Cream is a dairy product composed of the higher-butterfat layer skimmed from the top of milk before homogenization. In un-homogenized milk, the fat, which is less dense, will eventually rise 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 has high levels of saturated fat.[2][3]

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".[4] In many countries, cream is usually sold partially fermented: sour cream, crème fraîche, and so on.

Cream has many culinary uses in sweet, bitter, salty and tangy dishes.

Cream produced by cattle (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 color, cream. This is also the origin of butter's yellow color. Cream from goat's milk, or from cows fed indoors on grain or grain-based pellets, is white.


A slice of pumpkin pie topped with a whipped cream rose

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. Whipped cream is served as a topping on ice cream sundaes, milkshakes, egg nog and sweet pies. Irish cream is an alcoholic liqueur which blends cream with whiskey, and often honey, wine, or coffee. Cream is also used in Indian curries such as masala dishes.

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

Both single and double cream can be used in cooking. Double cream or full-fat crème fraîche are often used when cream is added to a hot sauce, to prevent any problem with it separating or "splitting". Double cream can be thinned with milk to make an approximation of single cream.

The French word crème denotes not only dairy cream, but also other thick liquids such as sweet and savory custards, which are normally made with milk, not cream.


Stewed nectarines and heavy cream

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

United States

In the United States, cream is usually sold as:

NameFat ContentMain Uses
Half and Half10.5-18%To whiten coffee (and tea).
Light Cream18-30%Also called "table" cream or "coffee" cream. Old style product for whitening coffee and also as an enriching ingredient in sauces and other recipes. This product is becoming difficult to find at retail in many areas.
Whipping Cream30-36%Generally 33%. Used in sauces and soups and as a pourable or whipped garnish. Whipping will only attain soft peaks. Some products labeled "Whipping Cream" contain small amounts of gelatin as an added stabilizer for improved whipping.
Heavy (Whipping) Cream36% min.For whipping when pert stable peaks are desired. Also used as a luxurious pourable garnish on fresh fruit and hot cereals.
Manufacturer's Cream>=40%Used in commercial and professional production applications. Not generally available at retail until recently.

Most cream products sold in the United States at retail contain the minimum permissible fat content for their product type, e.g., "Half and half" almost always contains only 10.5% butterfat.
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[5][6]


The Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code - Standard 2.5.2 - Defines cream as milk product comparatively rich in fat, in the form of an emulsion of fat-in-skim milk, which can be obtained by separation from milk. Cream must contain no less than 350 g/kg of milk fat.[7]

Manufacturers labels may distinguish between different fat contents, a general guideline is as follows:

NameFat ContentMain Uses
Extra light (or 'lite')12-12.5%
Light (or 'lite')18-20%
Thickened Cream35-36.5%with added gelatine and/or other thickeners to give the cream a creamier texture, also possibly with stabilizers to aid the consistency of whipped cream (this would be the cream to use for whipped cream, not necessarily for cooking)
Single Cream~ 35%Recipes calling for 'single cream' are referring to pure or thickened cream with about 35% fat.
Double Cream48-60%[8]


In the United Kingdom, the types of cream are legally defined as followed:

milk fat
Additional definitionMain uses
Clotted cream55%is heat-treatedServed as it is. A traditional part of a cream tea.
Extra-thick double cream48%is heat-treated then quickly cooledThickest available fresh cream, spooned onto pies, puddings, and desserts (cannot be poured due to its consistency)
Double cream48%Whips easily and thickest for puddings and desserts, can be piped once whipped
Whipping cream35%Whips well but lighter, can be piped once whipped
Whipped cream35%has been whippedDecorations on cakes, topping for ice cream, fruit and so on.
Sterilized cream23%is sterilized
Cream or single cream18%is not sterilizedPoured over puddings, used in sauces
Sterilized half cream12%is sterilized
Half creamUncommon, some cocktails
Meiji whipping cream


Canadian cream definitions are similar to those used in the United States, except for that of "light cream". In Canada, "light cream" is very low-fat cream, usually with . Specific product characteristics are generally uniform throughout Canada, but names vary by both geographic and linguistic area and by manufacturer. It can be quite confusing: "coffee cream" may be 10% or 18% and "half-and-half" ("crème légère") may be 3%, 5%, 6% or 10%, all depending on location and brand.[2][2]

milk fat
Additional definitionMain uses
Manufacturing cream40%Crème fraîche is also 40% - 45% but is an acidified cultured product rather than sweet cream.Commercial production.
Whipping cream33%—36%Also as cooking or "thick" cream 35% with added stabilizers. Heavy cream must be at least 36%. In Francophone areas: crème à fouetter 35%; and for cooking, crème à cuisson 35%, crème à l'ancienne 35% or crème épaisse 35%.Whips into a creamy and smooth topping that is used for pastries, fresh fruits, desserts, hot cocoa, etc. Cooking version is formulated to resist breaking when heated (as in sauces).
Table cream15%—18%Coffee cream. Also as cooking or "thick" cream 15% with added stabilizers. In Francophone areas: crème de table 15% or crème à café 18%; and for cooking, crème champêtre 15%, crème campagnarde (country cream) 15% or crème épaisse 15%.Added as rich whitener to coffee. Ideal for soups, sauces and veloutés. Garnishing fruit and desserts. Cooking version is formulated to resist breaking when heated.
Half and half10%Cereal cream (at least one producer calls it coffee cream; another calls it Creamo™ light cream). Product with the most butterfat in the light cream category. In Francophone areas: crème à café 10% and sometimes crème légère 10%.Poured over hot cereal as a garnish. Ideal in sauces for vegetables, fish, meat, poultry, and pasta. Also in cream soups.
Light cream3%—10%LIght cream 6%. In Francophone areas: mélange de lait et de crème pour café 5%, Crémette™ 5% or crème légère 3% to 10%. An admixture of milk and cream.5% product is similar to the richest Guernsey or Jersey milk. A lower fat alternative to table cream in coffee.


In Japan, cream sold in supermarkets is usually between 35% and 48% butterfat.


Russia, as well as other EAC countries, legally separates cream into two classes: normal (10-34% butterfat) and heavy (35-58%),[11] but the industry has pretty much standardized around the following types:

EnglishRussianTransliterationMilk fat (wt%)
Low-fat or drinking[11][2] creamНежирные (питьевые) сливкиNezhirnÿe[2] (pityevÿe) slivki10%
(Normal) CreamСливкиSlivki15% or 20%
Whipping creamСливки для взбиванияSlivki dlya vzbivaniya33% or 35%
Double creamДвойные (жирные) сливкиDvoinÿe (Zhirnÿe) slivki48%


In Switzerland, the types of cream are legally defined[2] as follows:

milk fat
milk fat
Double creamDoppelrahmdouble-crèmedoppia panna45%45%
Full cream
Whipping cream
crème entière
crème à fouetter
panna intera
panna da montare
Half creamHalbrahmdemi-crèmemezza panna25%15%
Coffee creamKaffeerahmcrème à cafépanna da caffè15%15%

Sour cream and crème fraîche (German: Sauerrahm, Crème fraîche; French: crème acidulée, crème fraîche; Italian: panna acidula, crème fraîche) are defined as cream soured by bacterial cultures.

Thick cream (German: verdickter Rahm; French: crème épaissie; Italian: panna addensata) is defined as cream thickened using thickening agents.


In Sweden, cream is usually sold as:

  • Matlagningsgrädde ("cooking cream"), 10-15 %
  • Kaffegrädde ("Coffee cream"), 10%
  • Vispgrädde (whipping cream), 36 - 40%

Mellangrädde (27%) is, nowadays, a less common variant. Gräddfil and Creme Fraiche are two common sour cream products.

Processing and additives

Cream may have thickening agents and stabilizers added. Thickeners include sodium alginate, carrageenan, gelatine, sodium bicarbonate, tetrasodium pyrophosphate, and alginic acid.[18]:296[2]

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.[18]:297

Other cream products

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

Butter is made 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 may also be used to make whipped cream.

Sour cream, common in many countries including the U.S., Canada 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) is 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 (15-40% milk fat) Central and Eastern European sweet or sour cream.

Rjome or rømme is Norwegian sour cream containing 35% milk fat, similar to Icelandic sýrður rjómi.

Clotted cream, common in the United Kingdom, is made through a process that starts by slowly heating whole milk to produce a very high-fat (55%) product. This is similar to Indian malai.

Other items called "cream"

Some non-edible substances are called creams due to their consistency: shoe cream is runny, unlike regular waxy shoe polish; hand/body 'creme' or "skin cream" is meant for moisturizing the skin.

Regulations in many jurisdictions restrict the use of the word cream for foods. Words such as creme, kreme, creame, or whipped topping (e.g., Cool Whip) are often used for products which cannot legally be called cream. Oreo cookies are a type of sandwich cookie in which two biscuits have a soft, sweet filling between them which is called "crème filling". 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.[2]