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- What is heavy cream?
- Substitutes for heavy cream by ingredient
- Substitutes for heavy cream by recipe type
Have a recipe that calls for heavy cream as a cooking ingredient, but don’t have any on hand? Or maybe you’re looking for a non-dairy substitute due to dietary preferences. How about simply wanting a healthy substitute? Whatever your reason for needing a substitute for heavy cream, you don’t need to have a cow because we’ve got some healthy heavy cream substitutes (including vegan substitutes) you can use for all kinds of recipes!
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- Our milk of choice to use as a substitute
- Our favorite one-ingredient, vegan heavy cream substitute (though it does require some advanced planning)
- A nice flavor enhancer for your cream
What is heavy cream?
Heavy cream is a common ingredient found in dessert recipes, or is sometimes used to create creamy sauces or soups.
Heavy cream is basically milk that has at least 36% milk fat. What’s great about heavy cream is that the high milk fat content makes it easy to whip into peaks that are dense and stable. It also prevents the liquid from curdling when it’s heated, so the liquid remains smooth instead of having little grainy solids in it.
What’s not so great about heavy cream is that the high levels of fat are mostly saturated (aka bad fat), which isn’t good on your heart. Luckily, we have a lot of heavy cream alternatives you can try, listed by ingredient as well as by recipe type.
Substitutes for heavy cream by ingredient
Heavy cream works the way it does in recipes precisely because of its fat content. That means, the less fat your substitute has, the more likely your recipe will taste different and feel different texturally.
If your aim is to get something healthier, the goal is to find a balance where you’ve reduced the fat but not so much that you mind the resulting change in the texture or taste of your recipe.
Let’s dive into the pros and cons of each substitute and go over what works best when.
Milk and Butter
(¾ cup milk + ¼ cup butter = 1 cup heavy cream)
Heavy cream is milk-based, so a logical substitution is milk plus added fat. Note, however, that this substitute will not work for recipes that require whipping the heavy cream.
Half-and-Half & Butter
(⅞ cup half-and-half + ⅛ cup butter = 1 cup heavy cream)
This is not necessarily a healthier substitute option, but works if you need a functionally close substitute because you don’t have heavy cream on hand. Half-and-half is basically lower-fat cream, so using that plus butter to up the fat makes for a near substitute. This is one of the few substitutes that can be whipped just like heavy cream.
(1 cup condensed milk = 1 cup heavy cream)
Condensed milk is essentially just evaporated milk with a higher sugar content. As such, you’d only want to use it in sweet dishes, but again not in any recipes that call for whipping.
(2 cups whipped topping = 1 cup heavy cream)
Because heavy cream doubles in quantity when it is whipped, you need to use two times the amount of whipped dessert topping (example: Cool Whip). Whipped topping is noticeably lower in fat, but check the nutrition facts to make sure you’re ok with the added sugar count.
Low-Fat Cream Cheese
(½ cup low-fat cream cheese = 1 cup heavy cream)
Low-fat cream cheese is another substitute for heavy cream that has less calories and fat. Be mindful that plain cream cheese has a sourness to it that might not work as well with sweet dishes.
(1 cup evaporated milk = 1 cup heavy cream)
Compared to heavy cream, evaporated milk has fewer calories and way less saturated fat. Plus, it is canned, making it a convenient backup to keep in your pantry.
Use it as a substitute in any recipe that calls for heavy cream to be incorporated as a liquid, but not where whipping is required. If you’re making a dessert, adding a few drops of vanilla extract will nicely enhance the sweetness.
Milk and Cornstarch
(1 cup milk + 2 tablespoons cornstarch = 1 cup heavy cream)
Heavy cream is often used to thicken soups or sauces, as is cornstarch. Start with milk to get the dairy base that heavy cream has, then add cornstarch to give it thickening power. To reduce the fat content, use skim milk.
Greek Yogurt and Milk
(1 cup blended Greek yogurt & milk = 1 cup heavy cream)
Greek yogurt is loaded with protein and way lower in fat than heavy cream, so this is a great option for recipes that don’t require whipping.
By itself, Greek yogurt is too thick, but adding some whole milk will thin it out and add fat to make it closer to heavy cream. Just blend together equal parts of Greek yogurt and milk, then sub out the heavy cream for equal parts of this blended mixture.
High temperatures can cause the yogurt to curdle, so it is better to use this substitute in recipes that cook at lower heat.
Soy Milk and Silken Tofu
The texture of silken tofu is like very soft custard; blending it with soy milk helps ensure it won’t have lumps or chunks. Sugar or vanilla extract can be added if this substitute will serve as a whipped topping for a dessert recipe.
Aguafaba, Vanilla, and Sugar
(1 cup aquafaba = 1 cup heavy cream)
Another vegan-friendly substitute that can be whipped.
This substitute option comes courtesy of reader, Marlene! She points out that aguafaba, the liquid left over after you strain your canned chickpeas, can be used to create a whipped cream substitute. Just refrigerate the liquid until it’s nice and cold, then whip with a stand mixer for 15-20 minutes while adding sugar and vanilla to taste. The resulting whipped cream-like product can be stored in the fridge, and quickly re-whipped if it separates before you actually use it. Thanks, Marlene!
Soy Milk and Olive Oil
(⅔ cup plain soy milk + ⅓ cup olive oil = 1 cup heavy cream)
Using soy or almond milk instead of regular milk and olive oil instead of butter makes this an option that is both vegan & dairy-free. As with many of the substitute options, though, it works best in recipes that do not require whipping the heavy cream.
(⅔ cup cashews + ⅔ cup water blended together = 1 cup heavy cream)
Another vegan substitute for heavy cream is to use cashew as your alternative. Start by soaking the nuts overnight to soften them, or boil them until they are soft (about 5 minutes or so). Then, blend the cashews with the water, and that’s it! Keep in mind you will need a powerful blender to break down the cashews enough. Refrigerate any unused cream, but don’t keep it for more than a few days.
(1 cup coconut cream = 1 cup heavy cream)
Coconut cream must be used chilled if it is serving as a heavy cream substitute. You can buy coconut cream as is, or you can get some by throwing a can of coconut milk into the fridge overnight and separate out the cream that forms from the liquid.
Coconut cream is one of the vegan options that can be whipped, but be mindful that it will add a coconut taste to your dish and is best used for desserts where a coconut flavor would be complementary.
Substitutes for heavy cream by recipe type
Because the heavy cream performs a different function in different recipe types, some substitute types are definitely better than others for particular dishes. Here are some of the more common types of dishes that call for heavy cream, and which substitutes work best for them:
Most soups utilize heavy cream for the purpose of making the soup thicker & creamier. Virtually any of the substitutes that aren’t intended for desserts or whipping work well:
Frosting or Icing
Although some particular types of frosting may call for heavy cream, most don’t. The basic recipe for frosting only requires milk or water, butter, and sugar, plus whatever flavor enhancers are desired. So, if you’re looking for a dessert topping option that doesn’t require heavy cream, regular frosting is a great contender!
All of the following substitutes provide enough stability to serve as a heavy cream substitute in mousse. Each one should be swapped out on a one-to-one ratio to the heavy cream (e.g., 1 cup substitute per 1 cup heavy cream).
- Whipped topping
- Yogurt or Greek yogurt
- Silken tofu
- Coconut cream
When it comes to ice cream, heavy cream is what makes the ice cream…well, creamy. The less fat and less dairy-like your substitute, the more icy your ice cream becomes. As such, if you are aiming to keep the same texture as much as possible, you’ll want to go with an option that doesn’t lose too much of the fat.
- Whole milk
- Condensed milk
Recipes that call for whipping
It can be hard to find a healthy substitute for whipped heavy cream because the high fat is precisely what makes it whippable. There are a few things you can try, though, but be mindful that the texture won’t be 100% identical:
Heavy cream isn’t the only option in town if you’re looking to add creaminess or a whipped cream-like element to your recipe. Check out these heavy cream substitutes if you don’t have any heavy cream on hand. We also have some healthy substitutes for heavy cream you can try if you want both your tummy and heart to be happy!