Heavy Cream vs. Whipping Cream: A Food Editor Explains the Difference|Recipes Spots

Heavy Cream vs. Whipping Cream: A Food Editor Explains the Difference

Whipped cream in a bowl
Simply Recipes / Photo Illustration by Sarah Crowder / Getty Images

We’ve all been there (or at least, I’ve been there many times): a recipe calls for whipping cream but the dairy section of your grocery store only seems to be stocked with heavy cream.

Will swapping one for the other ruin the recipe? What’s the difference between them anyway? Inquiring and strawberry shortcake-loving minds want to know. The good news is that I’ve got answers, and they won’t require you to grocery store-hop.

Best Homemade Whipped Cream Recipe - heavy whipping cream
Simply Recipes / Alison Bickel

What’s the Difference Between Heavy Cream and Whipping Cream?

First, let’s get the (quite confusing) nomenclatures down. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), “heavy cream” and “heavy whipping cream” are the same thing, and “whipping cream” and “light whipping cream” are the same thing. The FDA regulates food products and standardizes their naming, so manufacturers are required to follow the naming conventions.

Now that we’ve gotten that straightened out, let’s talk about milkfat (the natural fat found in milk), which is the only difference between the two products.

The FDA requires heavy cream to contain at least 36% milkfat, and whipping cream to contain 30% to 36% milkfat. Depending on what you’re cooking, the variation in milkfat can have an effect on the recipe. 

Strawberry Shortcake Cake Garnished With Halved Strawberries on a Cake Stand
Simply Recipes / Mark Beahm

Can I Substitute Heavy Cream for Whipping Cream and Visa Versa?

Absolutely! These products are very similar, and in dishes like penne alla vodka or quiche lorraine the slight differences in milkfat won’t be detectable. However, the difference may become more apparent if your recipe involves making whipped cream, which relies on the fats in heavy cream to trap the air bubbles that give this dessert staple its cloudlike consistency. 

Whipping cream, with its lower milkfat, won’t whip up as stiffly or hold its shape as well as heavy cream, which should be kept in mind when shopping for your recipe.

If you’re making a dessert that requires some structural integrity or a long rest in the fridge, like in the case of a trifle or icebox cake, reach for the heavy cream. Conversely, whipped whipping cream is great for dolloping on pies, puddings, hot chocolate, or any other dessert or drink that demands a soft and creamy component. 

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