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Cream (including light whipping cream) is a dairy product that is composed of the higher-butterfat layer skimmed from the top of milk before homogenization. In un-homogenized milk, over time, the lighter fat rises to the top. In the industrial production of cream this process is accelerated by using centrifuges called "separators". In many countries, cream is sold in several grades depending on the total butterfat content. Cream can be dried to a powder for shipment to distant markets. Cream may have thickening agents and stabiliser added without this needing to be declared on packaging, depending upon the jurisdiction.

Cream skimmed from milk may be called "sweet cream" to distinguish it from whey cream skimmed from whey, a by-product of cheese-making. Whey cream has a lower fat content and tastes more salty, tangy and “cheesy”.

Cream produced by cows (particularly Jersey cattle) grazing on natural pasture often contains some natural carotenoid pigments derived from the plants they eat; this gives the cream a slight yellow tone, hence the name of the yellowish-white colour, cream. Cream from cows fed indoors, on grain or grain-based pellets, is white.


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

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdommarker, the types of cream are legally defined as follows:

Name Minimum

milk fat
Additional definition Main uses
Clotted cream 55% and heat treated Served as it is with scones, jam, stargazy pie, etc.
Double cream 48% Whips the easiest and thickest for puddings and desserts, can be piped
Whipping cream 35% Whips well but lighter, can be piped - just
Whipped cream 35% and has been whipped Decorations on cakes and gâteaux.
Sterilized cream 23% is sterilized
Cream or single cream 18% is not sterilized Poured over puddings, used in coffee
Sterilized half cream 12% is sterilized
Half cream 12% is not sterilized Used in coffee, some cocktails

United States

In the United Statesmarker, cream is usually sold as:
  • Half and half (10.5–18% fat)
  • Light, coffee, or table cream (18–30% fat)
  • Medium cream (25% fat)
  • Whipping or light whipping cream (30–36% fat)
  • Heavy whipping cream (36% or more)
  • Extra-heavy, double, or manufacturer's cream (38–40% or more), generally not available at retail except at some warehouse and specialty stores.

Not all grades are defined by all jurisdictions, and the exact fat content ranges vary. The above figures are based on the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 21, Part 131 and a small sample of state regulations.


In Australia, levels of fat in cream are not regulated, therefore labels are only under the control of the manufacturers. A general guideline is as follows:

Extra light (or ‘lite’): 12–12.5% fat.

Light (or ‘lite’): 18–20% fat.

Pure cream: 35–56% fat, without artificial thickeners.

Thickened cream: 35–36.5% fat, with added gelatine and/or other thickeners to give the cream a creamier texture, also possibly with stabilisers to aid the consistency of whipped cream (this would be the cream to use for whipped cream, not necessarily for cooking)

Single cream: Recipes calling for ‘single cream’ are referring to pure or thickened cream with about 35% fat.

Double cream: 48–60% fat.

Processing and additives

Cream may have thickening agents and stabiliser added without this needing to be declared on packaging, depending upon the jurisdiction. Thickeners include sodium alginate, carrageenan, gelatine, sodium bicarbonate, tetrasodium pyrophosphate, and alginic acid ).

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 .

Other cream products

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

 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 or carbon dioxide may also be used to make whipped cream.

Sour cream, common in many countries including the U.S. 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) 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 product (35-40% milk fat) Central and Eastern European sour cream. Rjome or rømme is Norwegianmarker sour cream cointaining 35% milk fat, similar to Icelandic rjómi.

Clotted cream, common in the United Kingdom, is cream that has been slowly heated to dry and thicken it, producing a very high-fat (55%) product. This is similar to Indian malai.

Cream as an ingredient

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. Irish cream is an alcoholic liqueur which blends cream with whiskey and coffee. Cream is also used in curries such as masala dishes.

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

For cooking purposes, both single and double cream can be used in cooking, although the former can separate when heated, usually if there is a high acid content. Most UK chefs always use double cream or full-fat crème fraîche when cream is added to a hot sauce, to prevent any problem with it separating or "splitting". In sweet and savoury custards such as those found in flan fillings, crème brûlées and crème caramels, both types of cream are called for in different recipes depending on how rich a result is called for. It is useful to note that double cream can also be thinned down with water to make an approximation of single cream if necessary.

Other items called "cream"

Many non-edible substances are called creams due merely to their consistency: shoe cream is runny, unlike waxy shoe polish; face cream is a cosmetic. There is generally no restriction on describing non-edible products as creams.

Regulations in many jurisdictions restrict the use of the word cream for foods. Words such as creme, kreme, creame, or whipped topping are often used for products which cannot legally be called cream. 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 and need contain no cream.

See also


  1. Article on sweet cream, whey cream, and the butters they produce
  2. The Cheese and Cream Regulations 1995 (SI 1995 No. 3240) ISBN 0110538536
  3. FDA > CDRH > CFR Title 21 Database Search
  4. 2005 CFR Title 21, Volume 2
  6. 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[1]
  7. Carrageenan
  8. UK Ministry of food orders, 1945

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