For people who care about their food

Confused about US cream?

It’s easy enough to get confused about cream if you’re in the UK and using a British cook book. If you then start using a US cook book, or have to deal with American ingredients, the confusion’s that much greater!

So let’s have a look at cream and the different varieties available in the US market.

United States

It gets worse! The situation’s more complex in the US than it is in the UK because not only do you have Federal legislation from the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) – the States have a say, too, so potentially you’ve got 51 different sets of definitions to deal with! However, here’s a rough guide.

Light cream (or coffee cream/table cream)

Light cream ranges from 18% to 30% milkfat content, so it equates roughly to the UK definition of single cream.



Whipping cream (or light whipping cream)

This contains not less than 30% milkfat but less than 36%, so it’s a bit thinner than UK whipping cream (and closer to the type of whipping cream that’s available in continental Europe).

Heavy cream (or heavy whipping cream)

This has to contain not less than 36% milkfat – so it’s at least as thick as UK whipping cream, but may be considerably less thick than double cream.

Extra-heavy cream (or double cream/manufacturer’s cream)

Not generally available to the retail market except through some warehouse and specialist traders, this is generally about 38-40% fat content cream, so still a bit less thick than UK double cream.


This is a rough equivalent to mixing equal volumes of light cream and milk. It must contain between 10.5% and 18% fat, so it equates to UK half cream (although it may be a little thinner).

Any of the above may also contain stabilisers and/or emulsifiers. They must be pasteurised or ultra-pasteurised (UHT, in other words), and may be homogenised.

Other creams, dairy or otherwise

Sour cream (or cultured sour cream)

Much the same as the UK definition; cream with at least 18% fat content that’s been soured by lactic acid producing bacteria.

Acidified sour cream

This is cream that’s been soured by the addition of acidifiers which may or may not include the natural souring bacteria.

Cool Whip

This isn’t cream at all – it’s a non-dairy substitute, made essentially of water, corn syrup and flavourings. Be warned.

Oh yes, and US cream may contain sweeteners or flavourings (natural or artificial) too. Something to be aware of if you’re planning to cook with the cream you’re considering buying.

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