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Which Cream Is Best for Whipping?

By Steve Dunn Published

Choose carefully, since the type of cream you select can have a big impact on the flavor, texture, and staying power of your whipped cream.

When you buy cream for whipping, you have two options: heavy cream (also called heavy whipping cream) and whipping cream (also called light whipping cream). Their chief distinction is fat. Per the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, heavy cream must be at least 36 percent fat, while whipping cream must be at least 30 percent fat but less than 36 percent fat. That didn't sound like a big difference to us, so we decided to whip the two types and compare the results. Since creams can also vary in how they're processed—most are ultra-pasteurized at a high temperature to prolong shelf life but some are simply pasteurized—we wanted to compare those differences as well. 

Tests

We whipped pasteurized heavy cream, ultrapasteurized heavy cream, and ultra-pasteurized whipping cream in a stand mixer and compared the flavor and texture of the results. We also evaluated their staying power by suspending the whipped creams in fine-mesh strainers over bowls and measuring how much liquid each lost over the course of 5 hours. 

Results

Heavy cream produced a more luxuriously thick whipped cream than whipping cream—and had a lot more staying power. In fact, toppings made with whipping cream lost five times the amount of water as toppings made from higher fat heavy cream. That’s because fat helps stabilize the air bubbles in whipped cream and prevent free water from moving very far, and the more fat in the cream, the greater the foam’s stability and the thicker its texture. 

The type of pasteurization also led to noticeable differences in the whipped creams. Pasteurized heavy cream had a markedly more complex, sweet dairy flavor than the ultra-pasteurized creams, which tasted “flat” and “plain” by comparison. Ultra-pasteurization also thins out the dairy and damages its ability to hold air, so manufacturers must add thickeners and stabilizers such as carrageenan, mono- and diglycerides, and polysorbate 80 to products that undergo this treatment.

WHIPPING CREAM (left), which has less fat than heavy cream, along with additives that help it hold air, produced the airiest and most voluminous whipped cream. ULTRA-PASTEURIZED HEAVY CREAM (center) produced thicker results, while PASTEURIZED HEAVY CREAM (right), with the highest fat of the three, led to the most luxuriously thick results.

Takeaways

BEST CHOICE: Pasteurized heavy cream

This product, which tends to have the most fat of any cream in the dairy aisle, is our favorite choice for whipped cream. We love its luxuriously thick texture and rich, full dairy flavor. Though it’s not available in all supermarkets, it’s worth seeking out.

SECOND BEST: Ultra-pasteurized heavy cream

A good runner-up to pasteurized heavy cream for making thicker toppings and pastry fillings, since it whips up to a relatively thick, lush texture and holds its shape well. But it won’t have quite the same sweet dairy complexity.

GOOD FOR CERTAIN APPLICATIONS: Whipping cream

This product makes for a light, ephemeral whipped cream and is only suitable in applications that you plan to serve immediately—say for strawberry shortcake or a sundae.

Recipe Tangy Whipped Cream

The combination of heavy cream, sour cream, light brown sugar, and vanilla creates a whipped cream with an even balance of sweetness and tang.

Recipe Orange, Cranberry, and Mint Pavlova with Whipped Cream

Pavlova is a drop-dead gorgeous dessert of marshmallowy, crisp-shelled meringue piled with lightly whipped cream and fresh fruit. Ours is as foolproof as it is beautiful.

Recipe Orange Whipped Cream

Cointreau and orange zest give this whipped cream the perfect amount of bright orange flavor.

Recipe Amaretto Whipped Cream

Add some sweet, nutty almond flavor to your whipped cream.