Consider this your go-to guide for decoding dairy.

Take a walk down the dairy aisle of any grocery store and you'll be inundated with creamy options to use for homemade ice cream, whipped cream, and for savory soups like clam chowder or butternut squash. But what makes heavy cream, whipping cream, light cream, and half-and-half all unique, and can you substitute one for another? Here, we explain what you need to know before you open the carton.

Infused Whipped Cream
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Heavy Cream

According to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, heavy cream, which is also known as heavy whipping cream, must contain at least 36 percent milkfat. This is the fattiest product on this list, which is why it's so good. That high fat content isn't just for taste—it's also what makes heavy cream the best choice for making whipped cream. Heavy cream is also great for adding richness and body to a classic Clam Chowder, and it works double duty with whole milk in some recipes, including our decadent Rice Pudding with Sea Salt-Caramel Sauce and our Cookies and Cream Ice Cream.

Light Whipping Cream

Although it serves a similar purpose, light whipping cream is not the same as heavy cream or heavy whipping cream. Light whipping cream contains between 30 and 35 percent milkfat, according to the FDA. Because it contains less milkfat, it won't create as much body as heavy cream or heavy whipping cream for whipped cream or ice cream. When whipped into soft peaks, it's a lighter alternative for our Lemon-Poppy Seed Buttermilk Biscuits or our elegant Chocolate-Mousse Parfaits for two. If you want to make homemade tomato soup a bit richer without lots of extra fat, you could swirl in a couple tablespoons of light whipping cream.

Light Cream

Looking for something lighter than heavy cream but with more fat than half-and-half? Try light cream, which contains between 18 percent and 30 percent milkfat by FDA standards. The fat content of light cream isn't enough to be used for whipped cream, so it's better as a rich enhancement for savory recipes such as soups or sides. If you're looking to lower the fat content in mashed potatoes, swap out heavy cream for light cream instead, or use it instead of heavy cream drizzled on top of this savory Pepperoni Three-Cheese White Pizza.


This dairy product is exactly what it sounds like—a mixture of half heavy cream and half milk. According to the FDA, half-and-half must contain between 10.5 percent and 18 percent milkfat. Half-and-half is most commonly used in hot coffee, but there are many other uses for it beyond just helping you get your caffeine fix. It's one of the key ingredients in our Sweet-Potato Custard Pie, and it's also mixed into the cheese filling of our Spinach-and-Cheese-Ravioli Egg Bake.


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