Is there a difference between heavy cream and whipping cream? It’s a question that has confounded scientists and philosophers for millennia, right up there with “if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to witness it, does it make a sound” and “what if God microwaved a burrito so hot that she herself could not touch it.” But now I, a humble food writer, will attempt to answer the question where others have failed.
What is heavy cream?
Heavy cream lives up to its name because it is “heavy” with milk fat. In fact, most heavy cream brands will have anywhere between 36%-40% of milk fat in it; compare that to the 1% or 2% milk that you might use on your cereal.
To make heavy cream, pasteurized milk is placed in a centrifuge that separates the milk fat from the milk liquid. This process leaves the milk fat sitting on top of the now skim milk, allowing it to be collected and placed in its own container. From there, all sorts of milk products can be made by combining liquid and fat. Skim milk is named as such because all the fat has been “skimmed” off the top, whereas heavy cream is approximately a 60-40 split between milk and milk fat.
Fat content in milk is the primary reason that it can be transformed from liquid to solid. You can spend all day whisking a bowl of skim milk and all you’re going to get is a sore arm. But as you whisk heavy cream, the added air forms around the fat particles, providing a solid, fluffy structure.
What is whipping cream?
There can be a lot of confusion in the dairy aisle because you’ll see products called heavy cream, whipping cream, and heavy whipping cream. It’s like cows are intentionally trying to confuse us. C’mon, cows, it’s rough enough out there already.
The difference always comes back to fat content. Your standard whipping cream comes in at around 30%-35% fat content, slightly less than heavy cream. Does that miniscule fat discrepancy make a big difference? Let’s get into it.
Heavy cream vs whipping cream: What’s the difference?
The more fat in the milk, the higher propensity it has to stiffen and form peaks when it is whipped. So that means that heavy cream is going to have the most whipped peaks in the milk game (excluding butter which, at 70% fat, is a whole different milk game). Ironically, this also means that heavy cream is actually better at making whipped cream, even the kind you find in a can. Does that mean you can’t make whipped cream with whipping cream?
Not at all. In fact, pretty much anything you use heavy cream for is nearly interchangeable with whipping cream. Both have such high fat contents that they are going to stiffen well. Heavy cream just has a little more staying power; a whipped cream made from whipping cream will dissolve and melt faster than one made from heavy cream.
Another example: When whipped together, heavy cream and buttermilk will make the perfect sour cream. You can replace the heavy cream with whipping cream, but the resulting sour cream will be a little runnier and won’t hold its texture as long.
TL;DR: Heavy cream and whipping cream, despite their small differences in fat content, can be used for all the same things.