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A bottle of unhomogenised milk, with the cream clearly visible, resting on top of the milk Milk-bottle.jpg
A bottle of unhomogenised milk, with the cream clearly visible, resting on top of the milk

Cream is a dairy product composed of the higher-fat layer skimmed from the top of milk before homogenization. In un-homogenized milk, the fat, which is less dense, eventually rises to the top. In the industrial production of cream, this process is accelerated by using centrifuges called "separators". In many countries, it is sold in several grades depending on the total butterfat content. It can be dried to a powder for shipment to distant markets, and contains high levels of saturated fat. [1] [2]


Cream skimmed from milk may be called "sweet cream" to distinguish it from cream skimmed from whey, a by-product of cheese-making. Whey cream has a lower fat content and tastes more salty, tangy and "cheesy". [3] In many countries, cream is usually sold partially fermented: sour cream, crème fraîche, and so on. Both forms have many culinary uses in sweet, bitter, salty and tangy dishes.

Cream produced by cattle (particularly Jersey cattle) grazing on natural pasture often contains some natural carotenoid pigments derived from the plants they eat; this gives it a slightly yellow tone, hence the name of the yellowish-white color: cream. This is also the origin of butter's yellow color. Cream from goat's milk, water buffalo milk, or from cows fed indoors on grain or grain-based pellets, is white.


Christmas cake covered with whipping cream Merry christmas!.jpg
Christmas cake covered with whipping cream

Cream is used as an ingredient in many foods, including ice cream, many sauces, soups, stews, puddings, and some custard bases, and is also used for cakes. Whipped cream is served as a topping on ice cream sundaes, milkshakes, lassi, eggnog, sweet pies, strawberries, blueberries or peaches. Irish cream is an alcoholic liqueur which blends cream with whiskey, and often honey, wine, or coffee. Cream is also used in Indian curries such as masala dishes.

Cream (usually light/single cream or half and half) is often added to coffee in the US and Canada.

Both single and double cream (see Types for definitions) can be used in cooking. Double cream or full-fat crème fraîche are often used when cream is added to a hot sauce, to prevent any problem with it separating or "splitting". Double cream can be thinned with milk to make an approximation of single cream.

The French word crème denotes not only dairy cream, but also other thick liquids such as sweet and savory custards, which are normally made with milk, not cream. [4]


Stewed nectarines and heavy cream Stewed nectarines.JPG
Stewed nectarines and heavy cream

Different grades of cream are distinguished by their fat content, whether they have been heat-treated, whipped, and so on. In many jurisdictions, there are regulations for each type.

Australia and New Zealand

The Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code – Standard 2.5.2 – Defines cream as a milk product comparatively rich in fat, in the form of an emulsion of fat-in-skim milk, which can be obtained by separation from milk. Cream sold without further specification must contain no less than 350 g/kg (35%) milk fat. [5]

Manufacturers labels may distinguish between different fat contents, a general guideline is as follows:

NameFat ContentMain Uses
Extra light (or 'lite')12–12.5%
Light (or 'lite')18–20%
Thickened Cream35–36.5%Cream with added gelatine and/or other thickeners to give the cream a thicker texture, also possibly with stabilisers to aid the consistency of whipped cream. Such cream would not typically be used for cooking.
Cream>= 35%Recipes calling for cream are usually referring to pure cream with about 35% fat. This is used for cooking as well as for pouring and whipping. It is comparable to whipping cream in some other countries.
Double Cream48–60% [6]


Canadian cream definitions are similar to those used in the United States, except for "light cream", which is very low-fat cream, usually with 5 or 6 percent butterfat. [7] Specific product characteristics are generally uniform throughout Canada, but names vary by both geographic and linguistic area and by manufacturer: "coffee cream" may be 10 or 18 percent cream and "half-and-half" ("crème légère") may be 3, 5, 6 or 10 percent, all depending on location and brand. [8] [9]

Regulations allow cream to contain acidity regulators and stabilizers. For whipping cream, allowed additives include skim milk powder (≤ 0.25%), glucose solids (≤ 0.1%), calcium sulphate (≤ 0.005%), and xanthan gum (≤ 0.02%). [10] The content of milk fat in canned cream must be displayed as a percentage followed by "milk fat", "B.F", or "M.F". [11]

milk fat
Additional definitionMain uses
Manufacturing cream40%Crème fraîche is also 40–45% but is an acidified cultured product rather than sweet cream.Commercial production.
Whipping cream33–36%Also as cooking or "thick" cream 35% with added stabilizers. Heavy cream must be at least 36%. In Francophone areas: crème à fouetter 35%; and for cooking, crème à cuisson 35%, crème à l'ancienne 35% or crème épaisse 35%.Whips into a creamy and smooth topping that is used for pastries, fresh fruits, desserts, hot cocoa, etc. Cooking version is formulated to resist breaking when heated (as in sauces).
Table cream15–18%Coffee cream. Also as cooking or "thick" cream 15% with added stabilizers. In Francophone areas: crème de table 15% or crème à café 18%; and for cooking, crème champêtre 15%, crème campagnarde (country cream) 15% or crème épaisse 15%.Added as rich whitener to coffee. Ideal for soups, sauces and veloutés. Garnishing fruit and desserts. Cooking version is formulated to resist breaking when heated.
Half and half10%Cereal cream. Product with the most butterfat in the light cream category. In Francophone areas: crème à café 10% and sometimes crème légère 10%.Poured over hot cereal as a garnish. Ideal in sauces for vegetables, fish, meat, poultry, and pasta. Also in cream soups.
Light cream3–10%Light cream 6%. In Francophone areas: mélange de lait et de crème pour café 5%, Crémette™ 5% or crème légère 3% to 10%. A mixture of milk and cream.5% product is similar to the richest Guernsey or Jersey milk. A lower fat alternative to table cream in coffee.


In France, the use of the term "cream" for food products is defined by the decree 80-313 of April 23, 1980. [12] It specifies the minimum rate of milk fat (12%) as well as the rules for pasteurisation or UHT sterilisation. The mention "crème fraîche" (fresh cream) can only be used for pasteurised creams conditioned on production site within 24h after pasteurisation. Even if food additives complying with French and European laws are allowed, usually, none will be found in plain "crèmes" and "crèmes fraîches" apart from lactic ferments (some low cost creams (or close to creams) can contain thickening agents, but rarely).[ citation needed ] Fat content is commonly shown as "XX% M.G." ("matière grasse").

NameMilk FatDefinitionMain Uses
Without lactic ferments added (liquid texture)
Crème fraîche crue30 to 40%Directly from the farm production. Local food circuits. No sterilisation and no pasteurisation.
Crème fleurette30 %No sterilisation but pasteurised. Liquid and soft the first days, it gets heavier and develops a more pronounced taste with time.Commonly used by cooks in restaurants.
Crème entière liquide22 to 40% UHT sterilised (in France, a cream can't legally be called "fraîche" if it has been UHT sterilised).
Crème fraîche liquide30 to 40%

(usually 30%)

Pasteurised (can be called "fraîche").Mostly used for fruit desserts and to make crème chantilly or ganaches. Can also be used to make white sauces or added in soups or pastas.
Crème fraîche légère liquide12 to 21%

(usually 15%)

Pasteurised (can be called "fraîche"). Less fat.Can be used for the same recipes as the non diet one but sometimes considered as less tasty and/or less convenient to cook with.
With lactic ferments added (heavy texture)
Crème crue maturée30 to 40%Directly from the farm production. Local food circuits. No sterilisation and no pasteurisation.
Crème entière épaisse22 to 40% UHT sterilised (in France, a cream can't legally be called "fraîche" if it has been UHT sterilised).
Crème fraîche épaisse30 to 40%

(usually 30%)

Pasteurised (can be called "fraîche").Suits best for cooking especially reductions and liaisons (used as a binding agent). Also used to cook quiches (such as quiche lorraine).
Crème fraîche légère épaisse12 to 21%

(usually 15%)

Pasteurised (can be called "fraîche"). Less fat.Can be used for the same recipes as the non diet one but sometimes considered as less tasty and/or less convenient to cook with.
Crème aigre16 to 21%More acidic taste.Same product as the American sour cream or the Canadian crème sûre, but rarely used in France.


Russia, as well as other EAC countries, legally separates cream into two classes: normal (10–34% butterfat) and heavy (35–58%), [13] but the industry has pretty much standardized around the following types:

EnglishRussianTransliterationMilk fat (wt%)
Low-fat or drinking [13] [14] creamНежирные (питьевые) сливкиNezhirnÿe [15] (pityevÿe) slivki10%
(Normal) CreamСливкиSlivki15% or 20%
Whipping creamСливки для взбиванияSlivki dlya vzbivaniya33% or 35%
Double creamДвойные (жирные) сливкиDvoinÿe (Zhirnÿe) slivki48%


In Sweden, cream is usually sold as:

Mellangrädde (27%) is, nowadays, a less common variant. Gräddfil (usually 12 %) and Creme Fraiche (usually around 35 %) are two common sour cream products.


In Switzerland, the types of cream are legally defined [16] as follows:

English [17] GermanFrenchItalianTypical
milk fat
milk fat
Double creamDoppelrahmdouble-crèmedoppia panna45%45%
Full cream
Whipping cream
crème entière
crème à fouetter
panna intera
panna da montare
Half creamHalbrahmdemi-crèmemezza panna25%15%
Coffee creamKaffeerahmcrème à cafépanna da caffè15%15%

Sour cream and crème fraîche (German: Sauerrahm, Crème fraîche; French: crème acidulée, crème fraîche; Italian: panna acidula, crème fraîche) are defined as cream soured by bacterial cultures.

Thick cream (German: verdickter Rahm; French: crème épaissie; Italian: panna addensata) is defined as cream thickened using thickening agents.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, the types of cream are legally defined [18] as follows:

milk fat
Additional definitionMain uses
Clotted cream 55%is heat-treatedClotted cream is the thickest cream available and a traditional part of a cream tea and is spread onto scones like butter.
Extra-thick double cream48%is heat-treated, then quickly cooledExtra-thick double cream is the second thickest cream available. It is spooned onto pies, puddings, and desserts due to its heavy consistency.
Double cream48%Double cream whips easily and produces heavy whipped cream for puddings and desserts.
Whipping cream35%Whipping cream whips well and produces lighter whipped cream than double cream.
Whipped cream 35%has been whippedWhipped cream is used for decorations on cakes, topping for ice cream, and fruit.
Sterilized cream23%is sterilized
Cream or single cream18%is not sterilizedSingle cream is poured over puddings, used in sauces, and added to coffee.
Sterilized half cream12%is sterilized
Half creamUncommon. Used in some cocktails.

United States

In the United States, cream is usually sold as:

NameFat contentMain uses
Half and half >=10.5%, <18%Half and half is equal parts milk and light cream, and is added to coffee.
Light cream>=18%, <30%Light cream is added to coffee and hot cereal, and is also used as an ingredient in sauces and other recipes.
Whipping cream>=30%, <36%Whipping cream is used in sauces and soups, and as a garnish. Whipping cream will only produce whipped cream with soft peaks.
Heavy (whipping) cream>=36%Heavy whipping cream produces whipped cream with stable peaks.
Manufacturer's cream>=40%Used in commercial and professional production applications. Not generally available at retail until recently.

Most cream products sold in the United States at retail contain the minimum permissible fat content for their product type, e.g., "Half and half" almost always contains only 10.5% butterfat. [19]
Not all grades are defined by all jurisdictions, and the exact fat content ranges vary. The above figures, except for "manufacturer's cream", are based on the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 21, Part 131 [20] [21]

Processing and additives

Cream may have thickening agents and stabilizers added. Thickeners include sodium alginate, carrageenan, gelatine, sodium bicarbonate, tetrasodium pyrophosphate, and alginic acid. [22] :296 [23]

Other processing may be carried out. For example, cream has a tendency to produce oily globules (called "feathering") when added to coffee. The stability of the cream may be increased by increasing the non-fat solids content, which can be done by partial demineralisation and addition of sodium caseinate, although this is expensive. [22] :297

Other cream products

Chart of 50 types of milk products and relationships, including cream (click on image to enlarge) Milkproducts v2.svg
Chart of 50 types of milk products and relationships, including cream (click on image to enlarge)

Butter is made by churning cream to separate the butterfat and buttermilk. This can be done by hand or by machine.

Whipped cream is made by whisking or mixing air into cream with more than 30% fat, to turn the liquid cream into a soft solid. Nitrous oxide, from whipped-cream chargers may also be used to make whipped cream.

Sour cream , common in many countries including the U.S., Canada and Australia, is cream (12 to 16% or more milk fat) that has been subjected to a bacterial culture that produces lactic acid (0.5%+), which sours and thickens it.

Crème fraîche (28% milk fat) is slightly soured with bacterial culture, but not as sour or as thick as sour cream. Mexican crema (or cream espesa) is similar to crème fraîche.

Smetana is a heavy cream derived (15–40% milk fat) Central and Eastern European sweet or sour cream.

Rjome or rømme is Norwegian sour cream containing 35% milk fat, similar to Icelandic sýrður rjómi.

Clotted cream , common in the United Kingdom, is made through a process that starts by slowly heating whole milk to produce a very high-fat (55%) product. This is similar to Indian malai .

Reduced cream is a cream product in New Zealand, often used to make Kiwi dip.

Other items called "cream"

Some non-edible substances are called creams due to their consistency: shoe cream is runny, unlike regular waxy shoe polish; hand/body "creme" or "skin cream" is meant for moisturizing the skin.

Regulations in many jurisdictions restrict the use of the word cream for foods. Words such as creme, kreme, creame, or whipped topping (e.g., Cool Whip) are often used for products which cannot legally be called cream, though in some jurisdictions even these spellings may be disallowed, for example under the doctrine of idem sonans . [24] [25] Oreo and Hydrox cookies are a type of sandwich cookie in which two biscuits have a soft, sweet filling between them that is called "crème filling." In some cases, foods can be described as cream although they do not contain predominantly milk fats; for example, in Britain, "ice cream" does not have to be a dairy product (although it must be labelled "contains non-milk fat") and salad cream is the customary name for a condiment that has been produced since the 1920s. [26]

In other languages, cognates of "cream" are also sometimes used for non-food products, such as fogkrém (Hungarian for toothpaste), or Sonnencreme (German for sunscreen).

See also

Related Research Articles

Dessert Course that concludes a meal, usually sweet

Dessert is a course that concludes a meal. The course consists of sweet foods, such as confections, and possibly a beverage such as dessert wine and liqueur. In some parts of the world, such as much of central and western Africa, and most parts of China and India, there is no tradition of a dessert course to conclude a meal.

Dairy product Food produced from or containing the milk of mammals

Dairy products or milk products are a type of food produced from or containing the milk of mammals, most commonly cattle, water buffaloes, goats, sheep, and camels. Dairy products include food items such as yogurt, cheese and butter. A facility that produces dairy products is known as a dairy, or dairy factory. Dairy products are consumed worldwide, with the exception of most of East and Southeast Asia and parts of central Africa.

Butter dairy product

Butter is a dairy product made from the fat and protein components of milk or cream. It is a semi-solid emulsion at room temperature, consisting of approximately 80% butterfat. It is used at room temperature as a spread, melted as a condiment, and used as an ingredient in baking, sauce making, pan frying, and other cooking procedures.

Yogurt A food produced by bacterial fermentation of milk

Yogurt also spelled yoghurt, yogourt or yoghourt, is a food produced by bacterial fermentation of milk. The bacteria used to make yogurt are known as yogurt cultures. Fermentation of sugars in the milk by these bacteria produces lactic acid, which acts on milk protein to give yogurt its texture and characteristic tart flavor. Cow's milk is the milk most commonly used to make yogurt. Milk from water buffalo, goats, ewes, mares, camels, yaks and plant milks are also used to produce yogurt. The milk used may be homogenized or not. It may be pasteurized or raw. Each type of milk produces substantially different results.

Whey Liquid remaining after milk has been curdled and strained

Whey is the liquid remaining after milk has been curdled and strained. It is a byproduct of the manufacture of cheese or casein and has several commercial uses. Sweet whey is a byproduct resulting from the manufacture of rennet types of hard cheese, like cheddar or Swiss cheese. Acid whey is a byproduct brought out during the making of acid types of dairy products, such as cottage cheese or strained yogurt.

Cottage cheese Type of cheese

Cottage cheese is a fresh cheese curd product with a mild flavor. It is also known as curds and whey. It is not aged. It is made by draining the cheese, as opposed to pressing it to make Paneer—retaining some of the whey, keeping the curds loose. An important step in the manufacturing process distinguishing cottage cheese from other fresh cheeses is the adding of a "dressing" to the curd grains, usually cream, which is largely responsible for the taste of the product.

Buttermilk fermented dairy drink

Buttermilk is a fermented dairy drink. Traditionally, it was the liquid left behind after churning butter out of cultured cream; however, as most modern butter is made not with cultured cream, but with sweet cream, most modern buttermilk is cultured. It is common in warm climates where unrefrigerated fresh milk sours quickly.

Clotted cream

Clotted cream is a thick cream made by indirectly heating full-cream cow's milk using steam or a water bath and then leaving it in shallow pans to cool slowly. During this time, the cream content rises to the surface and forms "clots" or "clouts", hence the name. It forms an essential part of a cream tea.

Cream cheese Soft, mild-tasting cheese with a high fat content

Cream cheese is a soft, usually mild-tasting fresh cheese made from milk and cream. Stabilizers such as carob bean gum and carrageenan are often added in industrial production.

Eggnog Sweetened dairy-based beverage

Eggnog, historically also known as a milk punch or an egg milk punch when alcoholic beverages are added, is a rich, chilled, sweetened, dairy-based beverage. It is traditionally made with milk, cream, sugar, whipped egg whites, and egg yolks. In some contexts, distilled spirits such as brandy, rum, whisky or bourbon are added to the drink.

Coconut milk Liquid that comes from the grated meat of a coconut

Coconut milk is an opaque, milky-white liquid extracted from the grated pulp of mature coconuts. The opacity and rich taste of coconut milk are due to its high oil content, most of which is saturated fat. Coconut milk is a traditional food ingredient used in Southeast Asia, Oceania, South Asia, and East Africa. It is also used for cooking in the Caribbean, tropical Latin America, and West Africa, where coconuts were introduced during the colonial era.

Crème fraîche

Crème fraîche is a dairy product, a soured cream containing 10–45% butterfat, with a pH of approximately 4.5. It is soured with a bacterial culture. European labeling regulations specify the two ingredients must be cream and bacterial culture. It is served over fruit and baked goods, as well as being added to soups and sauces. It is used in a variety of other recipes. Sour cream is a similar foodstuff, except that crème fraîche is less sour and has a higher fat content. Sour cream may contain thickening agents not permitted in crème fraîche in many jurisdictions.

Cool Whip

Cool Whip is a brand of imitation whipped cream, referred to as a whipped topping by its manufacturer, Kraft Heinz. It is used in North America as a topping for desserts, and in some no-bake pie recipes as a convenience food or ingredient that does not require physical whipping and can maintain its texture without melting over time.

Butterfat or milkfat is the fatty portion of milk. Milk and cream are often sold according to the amount of butterfat they contain.

Smetana (dairy product)

Smetana is a type of sour cream from Central and Eastern Europe. It is a dairy product produced by souring heavy cream. It is similar to crème fraîche, but nowadays mainly sold with 9% to 36% milkfat content depending on the country. Its cooking properties are different from crème fraîche and the lighter sour creams sold in the US, which contain 12 to 16% butterfat. It is widely used in cooking and baking.

Whipped cream

Whipped cream is cream that is whipped by a whisk or mixer until it is light and fluffy, or by the expansion of dissolved gas, forming a colloid. It is often sweetened and sometimes flavored with vanilla. Whipped cream is also called Chantilly cream or crème Chantilly.

Strained yogurt

Strained yogurt, Greek yogurt, yogurt cheese, sack yogurt, or kerned yogurt is yogurt that has been strained to remove most of its whey, resulting in a thicker consistency than regular unstrained yogurt, while still preserving the distinctive sour taste of yogurt. Like many types of yogurt, strained yogurt is often made from milk that has been enriched by boiling off some of its water content, or by adding extra butterfat and powdered milk. In Europe and North America, it is often made from low-fat or fat-free cow's milk. In Iceland, a similar product named skyr is made.

Fat content of milk

The fat content of milk is the proportion of milk, by weight, made up by butterfat. The fat content, particularly of cow's milk, is modified to make a variety of products. The fat content of milk is usually stated on the container, and the color of the label or milk bottle top varied to enable quick recognition.

Quark (dairy product) type of fresh dairy product

Quark or quarg is a type of fresh dairy product made by warming soured milk until the desired amount of curdling is met, and then straining it. It can be classified as fresh acid-set cheese. Traditional quark can be made without rennet, but in modern dairies small quantities of rennet are typically added. It is soft, white and unaged, and usually has no salt added. It is traditional in the cuisines of Baltic, Germanic and Slavic-speaking countries.

Sour cream

Sour cream or soured cream is a dairy product obtained by fermenting regular cream with certain kinds of lactic acid bacteria. The bacterial culture, which is introduced either deliberately or naturally, sours and thickens the cream. Its name comes from the production of lactic acid by bacterial fermentation, which is called souring. Crème fraîche is one type of sour cream with a high fat content and less sour taste.


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  2. Choices, NHS. "Eat less saturated fat - Live Well - NHS Choices". Retrieved 16 June 2017.
  3. ""Everything Is In Butter" - Kosher". 8 June 2013. Retrieved 16 June 2017.
  4. Larousse Gastronomique, 1938, translated 1961, p. 337
  5. "Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code". Food Standards Variation Proposal P1025 – Code Revision, Standard No. 2.5.2 of 25 March 2015 . Retrieved 2016-10-26.
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  7. Canada, Dairy Farmers of. "5% or 6% Light Cream or Cream and Milk Blend for Coffee - Types of Cream - Cream - Dairy Goodness".
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  11. Branch, Legislative Services. "Consolidated federal laws of Canada, Food and Drug Regulations". Retrieved 2017-07-18.
  12. Décret n° 80-313 du 23 avril 1980 relatif aux crèmes de lait destinées à la consommation, 1980-04-23, retrieved 2018-01-13
  13. 1 2 Eurasian Customs Union Technical Requirements "On milk and dairy products safety"
  14. Legally, the "drinking cream" term denotes pasteurized and individually packed cream, and has nothing to do with its fat content.
  15. "Ÿ" denotes Cyrillic letter Yery, which is here a separate vowel and shouldn't be read as a part of a diphthong.
  16. Verordnung des EDI über Lebensmittel tierischer Herkunft / Ordonnance du DFI sur les denrées alimentaires d'origine animale / Ordinanza del DFI sulle derrate alimentari di origine animale of 2010-11-23, SR/RS 817.022.108 (D·F·I), art. 48 (D·F·I)
  17. The English terms are not legally regulated
  18. Food Labelling Regulations 1998
  19. "Need Substitute For Heavy Cream? 8 Best Heavy Whipping Cream Substitutes". AMH. 2 November 2016.
  20. "CFR - Code of Federal Regulations Title 21". Retrieved 16 June 2017.
  21. "Food and Drugs". Archived from the original on 1 March 2012. Retrieved 16 June 2017.
  22. 1 2 Dairy Fats and Related Products, edited by Adnan Tamime. This book has a great deal of technical information on cream and other dairy fat products. Extracts available on Google books
  23. "Carrageenan: food thickener and gelling agent from Hispanagar". Archived from the original on 15 August 2018. Retrieved 16 June 2017.
  24. 1952 Idaho Op. Atty. Gen. 20, cited in Smylie, Robert E. (1952-12-01). Thirty-First Biennial Report of the Attorney General of Idaho (PDF). Idaho Commission for Libraries. p. 33. OCLC   953006240 . Retrieved 2018-12-05. Unless a frozen novelty or dessert meets the legal requirements for "ice cream", it cannot use the words "creme", "Kreme", etc.
  25. "Instant Whipped Vegetable Fat Toppings". Report of the Joint Legislative Committee on Imitation Food Products and Problems to the Legislature. New York State Legislature. 1955. pp. 23–34. OCLC   10325809.
  26. "Ministry of Food.—statutory rules and orders". Analyst. 70 (833): 306–307. 1 January 1945. Bibcode:1945Ana....70..306.. doi:10.1039/AN9457000306.

Nutrition chart for heavy cream