process because it won't whip if it's not cold enough.

Heavy Cream Substitutions

berry, cream, strawberry, yogurt, sweet, milk, mint, blueberry
Caitlyn Heter

If you find yourself rummaging through your fridge in hopes of finding a carton of heavy cream for a recipe, there are a few substitutions you can use instead. Evaporated milk can replace heavy cream in soups and sauces, but it shouldn't be used for whipping. Also, 3/4 cup of milk and 1/3 cup of melted butter equals one cup of heavy cream for cooking. 

If you're looking for a substitution to heavy cream for whipping, there isn't one. If you don't have any, it would be best to put your recipe on pause and grab some at the store.

Next time you look in the dairy aisle and are confused about whether or not heavy cream is an essential ingredient, remember that it's a high-fat liquid used for baking and cooking that could take your ice cream or soup recipe to the next level. Or, it could help you make a bowl of whipped cream to top off your favorite dessert.