Cream is a dairy product that is composed of the higher-butterfat layer skimmed from the top of milk before homogenization. In un-homogenized milk, over time, the lighter fat rises to the top. In the industrial production of cream this process is accelerated by using centrifuges called "separators". In many countries, cream is sold in several grades depending on the total butterfat content. Cream can be dried to a powder for shipment to distant markets.
Cream produced by cows (particularly Jersey cattle) grazing on natural pasture often contains some natural carotenoid pigments derived from the plants they eat; this gives the cream a slight yellow tone, hence the name of the yellowish-white colour cream. Cream from cows fed indoors, on grain or grain-based pellets, is white.
In the United States, cream is usually sold as:
Not all grades are defined by all jurisdictions, and the exact fat content ranges vary. The above figures are based on the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 21, Part 131 and a small sample of state regulations.
In the United Kingdom, the types of cream are legally defined as follows:
|Name|| Minimum |
|Additional definition||Main uses|
|Clotted cream||55%||and heat treated||Served as it is with scones, jam, stargazey pie , etc.|
|Double cream||48%||Whips the easiest and thickest for puddings and desserts, can be piped|
|Whipping cream||35%||Whips well but lighter, can be piped - just|
|Whipped cream||35%||and has been whipped|
|Sterilized cream||23%||is sterilized|
|Cream or single cream||18%||is not sterilized||Poured over puddings, used in coffee|
|Sterilized half cream||12%||is sterilized|
|Half cream||12%||is not sterilized||Only used in coffee|
Sour cream, common in many countries including the U.S. and Australia, 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) 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 product (35-40% milk fat) Central and Eastern European sour cream. Rjome or rømme is Norwegian sour cream cointaining 35% milk fat, similar to Icelandic rjómi.
Cream is used as an ingredient in many foods, including ice cream, many sauces, soups, and some custard bases, and is also used for cakes. Irish cream is an alcoholic liqueur which blends cream with whiskey and coffee. Cream is also used in curries such as masala dishes.
For cooking purposes, both single and double cream can be used in cooking, although the former can separate when heated, usually if there is a high acid content. Most UK chefs always use double cream or full-fat crème fraîche when cream is added to a hot sauce, to prevent any problem with it separating or "splitting". In sweet and savoury custards such as those found in flan fillings, crème brûlées and crème caramels, both types of cream are called for in different recipes depending on how rich a result is called for. It is useful to note that double cream can also be thinned down with water to make an approximation of single cream if necessary.