When you think of heavy cream or heavy whipping cream you probably picture fluffy white clouds topping your apple pie or pointy peaks atop your cappuccino. The luxurious and velvety dairy product is however used in a multitude of other sweet and savory dishes. Its richness and neutral flavor allow it to enhance the mouthfeel and texture of almost anything it is added to.
You may be wondering if you can get the same texture from alternative ingredients if you’re cooking for someone with a dairy allergy, who is vegan, or if you just realized the cream you do have on hand has gone off. Yes, you can!
This guide will help you choose the best heavy cream substitute according to what you are cooking. Not only will you already have one of these alternatives in your home pantry, but there is an option to suit every dietary need. Let’s dig in.
What is Heavy Cream and Heavy Whipping Cream?
Heavy cream is a dairy product made by skimming the high-fat layer off the top of whole milk. It either has a white or slight off-white appearance. The color is largely influenced by the diet of the cows or goats from which the milk is obtained.
Heavy cream, whipping cream, or heavy whipping cream all refer to the same dairy product with a minimum fat content of 36%. When tiny pockets of air are incorporated through whipping the dairy it firms up to hold the shape of peaks.
Whipped cream can be left plain or flavored. Besides being used as a topping for cakes, scones, fruit, pavlova, pancakes, waffles, tarts, and drinks, it is also used as a filling in cakes and pastries. Unwhipped or pouring cream is popularly used in sweet and savory sauces, soups, stews, curry, pasta dishes, and drinks such as eggnog and Irish cream.
Since it is used in different textures and consistencies, the substitute you choose may depend on the dish you are cooking and the purpose of the cream in the dish. In some cases, it would be to add creaminess, in others to incorporate height or lightness to offset something dense, and in other cases to increase moisture absorption.
In the below list of substitutes for heavy cream, we’ll help you out by stating what purpose and dish type each replacement is most suitable for.
Best Heavy Cream Replacement
Half-and-half is a mix of equal parts cream and milk. It has a fat content between 10% and 18%, which is significantly lower than the 36% fat content of cream. Although it is still very creamy and rich, it cannot be whipped into peaks. It’s an ideal replacement for people watching their calorie intake but who don’t want to miss out on the luxury texture in their soups and sauces.
Substitute quantity: Replace half-and-half in equal quantities.
Best used in: Soups, sauces, stews, and curry.
Not suitable for: Whipping or as a replacement in baking or cheesecake recipes.
See more: Half and half replacement
Half-and-Half and Butter
If you have run out of heavy cream and are looking for a replacement, you can mix a little melted or softened butter with half-and-half to increase the fat content to a similar percentage. As opposed to plain half-and-half, you can use this in baking as a replacement.
Substitute quantity: To replace 1 cup, use 7/8 cup of half and half mixed with 1/8 cup of melted or softened butter. Some people recommend a ratio of ¾ cup half and half with ¼ cup butter which is a very decadent alternative.
Best used in: Sauces, stews, curry, soups, mashed veggies, and baking.
Not suitable for: You may be able to get some airiness into this blend, but it won’t be quite as impactful as the real thing.
Note: If you only have whole or low-fat milk, you can use the same method, however, use ¼ cup butter blended with ¾ cup milk as a replacement for one cup.
The light version sits somewhere between heavy cream and half-and-half with a fat content between 18% to 30%. Although it is still too lean for whipping into peaks and replacing in recipes that require a good amount of setting such as cheesecake, it can be used in most other recipes.
Substitute quantity: Replace this light version in equal quantities
Best used in: Sauces, stews, mashed potatoes, soup, eggnog, and curry.
Not suitable for: Whipping
Whole milk has significantly less fat with only about 3.5%. This makes it much thinner, but it can still add a little creaminess. If you are making mashed potatoes, for example, this is ideal for the calorie-conscious and will be highly beneficial to reduce the calorie and fat content in your meal.
Substitute quantity: Since it is much thinner it can alter the consistency of your dish. You will therefore be using less than the amount required in your recipe. Add a little at a time until you get the creaminess you want without thinning out the consistency too much.
Best used in: Mashed vegetables and to add a small amount of creaminess to soups.
Not suitable for: Baking, whipping, and any recipes that require the thickness of cream.
See more: Whole milk alternative
Evaporated milk has 60% less water than whole milk with at least 7.9% fat content. This is a great calorie and fat reduction and is delicious with a unique caramelized flavor.
It is generally available canned and is shelf-stable which means you can keep it stocked in the pantry without worrying about it going off within one or weeks. When using this as a replacement opt for the whole-milk variety as opposed to the low-fat version.
Substitute quantity: Use evaporated milk as a replacement in equal quantities.
Best used in: Recipes where heavy cream is used as a liquid ingredient including sauces, smoothies, soups, and oatmeal.
Not suitable for: Whipping
Related: Evaporated milk substitute
This product is basically cream that has been soured with lactic acid. It has a fat content of approximately 20% and a sour and tangy yet creamy taste. When using this as a replacement make sure that the tanginess does not interfere with the overall flavors of your dish. If using it in cooked dishes, add it later in the cooking process to prevent curdling.
Substitute quantity: Replace sour cream in equal measures.
Best used in: This is great dolloped as a finishing touch to soups, stew, curry, and chili. It can be sweetened with a little confectioner’s sugar and used to top fruit salads or desserts and is also suitable in many baking recipes.
Not suitable for: Although it can be mixed with heavy whipping cream as a dessert topping, it won’t reach the same fluffy height when whipped on its own.
This is also a cultured dairy product with a sour tang, however, it has a higher fat content (30%) than sour cream and has a heavier consistency. You will need to be mindful of the slight sourness it will add to your dish. This can work really well in some cases but can also take away from certain recipes.
Substitute quantity: Use crème fraîche in equal quantities.
Best used in: Soups, stews, pasta, curry, and as a topping or filling in desserts.
Not suitable as a replacement in cake batter.
Related: Substitute for creme fraiche
Mascarpone has a thick consistency and high fat content at around 44%. This makes it unsuitable for people looking to reduce fat and calories in their diet. It is similar to crème fraîche but has a sweeter taste.
Substitute quantity: Use mascarpone cheese as a replacement in equal quantities.
Best used in: Soups, stews, curry, chili, pasta, and sauces. It can also be sweetened to dollop on cakes or tarts.
Not suitable for: Although it can be used as a topping it is not light and fluffy, so does not make the best substitute where an airy whipped element is required.
Milk and Cornstarch
If adding milk thins out the consistency of your dish too much, you can fix this problem by heating it with cornstarch as a thickening agent. This is one of the best options if calories and fat reduction are your main concerns, but is only suitable in a few applications. You can use whole, low-fat, or skim milk as preferred.
Substitute quantity: Mix 2 tablespoons of cornstarch well into 1 cup of milk as a replacement for 1 cup in your recipe. Add this to the soup or stew and stir to allow it to thicken.
Best used in: Soup, stew, chili, and curry.
Not suitable for: Baking or whipping
Greek yogurt is a healthier, high-protein alternative and is much thicker. You can adjust this by adding milk to constitute a similar, thinner consistency. Note that when adding yogurt to cooked dishes it’s best to add it closer to the end of the cooking time to prevent any curdling.
Substitute quantity: If your recipe calls for one cup of heavy cream, replace it with ½ cup Greek yogurt mixed with ½ cup whole milk.
Best used in: Soup, stew, chili, salad dressing, and curry.
Not suitable for: Baking, whipping, and sauces.
Cottage cheese is a very healthy, high-protein substitute and comes in full-fat and lower fat varieties. It is made from cow milk curds and has a lumpy texture, but this can be smoothed by blending it in a food processor.
Cottage cheese does have a slight cheesy taste and can be high in salt. It can, however, be sweetened for use in some desserts. Since it is quite thick, you can mix in some milk to get a more appropriate consistency, depending on the recipe you are using it in.
Substitute quantity: Blend the cottage cheese with a little milk to get the desired consistency. Replace the smooth cottage cheese in equal quantities.
Best used in: Soups and sauces. There are also tiramisu recipes where cottage cheese can be used so look out for desserts that incorporate cottage cheese as a healthy alternative.
Not suitable for: Whipping or baking.
Cream cheese is best known as a spread for bagels and crackers and is also popularly used for cheesecake. It is made from milk and cream with a very rich and thick (yet spreadable) texture and is not sweet. It can however be sweetened when used in frostings and desserts.
As with other cheesy substitutes, it is important to ensure that the flavors in your dish are compatible with the taste and texture. You can also mix in a little milk if you want to thin the consistency or use a little less when adding to dishes such as soups.
Substitute quantity: Replace cream cheese in equal measures.
Best used in: Creamy soups, cheese sauce, and frosting.
Not suitable for: Recipes that require whipped cream.
Related: Cream cheese replacement
Best Dairy-Free Vegan Heavy Cream Alternatives
Silken Tofu and Soy Milk
Silken tofu is made from soy milk and is a fantastic vegan alternative due to its creamy texture and neutral taste that won’t affect other flavors in your dish. Although it comes in a block form, it is soft and can easily be blended into a smooth consistency.
It is a much healthier replacement in terms of fat and calorie content and is also high in protein. It’s dairy-free but not suitable for people with soy allergies. To thin out the consistency, add soy (or an alternative non-dairy milk) when blending the tofu for an ultra-smooth texture.
Substitute quantity: To use as a substitute in soups, sauces, dips, and curry mix equal parts tofu and non-dairy milk in a food processor. When the mixture is smooth, use it in equal quantities as a replacement.
If you want to make a whipped topping, mix 2 cups of silken tofu with ¼ cup sugar (or less depending on your preference and whether it is for a sweet or savory dish). Add a few drops of vanilla extract and blend it in a food processor or blender.
Once smooth, slowly add ¼ cup non-dairy milk while the machine is running to make your whipped topping and keep the mixture in the refrigerator until it’s time to serve.
Best used in: Soups, sauces, dips, stews, curry, and dolloped onto dishes for a luxurious element. Substitute it as a whipped topping and look out for recipes that use silken tofu to make vegan mousse, cheesecake, and frosting.
Coconut Milk or Coconut Cream
The most important thing to remember with coconut products is that they will affect the flavor of your dish with a coconutty twist. Although it is a vegan alternative, coconut cream is still very high in fat so won’t be a healthier option in terms of calories and fat content.
Coconut milk has a lower fat content but is also thinner which makes it more suitable for soups or sauces. Note that coconut water and cream of coconut are very different products from coconut milk and coconut cream, so don’t confuse them when choosing a substitute.
Substitute quantity: Replace the coconut version in equal quantities.
Best used in: Soups, sauces, and curries that will pair well with the coconut flavor. Baked cakes and ice cream.
Not suitable for: Coconut cream can be whipped but won’t hold stiff peaks.
See more: Replacement for coconut cream
This is another great vegan replacement for heavy cream and is high in fat with a nutty taste. Keep in mind that cashew cream is not the same as cashew butter, however, if you have cashew butter on hand you can use it to make cashew cream by blending it with water until it reaches a thinner, creamy consistency.
If you’re using cashew butter, it is best to opt for a brand that doesn’t have any spice or salt added so that you can use it in sweet or savory applications and adjust to taste. To make your own version from raw cashews, soak the nuts for at least two hours and blend them until smooth ensuring there is no graininess. This can add a great richness to soups.
Substitute quantity: Replace the cashew cream in equal amounts.
Best used in: Toppings for desserts, sauces, dips, pasta sauces, as well as adding to soups or curry.
Not suitable for: Whipping or baking.
Suitable for savory applications only, this can add a lovely flavor and is probably one of the lowest fat and calorie options to use. In addition, it is vegan, dairy, and soy-free. Sauté or roast onions (pearl onions are the best choice if you can find them) and blend into a smooth puree.
You may find recipes that include a little milk (or optionally non-dairy milk) and thickener, but when adding to soups or sauces you don’t necessarily need all the additions.
Substitute quantity: Add to taste.
Best used in: Mashed potato and other vegetables, dips, and soup.
Not suitable for: Sweet dishes.
Soy Milk and Olive Oil
This alternative sounds a little strange, but it makes a surprisingly good vegan, dairy-free substitute. It’s a similar concept to mixing milk and butter. The olive oil may add a slightly different taste to your dish, especially in baked items that have a very delicate flavor.
Substitute quantity: Blend 2/3 cups of soy milk with 1/3 cup of olive oil to replace 1 cup.
Best used in: Baked items and mashed potato.
Not suitable for: Whipping or as a filling, topping, dip, or sweet sauce.
Mashed potatoes offer a lot of flexibility when it comes to choosing a replacement. Milk (or milk and butter), soy milk and olive oil, evaporated milk, cream cheese, onion-, or sour cream are all great alternatives so you can go with what you have in the pantry.
Alfredo sauce traditionally does not include heavy cream since it’s made from pasta water, cheese, and butter. Versions that are easier to make may, however, include the dairy which can be replaced with evaporated milk. Make sure to add a good amount of parmesan to prevent the sauce from tasting sweet.
Coconut milk or cream can be used as a substitute in ice cream, although this will affect the flavor. The one problem when using dairy or non-dairy milk as a substitute is that it has a much lower fat content which will result in an icy product as opposed to something that is lusciously creamy. Using evaporated milk and condensed milk is an option, but it is best to look for a recipe that specifically uses these components as opposed to making a straight swap.
The best heavy cream alternative for your dish will depend on a number of factors including your dietary requirements, the consistency of your dish, and whether you need a whipped or thickening element.
Heavy whipping cream is versatile and adds a luxurious richness to certain dishes while bringing airy lightness to others. Just because you need to cut back on calories, fat, or dairy does not mean you have to miss out on a single mouthful of yumminess.
Consider whether the alternative you choose will affect the flavor of your original dish, and keep in mind that dairy products such as yogurt are often best added towards the end of the cooking process to avoid curdling.
See more: Can heavy cream be frozen?
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