Half-and-half is a great lower-fat option for making creamy dishes, and can add a touch of decadence to your coffee. But how exactly is it different from other types of cream?
What is half-and-half?
Half-and-half, also known as half cream, is the perfect compromise between milk and cream. As the name suggests, it is a mixture of half whole milk and half light cream, so it’s richer than milk, but lighter than cream, with a fat content of around 12%.
A popular addition to coffee, half and half adds a luxurious creaminess to your cup of joe without leaving a greasy film on the surface like cream can. It is also a great way to create lighter versions of your favourite creamy sauces and desserts while still keeping that luxurious, creamy mouthfeel. Recipes that call for half milk and half cream - panna cotta, for example - are less likely to separate if you use pre-combined half and half, resulting in a smoother, creamier dessert.
Half-and-half vs heavy cream
Cream is mostly classified according to its fat content, as this is largely what determines its flavour and how it reacts when used in recipes. Heavy cream has among the highest fat content of all creams, at around 38%, more than double the fat content of half-and-half.
Only high-fat creams can hold their shape when whipped, so one of the key differences between heavy cream and half-and-half is that heavy cream can be whipped, while half-and-half cannot. Heavy cream is also easier to add to hot liquids like soups and sauces, as its high fat content makes it less likely to curdle.
Half-and-half has the benefit of being lower in saturated fats and calories, while still having a rich, creamy flavour. While it is more tricky to add to hot liquids, you can still make sauces and soups with half-and-half by tempering it before you add it. This means adding hot liquid to the cream one drop at a time so it is gradually raised to the same temperature as the liquid.
Half-and-half vs whipping cream
Whipping cream is very similar to heavy cream, with around 35% fat content to heavy cream’s 38%. In fact, the two are so similar that heavy cream is sometimes referred to as heavy whipping cream. As such, whipping cream is different to half-and-half in much the same ways. As the name suggests, it is high-fat enough to be whipped, and it is also less likely to split when added to sauces and soups.
Half-and-half vs light cream
Light cream is the closest to half-and-half in terms of fat content, with 20% milk-fat. Like half-and-half, it is not fatty enough to hold its shape when whipped, and may curdle when added to hot liquids without being tempered. It is still substantially higher in fat than half-and-half, however, which gives it a creamier, silkier texture and a richer flavour.
How to replace half-and-half in recipes
If your recipe calls for half-and-half but you don’t have any to hand, there are several ways to make your own, or at least a mixture with a similar fat content.
Whole milk and light cream
Half-and-half is made from equal parts whole milk and light cream, so if you have both of these ingredients, you can combine them to make your own half-and-half.
Whole milk and heavy cream
If you don’t have any light cream, you can use heavy cream instead, but instead of mixing equal parts milk and cream, use three parts milk to one part heavy cream.
Low-fat milk and heavy cream
If you only have low-fat or skimmed milk in the fridge, you can combine these with heavy cream to increase the fat content. Mix two parts low-fat milk to one part heavy cream for the right consistency.
Whole milk and melted butter
This is a solution that works well in baking due to its similar fat content, but is likely to taste a little odd if you try to add it to your coffee. Melt 4 tablespoons of butter, and top up with room temperature milk until you have 1 cup.
The good news for vegans is that dairy-free versions of half-and-half are also available, made from plant-based proteins such as almond milk, coconut milk, cashew milk, soy milk, and pea protein.
Recipes with half-and-half
Indulge yourself with these irresistibly creamy recipes, all made using half-and-half.
Homemade mocha frappuccino: the ultimate icy coffee treat, this rich, chocolatey mocha from Crunchy Creamy Sweet is ready in just two minutes.
Creamy baked mac and cheese with panko crumb topping: creamy, cheesy and comforting, this gourmet mac and cheese from Neighborfood is a tasty midweek meal that the whole family will love.
The best chocolate bundt cake of your life: this decadent dessert from Neighborfood takes a rich, moist chocolate cake and smothers it with chocolate cream for a dish that’s pure chocolate perfection.
If you can’t get enough of that dairy goodness, but you’re looking for something with a little less fat, you may be interested in our introduction to buttermilk.