Recipe call for heavy cream, and you could have sworn you had some in the fridge? No problem, thanks to several swaps that work in any instance and yield tasty results — without necessitating a run to the grocery store. Heck, you might actually end up preferring some of the substitutes, especially if you’re looking for a dairy-free alternative or simply want something a little lighter. Read on to learn more about heavy cream and the 12 ingredients that can be used as a heavy cream substitute.
What is heavy cream?
Heavy cream (or heavy whipping cream) is a thick, rich dairy product containing 36 to 40% milk fat. It’s made by skimming the butterfat off the top of the liquid after homogenizing and pasteurizing it. “Heavy cream is a staple ingredient in so many recipes, from classic sauces like béchamel — that yummy white sauce that’s the base for mac and cheese and cream gravies — to rich desserts like ice cream,” explains Woman’s World Food Director Julie Miltenberger. Heavy cream is often used in dishes that require thickening or creaminess, such as soups, sauces, desserts and beverages. Although it’s been around for ages, heavy cream has become quite popular recently due to its high fat, low carb content — making it perfect for keto dieters.
Dairy substitutes for heavy cream
If you need something rich and creamy, sour cream is a great alternative to heavy cream. It’s high in fat and has a tangy flavor that will add complexity to any dish. To use sour cream as a substitute for heavy cream, whisk it until it’s light and fluffy. Sour cream is great for adding richness to soups, sauces and dressings and providing a creamy texture to baked goods like cakes or muffins. “I have sour cream in my fridge at all times since it lasts longer than regular milk or half-and-half, so it’s easy to add a spoonful to dishes to add creamy richness,” Julie says.
Evaporated milk is a canned milk product with about 60% of the water content removed, giving it a thick and creamy consistency. “I like using evaporated milk in chowders and other creamy soups,” Julie says. “It’s also great when making creamy dishes in your slow cooker since it won’t separate like traditional cream will.” Evaporated milk has a lower fat content than heavy cream but can still provide a similar texture in many recipes. To use evaporated milk as a heavy cream substitute, simply chill the can before whipping it to achieve a similar consistency to whipped cream. Remember that evaporated milk does not have the same stability when whipped as heavy cream, so it may not hold its shape as well in some recipes.
Greek yogurt is a great heavy cream substitute as it’s high in protein and calcium but low in fat. To use it as a swap, whisk it until it’s smooth and creamy — about 1 cup of yogurt for every ¾ cup of heavy cream. Greek yogurt will add a slightly tangy flavor to dishes, so it works great in creamy sauces like Alfredo or béchamel. It also makes a great base for salad dressings, marinades, creamy soups and smoothies.
Half-and-half is a combination of milk and cream, so it can be used as a substitute in heavy cream recipes if you want something in-between in texture. It contains about 12% fat, so it’s not as heavy or creamy as regular cream but provides enough richness for soups and sauces. To use half-and-half as a heavy cream substitute, you can substitute it at a 1:1 ratio. Want it to thicken up like heavy cream? Whisk in 2 teaspoons cornstarch for every cup of half-and-half called for in the recipe and then cook the dish for at least 3 minutes.
Mascarpone cheese is an Italian cream cheese that’s made with cow’s milk and has a soft, creamy texture. It can be used as a heavy cream substitute in baking and cooking, but due to its high fat content, it’s best when used sparingly. To use mascarpone cheese in recipes, simply whisk it until it’s light and fluffy. It adds a subtle tanginess to dishes that pairs beautifully with sweet fruits like strawberries or raspberries. Julie notes that mascarpone cheese is also great for creamy sauces and baking recipes like tiramisu.
Dairy-free substitutes for heavy cream
If you’re looking for a dairy-free heavy cream alternative, coconut cream is your answer. This luscious and creamy substitute is made from the meat of fresh coconut and can be found in most grocery stores. It has a slightly nutty and sweet coconut flavor that works great in savory dishes like curries, soups or stews or as a topping for desserts like pies or cakes. The texture is similar to heavy cream, so it works well as an impromptu replacement when baking. Just remember that coconut cream has a much lower fat content than heavy cream, so the results may have less richness.
For a vegan and nut-free option, try cashew cream. This creamy substitution is made from ground-up raw or roasted cashews blended with a liquid to create a thick sauce-like consistency, and it is simple to make at home. It has a mild, nutty flavor that works well in place of heavy cream in savory dishes like mashed potatoes, soups and sauces. Cashew cream can also be used in desserts like pies or cheesecakes to add a creamy texture. Keep in mind that cashew cream has a bit of a nutty aftertaste, so it works best in dishes where the flavor won’t be overpowering.
Silken tofu is a soft, smooth variety that can be blended into a creamy, dairy-free and vegan heavy cream substitute. Ideal for those on a plant-based or lactose-free diet, silken tofu lends itself well to both savory and sweet recipes. To use silken tofu as a heavy cream substitute, simply blend it in a food processor or blender until smooth and creamy. It can then be used in recipes like puddings and soups or even as a frosting for cakes or other dessert toppings.
For a lighter, non-dairy heavy cream substitute, almond milk is your answer. It’s low in fat but high in calcium, so it can be a great choice for those looking to reduce their fat intake. To use almond milk as a heavy cream substitute, swap in 1:1 almond milk for heavy cream in your smoothies, soups and other creamy dishes. Remember that almond milk won’t give you the same thicker texture as the real thing, but it does add a subtle nutty flavor to dishes.
Full-fat coconut milk
Coconut milk is a dairy-free, plant-based milk alternative to heavy cream made from the grated flesh of coconuts. Not to get confused with coconut cream with a thicker consistency, full-fat coconut milk is light, creamy and high in healthy fats. To use it as a heavy cream substitute in cooking, blend 1 cup of milk with 1 teaspoon of cornstarch until it’s nice and smooth. This light cream alternative adds a hint of sweetness to dishes like curries and soups.
Lighter substitutes for heavy cream
Avocado purée is a surprisingly delicious and healthy addition to your dishes. Not only does this substitution provide a creamy texture, but it’s also packed with valuable nutrients like healthy fats, vitamins and minerals. It has a mild taste and can be used in a variety of dishes, from soups to desserts. Just make sure you use ripe avocados when making your puree for the best results — its rich and creamy texture is perfect when making puddings and ice cream. Health and nutrition expert and cookbook author Joy Bauer, MS, RDN, CDN, likes to use avocado as a heavy cream substitute in her chocolate frosting.
Banana purée is another alternative that can be used to add a creamy texture and natural sweetness to your dishes. It has a mild, sweet flavor that works great in desserts like pies or cakes and savory dishes like curries. To use banana cream as a heavy cream substitute, simply blend at least 2 to 3 ripe bananas with a bit of water or milk until you’ve achieved a smooth, creamy consistency.
Your best heavy cream substitute
With so many heavy cream substitutes, you can easily accommodate various dietary needs and preferences or simply try something new in your favorite dishes and desserts. Whether you’re looking for a lower-fat option, a dairy-free alternative or just want to experiment with unique flavors and textures, these heavy cream substitutes offer a range of choices for whipping up delicious and healthy treats. Try them out and find the one that works best for you!
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