What Is Light Cream?

Every once in a while a recipe calls for light cream—is it really any different from heavy cream or half and half? Here's how to substitute it.

If you've been in the dairy aisle recently, you've most likely noticed quite a few more options for your baking and cooking needs. But what's the real difference between each of them? Does it matter if you use heavy whipping cream when the recipe calls for light cream?

What is Light Cream?

According the Food and Drug Administration, light cream is "cream that contains not less than 18 percent but less than 30 percent milkfat". But how does this compare to other creams and can you simply swap varieties? Here's how they stack up:

  • Light cream: 18-30% milkfat
  • Light whipping cream: 30-36% milkfat
  • Heavy whipping cream: at least 36% milkfat
  • Half and half: 10.5-18% milkfat

Why Does Milkfat Content Matter?

In his food treatise On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, food scientist Harold McGee explains, "The proportion of fat determines both a cream's consistency and its versatility." Higher fat content equals thicker cream which whips into a stable, almost solid, whipped cream, and will resist splitting when added to hot items such as sauces or soups. Creams with lower fat content are better used in beverages or for pouring over desserts.

What to Substitute for Light Cream

So if your recipe calls for light cream, substituting with half and half will likely not have enough fat content to produce the desired results and subbing in light or heavy whipping cream could be too dense for the recipe. You are better off using heavy cream and diluting it with milk. Just combine 1 part heavy cream with 1 part milk to make your "light cream."

Does Light Cream Whip?

But what about the other way around? If you have light cream, can you substitute it for whipping cream? To test it out, I used an electric hand mixer to whip one cup each of cold dairy product (half and half, light cream and heavy cream) seeking to get to what's known as the "soft plop" stage, at about four to five minutes.

The half and half after four minutes had lots of foamy bubbles, but no real change in the density. It would take a lot of effort, time, and extra chilling to get this product to whip up only for it to deflate quickly.

Light cream also took awhile to turn into something resembling whipped cream. After the five minutes,the light cream looked more like cold foam on an iced coffee than whipped cream. The taste definitely imparted smooth and silky richness, making this a great option for coffee or hot chocolate, but it's not a good replacement for traditional whipped cream.

I saved heavy whipping cream because I knew that it would definitely pass the whip test. Not only did it get to the soft plop stage within five minutes, it held its shape for awhile afterwards. The texture of freshly whipped cream is nothing short of decadent. The fat content is most pronounced in the mouthfeel, how the cream lingers like a soft blanket. Perfect for topping anything or simply eating straight from the bowl with some fruit!

The Bottom Line

Light cream is different from other types of cream and half and half. If your recipe calls for light cream and you don't have any on hand or can't find it at the store, simply substitute it with a mixture of 1 part heavy cream and 1 part milk.

Was this page helpful?
You’ll Also Love