Substitute For Heavy Cream: Healthy and Vegan Options Included

Heavy cream is a staple ingredient that is added to many recipes.

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Made from the high-fat part of milk, it has a higher fat content than many other varieties of cream. Typically, it is used in pasta, soups, and desserts to add richness and flavor. 

As a versatile ingredient, it is always handy to have some available, but there may be occasions when you reach for heavy cream only to find that you do not have any.

As such, you will then likely be on the search for a substitute that isn’t going to drastically alter the taste of your recipe.

Alternatively, you may be seeking a healthier option or a vegan substitute as heavy cream contains dairy which is unsuitable for those who are unable to consume it. 

What Is Heavy Cream And What Is It Used For?

Heavy cream often referred to as heavy whipping cream contains between 36% to 40% of milk fat and is taken from the part of the milk that rises to the top.

When compared to other dairy products, heavy cream has one of the highest fat contents. When stored inside the refrigerator it has a generous shelf life.

It is often added to sweet and savory dishes from ice creams, biscuits, frosting, creme fraiche, sour cream, soups, pasta sauces, pastries, and much more. 

Butter and Milk

Heavy cream contains a higher volume of fat than milk alone so combining butter and milk offers a great substitute.

As the butter adds fat content to the milk it will closely replicate the fat percentage of heavy cream although it will unlikely share the same smooth consistency or whip as well. Dispute this, it can still work when added to baking recipes and sauces.

To make heavy cream using these two ingredients you will begin by adding 4 tablespoons of melted butter into a bowl before slowly mixing in 178 mils of milk. If needed, you may add a small amount of butter to achieve a thicker texture. 

Remember that this substitute will suffice for the majority of baking dishes but as it struggles to retain its shape it will not whisk or whip as well as the original product.

Coconut Milk

For those on a vegan or dairy-free diet, coconut milk provides an excellent substitute. It is worth noting that coconut milk does have a sweet sort of flavor but shares a similar richness and consistency to heavy cream.

Use chilled coconut milk to create a whipped topping. Pour the liquid contents into another container and then scoop out the thick, harder parts as this is what will be used as the heavy cream substitute. 

Although it doesn’t rise in the same way as heavy cream, it can still work for cake toppings on baked dishes. 

Olive Oil And Soy Milk

Another dairy-free and vegan alternative can be made by mixing olive oil and soy milk. Similarly to the role of butter, when combined with soy milk, the oil will add fat content. It will also emulate the flavor of heavy cream. 

To create this substitute, you will need to add 159 mils of soy milk to 79 mils of olive oil and then mix it together. 

While this alternative will enhance the taste and tenderness of your recipe, like many other substitutes it works great for baking purposes but does not work as well when whipped. 

Whole Milk 

This substitute is recommended as an addition to recipes. With a fat content of around 3.5%, it is not as high as the fat content of heavy cream, however, it is still a feasible option.

This is a convenient option for those who don’t have a vast amount of ingredients to hand as they can simply reach for it inside of the refrigerator. 

Add the whole milk to dishes like potatoes au gratin remembering to use flour to prevent it from separating and altering the consistency. It can also be used to create great-tasting scrambled eggs. 

Evaporated Milk 

It is possible to substitute heavy cream by using evaporated milk in even quantities.

As it has a thicker and creamier texture to regular milk, it bears a closer resemblance to the qualities of heavy cream, except it doesn’t contain as many calories so it can be opted for as a healthy alternative. 

If it is going to be used for baked desserts, you may wish to add a small amount of vanilla extract. Doing so will enhance the flavor of your dessert making it slightly sweeter. 

While this is a great replacement in dishes and recipes that use heavy cream as a liquid ingredient, it may not work as well for whipping. 

Cornstarch and Milk

For those looking for a healthier alternative to heavy cream, this could be a great option.

By adding cornstarch to milk you will thicken the texture so that it appears very similar to that of heavy cream. Depending on the fat content of your recipe, you can choose between skimmed milk or whole milk. 

You will need to combine 2 tablespoons of cornstarch with 237 mils of milk. Then you will need to stir it until the mixture has developed a thicker consistency. 

It is worth noting that while this combination provides a great substitute for baked recipes, you should expect it to alter the texture slightly as it does not have the exact same consistency as heavy cream. It isn’t recommended for whipping because it will not retain its shape very well. 

Sour Cream

The fat content of sour cream is around 20% which is slightly lower than that of heavy cream. To create the flavor and consistency of this cream it has been mixed with lactic acids.

It can be replaced in even quantities to the amount of heavy cream that the recipe requires. 

Sour cream can be used to add richness to your dishes, although it can curdle when added to warm dishes, so it is important to make sure that you wait for the dish to cook before doing so. 

It works particularly well for sweet dishes or as a topping to sweet treats. It can also be used as a topping, spooned onto sweet treats like crepes. 

Half and Half

This alternative uses half milk and half cream in equal quantities. As these ingredients combined have a lower fat content than heavy cream, it is an excellent option for those looking for a healthier substitute.

Just like heavy cream, this combination adds richness to dishes and can be added to desserts or sauces and soups. 

To increase the fat content you may wish to add butter to the mixture. In doing so, the substitute created can then be used for a range of recipes. Unlike many other alternatives, this combination can also be used for whipping too. 

Mascarpone

Mascarpone has a 44% fat content add a thick consistency. It also has a sweeter flavor than many other alternatives and cheese varieties. Mascarpone is very versatile in how it can be used.

You can use mascarpone for soups, stews, and sauces. Alternatively, you may wish to use it as a sweet topping for desserts or it can also be added to salads to enhance the flavor. 

Milk and Cottage Cheese

Made from the curds of cow's milk, cottage cheese offers a healthy alternative to heavy cream as it has a high protein value.

Though it can be used alone in recipes where a thick ingredient is required, mixing it with milk will closely resemble the texture of heavy cream.

To create this alternative, you will need to combine ½ a cup of milk with ½ a cup of cottage cheese and mix it until all of the lumps have been removed and it appears smooth and creamy.

It is possible to add water to the cottage cheese, however, milk is required if you want to create a creamier alternative.

Remember that cottage cheese has a cheesy flavor so it isn’t going to be compatible with all types of dishes. As such, it is better suited to soups and sauces. 

Yogurt 

Yogurt, particularly thicker varieties like Greek yogurt provides a great substitute for topping sweet dishes such as pancakes.

As yogurt is high in protein it is a great healthy option. It can also be combined with milk to create a thinner consistency. 

Similar to cottage cheese, it can be used alone or mixed with milk. Adding milk will create a thinner consistency and a texture that is very similar to heavy cream. It can then be used in sauces and soups. 

It is important to remember that this combination has a tangier flavor and may not be suitable for use in all dishes that typically use heavy cream, due to this difference. While it can be used as a substitute in baked dishes, it isn’t recommended for whipping. 

Tofu 

Tofu can be used as a replacement in many recipes that call for the use of heavy cream. Before adding it to your dish you will need to puree it beforehand.

Though it does have a slight flavor, it isn’t overpowering and when other ingredients and seasonings are added to your dish, this flavor won’t be hugely noticeable. 

Another option is to blend silken tofu with soy milk as this will create a smooth texture just like that of heavy cream. It must be added in equal quantities and blended together before being added to soups and sauces.

If you intend to use this combination for desserts you can add a small amount of vanilla extract to enhance the flavor. While this substitute can be added to baked recipes, it can also be used for whipping courtesy of its thicker consistency. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you make heavy cream if you don't have any?

We’re pleased to report that if you don’t happen to have any heavy cream in your refrigerator, it’s very simple to make your own. And it’s quick and easy too.

All you need is 2/3 of a cup of whole milk with 1/3 of a cup of melted butter. Then you simply mix or blend the items together. You can then replace this for the heavy cream in your recipe in a 1:1 ratio.

We even have an alternative method of making heavy cream for you. If instead of having whole milk in your refrigerator you instead have half-and-half, you can mix ⅙ of a cup of melted butter with ⅞ of a cup of half-and-half. Again, you can then replace this for the heavy cream in your recipe in a 1:1 ratio.

Moreover, using half-and-half with milk instead of heavy cream is a healthier option.

What is a substitute for 1/2 cup heavy cream?

There are several substitutes you can use in place of heavy cream. The ones we concentrated on in our article above are: butter and milk, coconut milk, olive oil and soy milk, whole milk, evaporated milk, cornstarch and milk, sour cream, half-and-half, mascarpone, milk and cottage cheese, yogurt and tofu.

As to which substitute to use, this depends not only on what you have to hand in your kitchen, but also on the texture and taste that you are hoping for in your recipe. Not to mention how much healthier you want the substitute to be. Please scan through the article again for more information.

The simplest substitute to use is one which we mentioned earlier. Here it is again:

All you need is 2/3 of a cup of whole milk with 1/3 of a cup of melted butter. Then you simply mix or blend the items together. You can then replace this for the heavy cream in your recipe in a 1:1 ratio.

Getting the right consistency is usually easy enough but mimicking the exact taste is somewhat trickier.

Can I use sour cream instead of heavy cream?

Earlier in our article we discussed using sour cream instead of heavy cream. Here’s a quick recap:

The fat content of sour cream is around 20% which is slightly lower than that of heavy cream. To create the flavor and consistency of this cream it has been mixed with lactic acids.

It can be replaced in even quantities to the amount of heavy cream that the recipe requires.

Sour cream can be used to add richness to your dishes, although it can curdle when added to warm dishes, so it is important to make sure that you wait for the dish to cook before doing so.

It works particularly well for sweet dishes or as a topping to sweet treats. It can also be used as a topping, spooned onto sweet treats like crepes.

Can you replace heavy cream with buttermilk?

We are pleased to report that you can replace heavy cream with buttermilk in most recipes. However, this does require extra ingredients…

In order to make one cup of heavy cream substitute using buttermilk, in addition to the buttermilk, you will also need oil, such as vegetable oil. All you have to do is mix ⅔ of a cup of buttermilk with ⅓ of a cup of oil.

Unfortunately however, this does not constitute a healthier alternative. If a healthier alternative is what you’re looking for, you’d be best advised to scan through this article again.

Final Thoughts

As you can see there are many heavy cream alternatives available.

Due to the high-fat content of heavy cream, it can be difficult to find substitutes that replicate the exact flavor and consistency, however, there are several that are fairly similar. 

While some of the above substitutes are great for baking recipes as they do not have a thick texture they aren’t suitable for whipping purposes.

There are also many alternatives available for those seeking a healthy option or those who are on vegan and dairy-free diets. 

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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community.
She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
Cassie Marshall
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