Imagine you're at the grocery store, shoved into the refrigerator door of the dairy aisle, holding both a half and half and heavy cream container. You're trying to decide which to get for your weekly cooking when it strikes you, what's the difference between the two, anyway? Some recipes call for half and half, others call for heavy cream, and still, others call for either. In the half and half vs heavy cream debate, which situations call for which?
Half and Half
Half and half's name is a dead giveaway for what it's made from. This creamy dairy product contains half light cream and half whole milk in equal parts. Half and half is lighter than cream because it has less fat content, between 10.5 to 18 percent fat. It makes the perfect addition for your cup of coffee, adding a touch of creaminess that isn't overbearing.
Heavy cream is creamier than half and half, as it contains 36 to 40 percent fat. It has the highest fat content of all types of cream, making it a little difficult to find an exact heavy cream substitute. The high milk fat in heavy cream makes it an excellent coffee creamer for those who crave a little more richness but is mostly used in baking. The closest substitute is whipping cream (which is different than heavy whipping cream) and contains between 30 and 36 percent fat. With such a minuscule difference, you can feel comfortable using these two interchangeably in beverages.
Heavy cream has a higher fat content, so it's best to use in soups, stews, or anything that will be heated. Heavy cream is less susceptible to curdling than fresh milk, which is another reason to use it in recipes that require boiling.
When it comes to half and half vs heavy cream, most of the time it's okay to substitute one for the other. Heavy cream will always add a creamier texture to the dish since it's thicker than half and half. If you're making soup or mashed potatoes, you can add a splash of either right before serving to enhance the creaminess. You can substitute half and half for heavy cream if you're okay with the recipe being slightly less creamy. This is the healthier, more low-fat option and can lighten up a dish if you're watching your health. When substituting heavy cream for half and half or vica versa, use a 1:1 ratio.
When Not To Swap Heavy Cream for Half and Half
The two dishes in which you can't swap heavy cream for half and half are whipped cream and ice cream. This is because the fat in heavy cream is what allows it to be whipped, holding the air bubbles together as you beat the cream with your whisk. The higher the fat content, the easier it is to whip into stiff peaks. No matter how much you whip, your half and half won't form the peaks you're looking for when making whipped cream because of its lower fat content.
As for ice cream, any recipes state that you can use a combination of milk and either heavy cream or half and half. Although this is true, heavy cream will produce a creamier and richer texture since it's higher in fat than half and half.
This post was originally published on June 24, 2021.