Cream is a dairy product that is composed of the higher-fat layer skimmed from the top of raw milk before homogenization. In the raw milk, over time, the lighter fat rises to the top. In many countries cream is sold in several grades depending on total fat content.
Cream produced by cows grazing on natural pasture often contains some natural pigments; this gives the cream a slight yellow tone. Cream from cows fed on grain or grain-based pellets, is white.
In the US, cream is usually sold as:
- Half-and-half (12% fat)
- Whipping cream and whipped cream (30%)
- Heavy cream, or heavy whipping cream (36%)
- Manufacturer's cream (40%), mostly available from food-services supply wholesalers rather than grocery stores
Also common in the US is sour cream, which is cream that has been fermented with lactic acid bacteria. This produces a sour taste and thickens the cream.
In the UK, cream is usually sold as:
- Half cream (12%)
- Single cream or Light cream (18%)
- Whipping cream (35%)
- Double cream (48%)
In the UK, clotted cream is a very high fat (55%) product processed with heat.
Crème fraîche (a product with a French name and widely available elsewhere) is a heavy cream slightly soured with bacterial culture, but not as sour or as thick as American sour cream. Mexican crema (or cream espesa) is similar.
Cream with 30% or more of fat can be turned into whipped cream by mixing it with air. This roughly doubles the cream's volume as air bubbles are captured in a network of fat droplets. If the whipping is continued, the fat droplets stick together and form butter; the remaining liquid is buttermilk.
Cream is the principal constituent of butter.
Ice cream is made with milk, milk proteins, cream and flavorings, frozen while stirring to limit the size of the ice crystals. Premium ice creams usually contain more milk fat.
The term cream or creme is also used to refer to a variety of substances of a consistency similar to or thicker than that of cream, such as chocolate cream or coconut cream.