The Difference Between Heavy Cream, Whipping Cream and Heavy Whipping Cream, Explained

If you're confused by all the various cartons of cream, we're here to help with an easy explanation of the differences and the best ways to use each one, so you know what to reach for whatever recipe you're making.

Have you ever stood in the supermarket dairy aisle, debating whether to buy heavy cream, heavy whipping cream or whipping cream? Is there a difference and does it matter? Despite their confusingly similar names, there are subtle differences between heavy cream and whipping cream. Adding to the confusion, heavy whipping cream is actually the same as heavy cream and whipping cream is sometimes called light whipping cream. While it probably won't make or break a recipe, knowing what to expect from each carton of cream will undoubtedly lead to less stress and more success in the kitchen.

person whipping cream in a bowl with a wisk
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The U.S. Food & Drug Administration has labeling standards for each kind of cream. Heavy cream and heavy whipping cream must contain at least 36% or more milk fat, while whipping cream, also known as light whipping cream, must contain 30% to 35% milk fat. If you're having trouble keeping that straight, just remember that if you see the word "heavy," you're dealing with a slightly higher fat content.


Pictured Recipe: Bourbon Whipped Cream

When to Use Heavy Cream

A few percentage points of fat may seem insignificant and in many instances it won't matter. If you're whipping cream to dollop on pie or an ice cream sundae, heavy cream and whipping cream will both deliver. However, if you want to pipe whipped cream or create a specific topping of some kind, or if you want to fill a cake, opt for heavy cream. Its slightly higher fat content means it whips better and will be more stable. It also has greater staying power, so if you want to whip your cream more than a few hours ahead, again, go for heavy cream.

Heavy cream's higher fat content also makes it a better thickening agent, making it ideal for gratins, bisques or other creamy soups, savory cream sauces, and dessert sauces like butterscotch and caramel. As a bonus, the extra fat also adds richness and flavor.

Strawberry Cornmeal Layer Cake
Leigh Beisch

Pictured Recipe: Strawberry Cornmeal Layer Cake

When to Use Whipping Cream

If you have nutrition concerns and want a lighter option, go for whipping cream. Per tablespoon, it has 45 calories, 4.5 grams of fat and 3 g of saturated fat, whereas heavy cream has 50 calories, 5 g of fat and 3.5 g of saturated fat per tablespoon. Whipping cream also tastes a little lighter and has a more airy, pillowy texture that may be just what you want on top of your apple pie or peach crisp.

The Bottom Line

When it comes to cooking and baking with cream, fat equals versatility, which means heavy cream is the more all-purpose option and will have you covered for just about any recipe.

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