I always struggle to use up an open carton of heavy cream, but then I never seem to have it on hand when I actually need it! I don’t think I am alone in this.
When I do need to make a sauce or a soup or a dessert that calls for heavy cream and I am without it, I’ve come to rely on a few quick and easy substitutes. These substitutes save me a trip to the grocery store and tend to work just as well for most uses.
Heavy Cream vs. Heavy Whipping Cream vs. Regular Whipping Cream
Heavy cream and heavy whipping cream are identical. Both must contain at least 36% or more milk fat. Regular whipping cream contains slightly less milk fat, anywhere from 30% to 35%.
All three products can be used interchangeably. However, the higher fat content in heavy cream and heavy whipping cream does make it easier to whip cream into stable peaks that hold their shape longer. The higher fat content also acts as a slightly better thickening agent for soups and sauces.
The Best Heavy Cream Substitutes
Important note: If you're planning to make whipped cream, most of these substitutes won’t work (with the exception of light cream and full-fat coconut milk, see below), so we recommend using the real deal in that case.
Otherwise, depending on what you’re cooking or baking and what you have in your refrigerator, here are the best heavy cream and heavy whipping cream substitutes:
- Whole milk + butter: Melt and cool 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter, then whisk it together with 3/4 cup whole milk. This increases the fat content of milk, which is usually around 3.5% fat, so that it more closely imitates the fat content of heavy cream, which is around 36%. This mixture is equivalent to 1 cup of heavy cream and can be used in almost any recipe that calls for heavy cream.
- Light cream: Though not as rich as heavy cream, light cream falls somewhere between 18% and 30% fat. It can be used as an equivalent in just about any recipe. If the light cream falls closer to 30% fat, it’s the only dairy substitute that can actually be whipped like heavy cream, though it won’t form quite as stiff peaks.
- Half-and-half: This dairy product is simply half cream and half milk and contains about 10.5% to 12% fat. It can be used as a one-to-one equivalent. It’s not ideal in place of heavy cream in desserts, but makes a good albeit less rich substitute for heavy cream in soups, sauces, and quiche.
- Evaporated milk: This canned product has about 60% of its water removed, which means it’s quite thick. Even though it contains only about 8% fat, its thickness can mimic heavy cream’s richness in sauces, vegetable dishes, and even ice cream. Just know it has a slightly caramelized, cooked flavor.
- Full-fat Greek yogurt + whole milk: Whole milk plain Greek yogurt contains about 5% fat. When thinned with whole milk it can imitate the creamy mouthfeel of heavy cream in mashed potatoes and other mashed vegetables, as well as in soups and pastas, though it won’t be quite as rich and will lend a slightly tangy flavor.
A Vegan Heavy Cream Substitute
If you’re looking a good vegan substitute for heavy cream, full-fat coconut milk is your best choice.
It has a similar thickness and works well in just about any recipe that calls for heavy cream. Just remember it will lend a coconut flavor to whatever you’re making.
One added perk of full-fat coconut milk is that it’s one of the few substitutes where you can actually achieve a whip!
Chill an unshaken can in the refrigerator overnight, then scoop the thick, solidified layer of coconut cream off the top and whip it like whipped cream.