The Best Heavy Cream Substitutes (If You Run Out or Avoid Dairy)

Whether your recipe calls for heavy cream, whipping cream, or half-and-half, our Test Kitchen has an easy substitute that won't change the flavor.

No cream? Don't worry, you can continue with that recipe you've been looking forward to—just use these heavy cream substitutes. They perform nearly identically to classic cream. We're sharing subs that work in both sweet and savory applications. We have some additional ideas and healthy substitutes for heavy cream if you—or anyone you'll be serving—have dietary restrictions.

glass measuring cup filled with one cup of cream
Blaine Moats

What Is Heavy Cream, Exactly?

Heavy cream is the high-fat portion of cow's milk that rises to the top, which is a result of its fat content. From there, the cream is skimmed off to create low-fat and fat-free milk. For whole milk, the cream is mixed right in. Once skimmed and separated from the lower-fat milk, the decadent heavy cream has about 36% to 40% milk fat. If you're wondering what to substitute for heavy cream to fit a lactose-free or vegan lifestyle, or you simply realize you've run out halfway through a recipe, here are some substitutions.

The Best Heavy Cream Substitutes for Savory Recipes

Consider the options below as one-for-one subs for heavy cream in savory options like creamy soups, sauces, or fluffy mashed potatoes.

  • Evaporated milk works well as a heavy cream substitute in sauces or soups calling for whole milk. In the making of evaporated milk, regular cow's milk is pressure-cooked until it sheds about half of its water content, making it thicker in consistency. For a healthy substitute, try evaporated skim milk. This will slash calories and eliminate nearly all of the saturated fat you'd find in heavy cream.
  • Light cream has a fat content of around 20% (compared to heavy cream's 36% to 40%). There's not quite enough fat to create a foamy, fluffy texture, so using light cream as a substitute doesn't work well in recipes that require whipping.
  • Half-and-half. Can you substitute half-and-half for heavy cream? Absolutely. The name does a great job of explaining what this is: half cream and half milk, with about 10% to 12% fat.
  • Whole milk is the creamiest cow's milk, but with between 3% to 4% fat, it's much lighter than heavy cream and all the other swaps mentioned so far.
  • Heavy cream powder is a lifesaver if you can't visit the supermarket often, or need a shelf-stable pantry staple. Heavy cream powder ($18, Amazon) is made with sweet cream solids, and once you reconstitute it, this works A-OK in savory soups and sauces.

The Best Heavy Cream Substitutes for Sweet Recipes

Besides the whipped dessert topping (with a two-for-one trade mentioned below) these subs for can be used one-for-one in heavy cream recipes.

  • Whipped dessert topping is the best semi-homemade substitute for whipping cream. It's perfect for icebox cakes and pies and other no-bake treats, or (not surprisingly) as a dessert topping. For 1 cup whipping cream called for in your dessert recipe, substitute 2 cups whipped dessert topping, such as Cool Whip.
  • Milk and butter. For 1 cup of a heavy cream substitute, melt ¼ cup (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, then allow it to cool to room temperature. Whisk with ¾ cup whole milk and use in any sweet application that doesn't require whipping.
  • Mascarpone Cheese is about 44% fat and is like a sweeter cousin to sour cream and crème fraîche. Try it as a dessert topping as is, or try mixing it with whipping cream and sugar in a whipped mascarpone recipe.
  • Crème Fraîche is a slightly tangy cultured cream that has around 30% fat. Try it in pudding and other non-whipped heavy cream recipes.

The Best Non-Dairy Substitutes for Heavy Cream

If you're in need of a dairy-free cream substitute, consider these ingredients as a one-for-one alternative.

  • Plant-based milk and oil. Stir together ⅔ cup soy or rice milk and ⅓ cup oil for a non-dairy substitute that can be used in casseroles or soups. This is also a lighter calorie and fat substitute in pasta sauces, like white or tomato cream sauces.
  • Tofu. Puree firm or extra-firm silken tofu to make a substitute for thickening sauces and soups.
  • Coconut cream or coconut milk. Coconut cream (not cream of coconut, which is sweetened) is a perfect heavy whipping cream substitute, while coconut milk is fantastic in more savory applications.

Now that you're well-versed in all of the best heavy cream substitutes, you can adjust accordingly based on your dietary needs, pantry storage, and recipe flavor.

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