separator, cream, dairy machine used to separate fresh whole milk into cream and skim milk. Formerly the separation was made by the gravity method, allowing the cream to rise to the top of a pan and then skimming it off. C. G. de Laval of Sweden devised the first mechanical cream separator c.1880, based on the principle of centrifugal force. Whole milk is conducted into a bowl, commonly through a central tubular shaft. A spindle rotates the bowl at a rate of from 6,000 to 9,000 rpm, and a series of identical conical disks separates the milk into vertical layers. The heavier skim milk collects on the outer circumference of the rapidly whirling bowl, and the lighter cream tends to remain in the center. The pressure of the whole-milk supply above the bowl then forces the cream and skim milk out of the machine and into separate collecting vessels. The cream separator makes it possible to control the amount of fat (called butterfat) remaining in the milk. The gravity method ordinarily leaves one fourth of the fat in the milk, while the cream separator leaves only 0.01% to 0.02% of the fat in the skim milk. Since the latter process is much faster than the gravity method, there is less chance for harmful bacterial action.

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.

Types of cream

In the United States, cream is usually sold as:

  • Half and half (10.5–18% fat)
  • Light, coffee, or table cream (18–30% fat)
  • Medium cream (25% fat)
  • Whipping or light whipping cream (30–36% fat)
  • Heavy whipping cream (36% or more)
  • Extra-heavy or manufacturer's cream (38–40% or more), generally not available at retail except at some warehouse stores.

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
milk fat
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

Other cream products

Butter is made by churning cream to separate apart the butterfat and whey. 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 may also be used to make whipped cream.

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.

Clotted cream, common in the United Kingdom, is cream that has been slowly heated to dry and thicken it, producing a very high-fat (55%) product. This is similar to Indian malai.

Cream as an ingredient

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.

Cream (usually light cream/Half_and_half/Single Cream) is often added to coffee.

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.

Other foods called "cream"

Some foods or even cosmetics may be labeled cream not because they are made with cream, but because they make claim to the consistency or richness of cream. In some locations labeling restrictions prevent the use of the word cream to describe such products, so variations such as creme, kreme, creame, or whipped topping may be found.



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