You go to one source, you read that heavy cream and whipping cream are the same. You go to another, and you find that heavy cream and whipping cream are not actually the same. What gives? Why the inconsistent information? Is it really that hard to determine the difference?
No. It’s not. The confusion is in the terminology. Both “heavy cream” and “whipping cream” can be whipped. However, if you go to your grocery store, and you want to buy some whipping cream, most likely what you will find is going to be called heavy whipping cream. Heavy whipping cream is the same thing as heavy cream. On the other hand, cream that is labeled “whipping cream” instead of “heavy cream” or “heavy whipping cream” also exists. Some stores may carry both, but most large chains tend to stick with just heavy whipping cream.
Confused? Let’s lay it out again:
- Heavy cream is the same thing as heavy whipping cream
- Heavy cream or heavy whipping cream are not the same as whipping cream
Now, for the definitions. The FDA lays out a standard of identity for heavy cream and whipping cream:
- Heavy Cream: Cream which contains at least 36% butterfat. It may be pasteurized or ultrapasteurized. It may be homogenized. It may also contain certain optional ingredients. The name of the food is heavy cream or alternatively heavy whipping cream.
This means that when someone tells you that heavy cream and whipping cream are two different things, they are half-right.
What they are confused about, is light whipping cream. Remember above when I told you that cream that is labelled whipping cream is not the same as heavy cream? Well, “whipping cream” is an alternative name for light whipping cream:
- Light Whipping Cream: Cream which contains at least 30% milkfat but less than 36% milkfat. It may be pasteurized or ultra-pasteurized, and may be homogenized. It may contain optional ingredients. The name of the food is light whipping cream or alternatively whipping cream.
In terms of fat content, light whipping cream (or whipping cream), is in between heavy cream and light cream:
- Light Cream: Cream which contains at least 18% but less than 30 percent milkfat. It is pasteurized or ultra-pasteurized and may be homogenized. It may contain optional ingredients. The name of the food is light cream or alternatively coffee cream or table cream.
Just to keep everything clear, then, here are the fat contents in order:
Light cream (coffee cream, table cream) – at least 18% milkfat but less than 30% milkfat.
Light whipping cream (whipping cream) – at least 30% milkfat but less than 36% milkfat.
Heavy cream (heavy whipping cream) – at least 36% milkfat
So, it is not true, from a cooking standpoint, that heavy cream and whipping cream are two different things. Instead, what we have are two whippable creams that have different milkfat levels, giving them different properties when whipped. Generally, the more fat, the better the whipping. Ultra-pasteurized creams do not whip as well, but you’ll likely have little choice unless you go to a specialty store. The ultra-pasteurized creams tend to have added stabilizers (one of the optional ingredients) to help make up for this decrease in whipping ability, and they will last a lot longer in the fridge.
Generally, if a recipe calls for whipping cream, it means heavy whipping cream. So, you can use heavy cream in place of whipping cream! Very few cooks, when they say whipping cream, mean light whipping cream. They mean to use the cream with the highest fat available to you. In fact, professional pastry chefs use a cream they call “manufacturing cream” which is 40% milkfat and is never ultra-pasteurized. In England, they have double-cream which is heavy cream but with an even higher fat content of about 48%, which will whip up very easily and hold its foam quite well.
Light whipping cream is generally used for sauces, custards, or fillings. If it is whipped, it will tend to be used for frostings. However, sometimes it is called for when a lighter whipped cream (in terms of both taste and texture) is desired.
Therefore, the folks saying that “heavy cream” and “whipping cream,” are two different things really do not know what they are talking about. Heavy cream is whipping cream, and is most often used for whipping. Light whipping cream is also whipping cream, and enjoys a mixed reputation. Generally, for whipping, use the highest fat cream you can find.
The question you may ask is why, if heavy whipping cream is the way to go, do they market light whipping cream as “whipping cream?” The usual explanation is that while heavy cream whips up very well and holds it’s peaks much better, it whips up so fast it can easily be over-whipped and “turn into butter” basically meaning that it breaks down into a clumpy mess. This is not really that difficult to avoid. Regardless, though, there are some cooks who prefer to use light whipping cream and some recipes will call for it specifically.