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Why Is Heavy Cream Hard to Find? #1 Best Answer

Why Is Heavy Cream Hard to Find? There’s a sly trick Yoruba (West African tribe) mothers play on irksome young children, which is that they send the children to the neighbors to fetch “àrōdán”. Upon hearing this, the neighbors find ways to delay the kids, often by promising that this or that person is about to return from the market with that very item “soon”.

In time, perhaps after several hours, the children get sent back home with the promise that the neighbor will bring the “àrōdán” as soon as it has arrived. When I tell you that “àrōdán” is code for “these children are pestering me” (although literally, it means “stand still”), you get the picture.

In a way, going from shop to shop looking for “heavy cream” can be like hunting for the elusive “àrōdán”. The only difference is that no one is deliberately trying to fool you, you’re just being fooled by an unfortunate convention of names!

Why Is Heavy Cream Hard To Find?

Quite often, heavy cream retails under the name “whipping cream”. Heavy cream and whipping cream contain similar amounts of fat, around 36%, and are thus interchangeable in recipes without adverse consequences. When sought under the name “whipping cream”, it turns out that heavy cream is not at all hard to find in most grocery shops across the country.

Why Is Heavy Cream Hard to Find?
Why Is Heavy Cream Hard to Find?

Separated By A Common Language

We yanks and Brits commonly understand each other, just about, as we speak more or less the same language. Except, every so often, using words with slightly different meanings means that we end up completely unaware that we are talking about two different things entirely. Nowhere is this more so than in the culinary world.

To a Brit, whipping cream is a lighter cream than the heavy cream found in the U.S., even though both contain around the same amount of fat, which is about 36%.

However, the Brits have got us beat by having access to even fattier creams such as double cream (about 48% fat content) and the even fattier extra thick double cream (which has an astonishing 55% fat content).

With this many fattier creams to choose from, our heavy cream is a medium cream at best, so if a Brit were to enter a shop in the U.S. US looking for heavy cream, they would come out sorely disappointed. Understandably, Brits don’t think we yanks “do” heavy cream.

Heavy cream and Whipping Cream are interchangeable as long as they both have a fat content of 36%.
Heavy cream and Whipping Cream are interchangeable as long as they both have a fat content of 36%.

Fat Content And Common Name of the Cream

  • 18% fat content – single cream (UK)
  • 20% fat content – light cream (US)
  • 30%-36% fat content – whipping cream (UK & US)
  • 36% fat content – heavy cream (US)
  • 48% fat content – double cream (UK)
  • 55% fat content – extra thick double cream (UK)

Clearly, single cream and light cream can serve as substitutes for one another in cooking recipes, but you need to exercise care and apply due diligence if you are going to substitute whipping cream for heavy cream. It is critical that you choose a whipping cream with 36% fat content, as this is functionally equivalent to heavy cream.

Double cream has at least 48% fat content and is not pourable.
Double cream has at least 48% fat content and is not pourable.

Why The Amount Of Fat In Cream Matters

With the mishmash of names that serve to confuse and bewilder the unwary, my method of seeking out the necessary cream is to get to the heart of the matter and simply look at the fat content!

It’s a no-nonsense, foolproof way to get the exact type of cream you need for your recipe. But what’s with all the fuss about fat content anyway?

Fat holds the substances in milk together

Without cream, you just have milk. Milk is excellent for this and that, and there are myriad things you can do with milk, but you certainly wouldn’t dream of trying to whip milk into a topping for a tart, for example, and there’s a very good reason for that.

It turns out that the stuff that holds milk molecules together is milk fat. The fat binds water to other proteins and such in milk and holds everything together in neat, cohesive layers so that when you come along and need to stiffen the milk (cream), you can.

Without at least 30% fat content in milk, it is virtually impossible to whip the liquid into a solid form as you would for the various purposes of baking cream-filled cakes, pastries, and other goodies.

In fact, if you wish to avoid the palaver of whipping cream in the first place, you could simply jump the gun and go straight for extra thick double cream, which is so thick that it doesn’t pour. (Of course, this sort of cream isn’t typically sold in the US, so getting a hold of it could be a different and frustrating palaver in itself.)

Without at least 30% fat content, it is impossible to whip the liquid into solid form.
Without at least 30% fat content, it is impossible to whip the liquid into solid form.

Fat fights acidity and prevents milk from curdling

Plenty of sweet foods are acidic, and if you pair these foods with milk, you’d soon find yourself with a horridly unappetizing, spoiled-looking mess on your hands as the acid quickly attacked and curdled the milk.

Thankfully, for human culinary preferences, milk fat neutralizes acid and allows clever cooks and bakers to marry sugary treats and creamy delights into wholesome, appealing delicacies.

As Amanda Agee of Cook’s Illustrated once said presciently, “The more fat you have in a cream, the more you can do with it.”

The fat content in cream is what allows it to be whipped up and hold up for use in sweet recipes.
The fat content in cream is what allows it to be whipped up and hold up for use in sweet recipes.

Who Decides Which Type of Cream Is what?

This would be the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the USA. In fact, the FDA has lots of advice to aid citizens in buying not just creams but dairy products, including butter, cheese, and, of course, milk.

One important function that the FDA carries out is to define and standardize pasteurization and homogenization, without which cost-obsessed dairy producers might be tempted to cut corners and risk the public’s health through improper pasteurization.

Sharp practicing producers could also “forget” to properly homogenize cream to get it to separate early, thereby lowering its shelf-life and forcing consumers to replace products more often than truly needed.

Frequently Asked Questions to Why Is Heavy Cream Hard to Find?

Can I Use Whipped Cream As a Heavy Cream Substitute In a Recipe?

Whipped cream is not the same as whipping cream; the two types of cream are completely different. Whipped cream is a sugary, sweet dessert topping, while whipping cream is a standard cooking cream with extra fat. It is doubtful that you will ever get good results from accidentally using whipped cream in your delicate French sauce for your carefully roasted rôti de boeuf.

Can I Use Double Cream or Extra Double Cream Instead If I Can’t Find Heavy Cream?

Some chefs use double cream instead of heavy cream, but extra double cream is usually spooned over desserts rather than used in cooking. Note that you can pour whipping, heavy, and double cream. However, you cannot pour extra double cream.

Afterword: Why Is Heavy Cream Hard to Find?

For reasons I cannot determine, heavy cream lurks on shop shelves under various names, most often “whipping cream”. To worsen the problem, whipping cream comes in two varieties; “light whipping cream” and “heavy whipping cream”. 

The latter is unsuitable as a substitute for heavy cream, whereas the former may be suitable only if it contains at least 36% fat. Just cut through the prattle and ask for 36% fat cream. There, job done!

Author Bio

Daniel Iseli (Head Chef)

Hi, my name is Daniel and I am passionate about cooking. I have been cooking for the past 20 years and am happy to share my best recipes and cooking-related knowledge with you.