Whether they are trying to perfect the scone or renew their grandmother’s clam chowder recipe, every cook (sans vegans and the lactose intolerant) should be able to easily explain the difference between heavy cream and whipping cream. While the distinguishing variable is easy to spot, knowing how it affects the cooking process can be more complex—and in this article, we’re going to dissect both.

While the products can have staggeringly different consistencies, the actual factor causing the variation doesn’t seem like it would be that big of a deal—milkfat. Milkfat, also known as butterfat, is the fatty portion of the milk, (Interestingly, while one-percent milk actually does have one percent milkfat—whole milk only boasts 3.5 percent.) Whereas heavy cream uses 36 percent milkfat, whipping cream has only 30 percent.

The higher milkfat content of heavy cream allows for it to hold its shape longer after being whipped, as well as producing thicker cream. However, whipping cream, with only 30 percent milkfat, yields a lighter, fluffier whipped cream that will lose its shape more quickly.

Now that we understand the differences, you might be wondering how we can apply the knowledge. Whipping cream is perfect for topping pies, waffles, and crepes. Its light airiness makes it ideal for topping off a dessert or side dish. Heavy whipping cream offers more versatile uses, from sweet to savory. It can be used in soups, mousse, sauces, and even casserole—thickening the dishes and adding an element of creaminess to complement the existing flavors. If you’d like to let it stand out, use it in cream puffs or as a stable layer in your pound cake.

With half and half containing only 10 to 18 percent milkfat, its uses don’t quite extend to whipped cream. It’s best left for coffee and recipes like our Best Baked Macaroni and Cheese. Up next in milkfat percentage is light cream with 18 to 30 percent milkfat. (Fun fact: In the U.K., instead of using heavy whipping cream, they actually use double cream. It has 48 percent milkfat and can easily be over-whipped.) Finally, there is manufacturer’s cream, with more than 40 percent milkfat—which can be hard to find outside of the food industry, but has a higher shelf life.

All in all, knowing the intricacies and uses of different types of cream can be overwhelming, but like any aspect of cooking, the best thing a chef can do is experiment and learn from trial and error. Using both and seeing their textural differences firsthand is the best way to familiarize yourself with their uses—so go ahead and whip something up!

Header image courtesy Unsplash and Shutterstock.

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