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Cream is a high-fat liquid dairy product derived from milk before homogenization.[1] The terms cream or creme are also used to refer to a variety of substances of thick high-fat products, such as chocolate cream, coconut cream, or whipped cream.



Creams differ primarily in their fat content.[2][3][4] The English-speaking world generally recognizes the following grades of cream:[1][3][5][6]

  • Half-and-half: 10–18% fat[4][7][8]
  • Light/single/coffee/table cream: 18–30% fat[8][9][10]
  • (Light) whipping cream: 30–36% fat[4][9][11]
  • Heavy (whipping) cream: 36–40% fat[5][7]
  • Manufacturer's cream: 40+% fat
  • Double cream: 48–50% fat[10][11][12]



Cream is produced by separating milk into low-fat and high-fat parts. Unhomogenized milk will separate naturally when left to sit,[3][9] a process that takes about 24 hours to complete.[13] Modern manufacturers use a centrifuge to speed up the separation process.[2][3][9] The finished cream may then be homogenized,[2] which will prevent it from separating further, and pasteurized, which reduces microbial growth.[1][11]

Like milk, cream has a very mild flavor, with higher fat content increasing the depth of flavor. Unpasteurized cream left to separate at room temperature will become slightly fermented, giving it a more complex and "buttery" flavor; however, cream that is quickly centrifuged and pasteurized has a much milder flavor.[13]

Most of the specialized characteristics of cream versus milk are determined by the fat content.[11] For example, all creams are off-white in color, since the fat carries fat-soluble yellow pigments.[1][10] The more of these pigments the animal gets in its diet and the more fat in the cream, the yellower the cream will be. Because butterfat is largely solid at or below room temperature, cream is thicker than milk, and higher-fat creams are thicker than lower-fat ones.[1] The tiny fat droplets distributed in the milk give it a very silky and smooth texture without feeling greasy,[11][2] and if the cream is unhomogenized, the fat will slowly separate out and form a thicker layer at the surface.[11] Creams with a fat content of 30–50% can be whipped to a foam, making whipped cream.[8][5] Due to the interference between fat and protein, heavier creams are less susceptible to curdling than milk is, and both heavy and double cream can be simmered.[2][11]

There is often a trade-off between cream shelf life and whipping properties. Ultrapasteurization extends a cream's lifespan, and homogenization prevents it from separating; however, both of these processes make cream more difficult to whip.[9][5] Sometimes, these creams have additional stabilizers added to compensate for this fact.[1][6][10]

Selection and storage


Cream grading aside, if you want to know exactly how much fat is in your cream, take a look at the nutritional information[8]—these will help you predict its properties. Cream is perishable and must be stored in the fridge. Pasteurized cream lasts a week or two, and ultrapasteurized cream lasts for several.[5] Do not freeze cream.[1] Additionally, keep it in a sealed container away from light to prevent the development of off odors and flavors.[1][9]

Liquid cream can be processed to form a variety of products. Sour cream is cream (>18% milkfat) that has been cultured with lactic acid bacteria. This produces a sour taste and thickens the cream. Crème fraîche is similarly cultured with bacteria, but it is not as sour or as thick as American sour cream. Mexican crema (or cream espesa) is similar to crème fraîche. Cream with a milkfat content greater than 30% can be turned into whipped cream. Churning cream causes the fat droplets to aggregate and make butter.

In cooking, cream's fat helps deepen and carry flavor, and it provides richness and body.[1][2] In savory preparations, cream can be added to soups and sauces—usually heavier creams are used here,[4][14] since light cream is sensitive to heat and can curdle easily if cooked and/or combined with acidic ingredients.[2][11] Both lighter and heavier creams are used in patisserie, either in liquid or whipped form.[2][5][11][15] They may also be added to beverages for richness.[1][11]



Creams with a high fat content can be easily diluted with milk to substitute for a lower-fat cream.[11] The exact amounts to use can be easily determined using a mixture calculation. Some non-dairy cream substitutes exist, depending on what you're using the cream for. For example, coconut cream can be reasonably whipped, and non-dairy milks can have stabilizers and fat added so they have some of the same properties as cream.




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