A bottle of unhomogenised milk, with the cream clearly visible, resting on top of the milk

Cream is a dairy product composed of the higher-fat layer skimmed from the top of milk before homogenization. In un-homogenized milk, the fat, which is less dense, eventually rises to the top. In the industrial production of cream, this process is accelerated by using centrifuges called "separators". In many countries, it is sold in several grades depending on the total butterfat content. It can be dried to a powder for shipment to distant markets, and contains high levels of saturated fat.[1][2]

Cream skimmed from milk may be called "sweet cream" to distinguish it from cream skimmed from whey, a by-product of cheese-making. Whey cream has a lower fat content and tastes more salty, tangy, and "cheesy".[3] In many countries partially fermented cream is also sold: sour cream, crème fraîche, and so on. Both forms have many culinary uses in both sweet and savoury dishes.

Cream produced by cattle (particularly Jersey cattle) grazing on natural pasture often contains some carotenoid pigments derived from the plants they eat; traces of these intensely colored pigments give milk a slightly yellow tone, hence the name of the yellowish-white color: cream. Carotenoids are also the origin of butter's yellow color. Cream from goat's milk, water buffalo milk, or from cows fed indoors on grain or grain-based pellets, is white.[4]


Christmas cake covered with whipped cream

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, lassi, eggnog, sweet pies, strawberries, blueberries, or peaches. Cream is also used in Indian curries such as masala dishes.

Cream (usually light/single cream or half and half) may be added to coffee.

Both single and double cream (see Types for definitions) can be used in cooking. Double cream or full-fat crème fraîche is often used when the cream is added to a hot sauce, to prevent 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.[5]


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.

Australia and New Zealand

The Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code – Standard 2.5.2 – Defines cream as a 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 sold without further specification must contain no less than 350 g/kg (35%) milk fat.[6]

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

Name Fat content Main uses
Extra light (or 'lite') 12–12.5%
Light (or 'lite') 18–20%
Thickened cream 35–36.5% Cream with added gelatine and/or other thickeners to give the cream a thicker texture, also possibly with stabilisers to aid the consistency of whipped cream. Such cream would not typically be used for cooking.
Cream >= 35% Recipes calling for cream are usually referring to pure cream with about 35% fat. This is used for cooking as well as for pouring and whipping. It is comparable to whipping cream in some other countries.
Double cream 48–60% [7]


Canadian cream definitions are similar to those used in the United States, except for "light cream", which is very low-fat cream, usually with 5 or 6 percent butterfat.[8] Specific product characteristics are generally uniform throughout Canada, but names vary by both geographic and linguistic area and by manufacturer: "coffee cream" may be 10 or 18 percent cream and "half-and-half" (crème légère) may be 3, 5, 6 or 10 percent, all depending on location and brand.[9][10]

Regulations allow cream to contain acidity regulators and stabilizers. For whipping cream, allowed additives include skim milk powder (≤ 0.25%), glucose solids (≤ 0.1%), calcium sulphate (≤ 0.005%), and xanthan gum (≤ 0.02%).[11] The content of milk fat in canned cream must be displayed as a percentage followed by "milk fat", "B.F", or "M.F".[12]

Name Minimum
milk fat
Additional definition Main uses
Manufacturing cream 40% Crème fraîche is also 40–45% but is an acidified cultured product rather than sweet cream. Commercial production.
Whipping cream 33–36% 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 cream 15–18% 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 half 10% Cereal cream. Product with the most butterfat in the light cream category. In Francophone areas: crème à café 10% and sometimes crème légère 10%. Approximately equal to a 50/50 blend of table cream (at 16–18%) and whole milk (at 3.25%), hence the common name in English. Poured over hot cereal as a garnish. Ideal in sauces for vegetables, fish, meat, poultry, and pasta. Also in cream soups.
Light cream 3–10% Light cream 6%. In Francophone areas: mélange de lait et de crème pour café 5%, Crémette™ 5% or crème légère 3% to 10%. A mixture 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 France, the use of the term "cream" for food products is defined by the decree 80-313 of April 23, 1980.[13] It specifies the minimum rate of milk fat (12%) as well as the rules for pasteurisation or UHT sterilisation. The mention "crème fraîche" (fresh cream) can only be used for pasteurised creams conditioned on production site within 24h after pasteurisation. Even if food additives complying with French and European laws are allowed, usually, none will be found in plain "crèmes" and "crèmes fraîches" apart from lactic ferments (some low cost creams (or close to creams) can contain thickening agents, but rarely).[citation needed] Fat content is commonly shown as "XX% M.G." ("matière grasse").

Name Milk fat Definition Main uses
Without lactic ferments added (liquid texture)
Crème fraîche crue 30 to 40% Directly from the farm production. Local food circuits. No sterilisation and no pasteurisation.
Crème fleurette 30% No sterilisation but pasteurised. Liquid and soft the first days, it gets heavier and develops a more pronounced taste with time. Commonly used by cooks in restaurants.
Crème entière liquide 22 to 40% UHT sterilised (in France, a cream can not legally be called "fraîche" if it has been UHT sterilised).
Crème fraîche liquide: 30 to 40%

(usually 30%)

Pasteurised (can be called "fraîche"). Mostly used for fruit desserts and to make crème chantilly or ganaches. Can also be used to make white sauces or added in soups or pastas.
Crème fraîche légère liquide 12 to 21%

(usually 15%)

Pasteurised (can be called "fraîche"). Less fat. Can be used for the same recipes as the non diet one but sometimes considered as less tasty and/or less convenient to cook with.
With lactic ferments added (heavy texture)
Crème crue maturée 30 to 40% Directly from the farm production. Local food circuits. No sterilisation and no pasteurisation.
Crème entière épaisse 22 to 40% UHT sterilised (in France, a cream can not legally be called "fraîche" if it has been UHT sterilised).
Crème fraîche épaisse 30 to 40%

(usually 30%)

Pasteurised (can be called "fraîche"). Suits best for cooking especially reductions and liaisons (used as a binding agent). Also used to cook quiches (such as quiche Lorraine).
Crème fraîche légère épaisse 12 to 21%

(usually 15%)

Pasteurised (can be called "fraîche"). Less fat. Can be used for the same recipes as the non diet one but sometimes considered as less tasty and/or less convenient to cook with.
Crème aigre 16 to 21% More acidic taste. Same product as the American sour cream or the Canadian crème sure, but rarely used in France.


Russia, as well as other EAC countries, legally separates cream into two classes: normal (10–34% butterfat) and heavy (35–58%),[14] but the industry has pretty much standardized around the following types:

English Russian Transliteration Milk fat (wt%)
Low-fat or drinking[14][15] cream Нежирные (питьевые) сливки Nezhirnÿe[16] (pityevÿe) slivki 10%
(Normal) Cream Сливки Slivki 15% or 20%
Whipping cream Сливки для взбивания Slivki dlya vzbivaniya 33% or 35%
Double cream Двойные (жирные) сливки Dvoinÿe (Zhirnÿe) slivki 48%


In Sweden, cream is usually sold as:

Mellangrädde (27%) is, nowadays, a less common variant. Gräddfil (usually 12%) and Creme Fraiche (usually around 35%) are two common sour cream products.


See also: Swiss cheeses and dairy products

In Switzerland, the types of cream are legally defined[17] as follows:

English[18] German French Italian Typical
milk fat
milk fat
Double cream Doppelrahm double-crème doppia panna 45% 45%
Full cream
Whipping cream
crème entière
crème à fouetter
panna intera
panna da montare
35% 35%
Half cream Halbrahm demi-crème mezza panna 25% 15%
Coffee cream Kaffeerahm crème à café panna da caffè 15% 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.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, these types of cream are produced.[19] Fat content must meet the Food Labelling Regulations 1996.[20]

Name Minimum
milk fat
Additional definition Main uses
Clotted cream[20] 55% is clotted (by heat treatment) Clotted cream is the thickest cream available and a traditional part of a cream tea and is spread onto scones like butter.
Extra-thick double cream 48% is heat-treated, then quickly cooled Extra-thick double cream is the second thickest cream available. It is spooned onto pies, puddings, and desserts due to its heavy consistency.
Double cream[20] 48% Double cream whips easily and produces heavy whipped cream for puddings and desserts.
Whipping cream[20] 35% Whipping cream whips well and produces lighter whipped cream than double cream.
Whipped cream[20] 35% has been whipped Whipped cream is used for decorations on cakes, topping for ice cream, and fruit.
Sterilized cream[20] 23% is sterilized
Cream or single cream[20] 18% is not sterilized Single cream is poured over puddings, used in sauces, and added to coffee.
Extra-thick single cream[19] 18% not sterilized; homogenised for consistency like double cream
Sterilized half cream[20] 12% is sterilized
Half cream[20] 12% Uncommon. Used in some cocktails.

United States

In the United States, cream is usually sold as:

Name Fat content Main uses
Half and half 10.5% to 18% Half and half is equal parts milk and light cream, and is added to coffee.
Light cream 18% to 30% Light cream is added to coffee and hot cereal, and is also used as an ingredient in sauces and other recipes.
Whipping cream 30% to 36% Whipping cream is used in sauces and soups, and as a garnish. Whipping cream will only produce whipped cream with soft peaks.
Heavy (whipping) cream At least 36% Heavy whipping cream produces whipped cream with stable peaks.
Manufacturer's cream At least 40% Used in commercial and professional production applications. Not generally available at retail until recently[when?].

Not all grades are defined by all jurisdictions, and the exact fat content ranges vary. The above figures, except for "manufacturer's cream", are based on the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 21, Part 131.[21][22]

Processing and additives

Cream may have thickening agents and stabilizers added. Thickeners include sodium alginate, carrageenan, gelatine, sodium bicarbonate, tetrasodium pyrophosphate, and alginic acid.[23]: 296 [24]

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.[23]: 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, from whipped-cream chargers may also be used to make whipped cream.

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

Reduced cream is a cream product in New Zealand, often used to make Kiwi dip.

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, though in some jurisdictions even these spellings may be disallowed, for example under the doctrine of idem sonans.[25][26] Oreo and Hydrox cookies are a type of sandwich cookie in which two biscuits have a soft, sweet filling between them that 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" can contain non-milk fat (declared on the label) in addition to or instead of cream, and salad cream is the customary name for a non-dairy condiment that has been produced since the 1920s.[27]

In other languages, cognates of "cream" are also sometimes used for non-food products, such as fogkrém (Hungarian for toothpaste), or Sonnencreme (German for sunscreen).

Some products are described as "cream alternatives". For example, Elmlea Double, etc. are blends of buttermilk or lentils and vegetable oil with other additives sold by Upfield in the United Kingdom packaged and shelved in the same way as cream, labelled as having "a creamy taste".[28]

See also


  1. ^ "Nutrition for Everyone: Basics: Saturated Fat – DNPAO – CDC". www.cdc.gov. Archived from the original on 29 January 2014. Retrieved 16 June 2017.
  2. ^ Choices, NHS. "Eat less saturated fat – Live Well – NHS Choices". www.nhs.uk. Archived from the original on 24 April 2015. Retrieved 16 June 2017.
  3. ^ ""Everything Is In Butter" – Kosher". 8 June 2013. Archived from the original on 20 February 2012. Retrieved 16 June 2017.
  4. ^ Marmion, Daniel; Updated By Staff (2012). "Colorants for Foods, Drugs, and Cosmetics". Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology. doi:10.1002/0471238961.0315121513011813.a01.pub3. ISBN 978-0471238966.
  5. ^ Larousse Gastronomique, 1938, translated 1961, p. 337
  6. ^ "Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code". Food Standards Variation Proposal P1025 – Code Revision, Standard No. 2.5.2 of 25 March 2015. Retrieved 2016-10-26.
  7. ^ "Cream and Sour Cream". Choice. 26 February 2015. Archived from the original on 6 August 2008.
  8. ^ Canada, Dairy Farmers of. "5% or 6% Light Cream or Cream and Milk Blend for Coffee – Types of Cream – Cream – Dairy Goodness". www.dairygoodness.ca. Archived from the original on 2010-06-16. Retrieved 2010-05-14.
  9. ^ "What Type of Cream Should I Use?". 27 November 2016. Archived from the original on 6 June 2017. Retrieved 16 June 2017.
  10. ^ "Tout sur la fabrication de la crème et ses bienfaits – La Famille du lait". metsdelacreme.com. Archived from the original on 16 January 2017. Retrieved 16 June 2017.
  11. ^ "Consolidated federal laws of canada, Food and Drug Regulations". 16 September 2021. Archived from the original on 2 September 2019. Retrieved 15 July 2019.
  12. ^ Branch, Legislative Services. "Consolidated federal laws of Canada, Food and Drug Regulations". laws.justice.gc.ca. Archived from the original on 2017-07-15. Retrieved 2017-07-18.
  13. ^ Décret n° 80-313 du 23 avril 1980 relatif aux crèmes de lait destinées à la consommation, 1980-04-23, archived from the original on 2018-01-14, retrieved 2018-01-13
  14. ^ a b Eurasian Customs Union Technical Requirements "On milk and dairy products safety Archived 2016-06-09 at the Wayback Machine"
  15. ^ Legally, the "drinking cream" term denotes pasteurized and individually packed cream, and has nothing to do with its fat content.
  16. ^ "Ÿ" denotes Cyrillic letter Yery, which is here a separate vowel and should not be read as a part of a diphthong.
  17. ^ Verordnung des EDI über Lebensmittel tierischer Herkunft / Ordonnance du DFI sur les denrées alimentaires d'origine animale / Ordinanza del DFI sulle derrate alimentari di origine animale of 2010-11-23, SR/RS 817.022.108 (D·F·I), art. 48 (D·F·I)
  18. ^ The English terms are not legally regulated
  19. ^ a b "Types of cream". Waitrose. Archived from the original on 28 May 2022. Retrieved 4 May 2022.
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h i "The Food Labelling Regulations 1996 No. 1499 SCHEDULE 8 PART III: Cream". UK Government legislation. Archived from the original on 2022-05-04. Retrieved 2022-05-04.
  21. ^ "CFR – Code of Federal Regulations Title 21". www.accessdata.fda.gov. Archived from the original on 25 May 2017. Retrieved 16 June 2017.
  22. ^ "Food and Drugs". www.access.gpo.gov. Archived from the original on 1 March 2012. Retrieved 16 June 2017.
  23. ^ a b Dairy Fats and Related Products, edited by Adnan Tamime. This book has a great deal of technical information on cream and other dairy fat products. Extracts available on Google books [1] Archived 2023-04-15 at the Wayback Machine
  24. ^ "Carrageenan: food thickener and gelling agent from Hispanagar". www.hispanagar.com. Archived from the original on 15 August 2018. Retrieved 16 June 2017.
  25. ^ 1952 Idaho Op. Atty. Gen. 20, cited in Smylie, Robert E. (1952-12-01). Thirty-First Biennial Report of the Attorney General of Idaho (PDF). Idaho Commission for Libraries. p. 33. OCLC 953006240. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2018-12-05. Retrieved 2018-12-05. Unless a frozen novelty or dessert meets the legal requirements for "ice cream", it cannot use the words "creme", "Kreme", etc.
  26. ^ "Instant Whipped Vegetable Fat Toppings". Report of the Joint Legislative Committee on Imitation Food Products and Problems to the Legislature. New York State Legislature. 1955. pp. 23–34. OCLC 10325809.
  27. ^ "Ministry of Food.—statutory rules and orders". Analyst. 70 (833): 306–307. 1 January 1945. Bibcode:1945Ana....70..306.. doi:10.1039/AN9457000306.
  28. ^ "Elmlea Products". Elmlea. Archived from the original on 25 May 2022. Retrieved 4 May 2022. Elmlea Double Plant Alternative: Lentil preparation (water, 1.1% lentil protein), 31% Vegetable Oils (Palm, Rapeseed), Sugar, Modified Corn Starch, Emulsifiers (Sunflower Lecithin, Sugar Esters of Fatty Acids, Mono- and Diglycerides of Fatty Acids), Stabilisers (Guar Gum, Locust Bean Gum), Natural Flavour, Salt, Colour (Carotene)