Buttermilk Vs Heavy Cream

*This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

How are buttermilk and heavy cream different? Can they be substituted for one another? If you’ve ever been confused between these common cooking ingredients, you are not alone.

The buttermilk and heavy cream debate is probably as old as time and often pops up every now and then. While some people say that you can easily substitute one for the other, others believe you must never.

Both ingredients are staples of cooking, especially for cakes, biscuits, scones, waffles, and a whole bunch of other things such as sauces and marinades.

So, what is the difference between buttermilk and heavy cream? Although they are both milk products, they are very different from one another. Buttermilk is made by using lactic acid to induce fermentation in milk, whereas heavy cream comes from skimming the fat from unhomogenized milk.

Read on to find out how buttermilk and heavy cream vary in taste and texture, how they affect recipes, and if they can be substituted for one another.

What Is Buttermilk?

You may think that buttermilk is buttery, high-fat milk, but that’s not actually the case. It contains no butter and is actually lower in fat than regular milk. So, what is buttermilk and why is it called that?

Originally, buttermilk was made from churning butter and was the thin, non-fat, albeit rich-tasting liquid left behind during the process – which is where buttermilk gets its name from.

Full of healthy and delicious cultures, this “churned” buttermilk kept longer than raw milk in the days before refrigeration and easy cooling, making it a useful ingredient in cooking several dishes.

At present, buttermilk is made using a different technique. Though it is still cultured milk, instead of being a by-product of churning, fresh pasteurized milk is inoculated with cultures (lactic acid) that transform it into buttermilk.

Traditional churned buttermilk, despite looking and tasting rich and creamy, is always non-fat since all the fat is incorporated into the homemade butter. With cultured buttermilk, you can find a variety of products ranging from low-fat to full-fat buttermilk, and everything in between.

Prized for its slightly sour and tangy flavor, buttermilk is reminiscent of yogurt and is a remarkable ingredient for baking pancakes, biscuits, and several other delicious goodies.

When paired with baking soda, the lactic acid present in buttermilk reacts to give buttermilk biscuits and pancakes a good rise.

It can also be used as a meat tenderizer in several fried chicken recipes. In addition to that, it is a staple in dips, dressings, and Southern pies.

When To Use Buttermilk In Recipes

Buttermilk is similar to sour Greek yogurt and gives your dishes a certain cheese-like flavor. It has a slightly sour and tangy taste that goes well in recipes that require a bit of acidity.

It is often used by bakers to make their bread and cakes softer and fluffier, and in fried chicken to make it tender and give it a nice crisp.

You may also use it in soups and mashed potatoes to give them a nice, creamy texture, and for a healthier purpose, you may use it to make dressings for your salads. Buttermilk can also be curdled under extreme heat to produce cheese. 

What Is Heavy Cream?

Heavy cream is made by skimming the fat from the top of unhomogenized milk.

Dairy farms produce it in big batches by sending pasteurized milk through a centrifuge that spins the milk at a high speed, separating the fat from the rest of the milk contents.

The fat that rises to the top of the milk is captured, leaving skimmed milk at the bottom. The fat and milk are combined in exact proportions to make milk and cream products according to their specific fat contents.

Heavy cream has a high fat content of around 30 to 40%, giving it a rich, fatty, and creamy flavor and texture.

In baking, heavy cream gives cakes, biscuits, scones, and lots of other delicious baked goodies a rich and creamy texture.

It can also be added to sauces and soups to give them a creamy and delicious flavor, or sweetened with sugar and made into whipped cream to be used as a dessert topping or filling.

When To Use Heavy Cream In Recipes

Heavy cream has a sweeter taste compared to other creams and can be used in several ways to make desserts, main courses, and appetizers.

It is added to baked goods, both as an ingredient and to decorate them, since it allows them to hold their shape well.

It is a common ingredient in chowder and several pasta sauces, especially alfredo pasta, where it is mixed into the recipe to give the dish a distinctly creamy, thick, and smooth texture.

Heavy cream helps create fluffy crusts, making it a great addition to baked goodies and pastries. It can also be whipped and turned into ice cream.

Difference Between Buttermilk And Heavy Cream

Traditional buttermilk is the fermented by-product of churning butter and cultured buttermilk is made by adding lactic acid cultures to low-fat milk. Heavy cream, on the other hand, is made by separating fat solids from unhomogenized milk.

Buttermilk has very little fat, a bit over 2 grams per cup, and is slightly tangy and sour, whereas heavy cream is slightly sweet and has a fat content of almost 40%.

Their uses differ a lot as well. Buttermilk is used as a leavening agent, flavoring agent, or marinade, while heavy cream is used to make baked goods, sauces, soups, and ice cream, and can also be whipped to be used as heavy whipping cream.

Here is a summary table to explain the differences between buttermilk and heavy cream:

ProductButtermilkHeavy Cream
Production A fermented by-product of churning butter or made by adding lactic acid to low-fat milkMade by separating the fat solids from liquid unhomogenized milk
Fat ContentApprox. 2 grams per cupUp to 40%
FlavorSlightly sour, tangy, and acidicSlightly sweet
UsesUsed as a leavening agent, flavoring agent, and marinadeUsed as an ingredient for baked goods, sauces, soups, and ice cream; can be whipped

Can You Substitute Buttermilk For Heavy Cream?

Yes and no. There are situations where you can easily substitute buttermilk for heavy cream, and vice versa, and certain situations where you absolutely cannot – it all depends on what you’re trying to do.

If you are using buttermilk to add tanginess to your dish, heavy cream just won’t do. Also, if your recipe contains baking soda, using heavy cream won’t work since it isn’t acidic and won’t react with the baking soda.

On the other hand, if you want to give your baked goodies a rich and creamy texture, use heavy cream since it adds fats to the dish.

If you are required to whip your heavy cream, which is useful for making ice cream and decorating baked goods, you cannot substitute it with buttermilk since it has a much lower fat content and doesn’t whip.

Here are a few things you need to keep in mind when substituting buttermilk with heavy cream, and vice versa:

  • Buttermilk is low in fat, whereas heavy cream has a 30-40% fat content. If a recipe calls for heavy cream because of its richness, you can’t use substitute it with buttermilk.
  • Buttermilk can’t be whipped, whereas heavy cream can be. If a recipe requires you to whip the heavy cream, buttermilk isn’t an option here.
  • Buttermilk has a sour taste, whereas heavy cream is slightly sweeter. If a recipe calls for adding sourness to a dish, such as in scones and biscuits, you can’t use heavy cream instead since it lacks the unique tanginess of buttermilk.
  • Buttermilk is acidic and reacts with baking soda, whereas heavy cream doesn’t. This reaction makes whatever you are cooking rise, such as cakes and bread. Therefore, if a recipe relies on buttermilk to work as a leavening agent, heavy cream simply won’t do.
  • Buttermilk makes foods light and fluffy, whereas heavy cream makes foods rich and creamy. Therefore, if a recipe calls for either one based on these distinctive qualities, swapping them won’t work.

How To Substitute Buttermilk With Heavy Cream In Baking

If you keep the above-mentioned key pointers in mind, swapping one for the other in baking shouldn’t be an issue. It may require some baking skills and knowledge, but even an amateur baker can pull it off easily.

Buttermilk has two key qualities that make it difficult to substitute with heavy cream. The first is its distinct sour taste and the second is its ability to work as a leavening agent.

If you absolutely must use heavy cream in place of buttermilk, you may add a splash of lemon juice or vinegar to it to add some tanginess.

Also, since heavy cream doesn’t react with baking soda to work as a leavening agent, you may replace the baking soda in your recipe with some baking powder to do the trick.

It must also be noted that traditional buttermilk is different from the store-bought variety you get these days. Therefore, if your recipe requires you to use traditional buttermilk, you can make it at home using cream, milk, and some lemon juice or vinegar.

Related Questions

Now that you know all about buttermilk and heavy cream, how they are different from one another, and whether they can be substituted with each other, here are a few additional questions we thought you might have:

Can you use milk instead of buttermilk?

Milk is not a good substitute for buttermilk since it lacks acidity and has a completely different flavor.

You can, however, add an acidic ingredient such as lemon or vinegar to plain milk to be used as a replacement for buttermilk.

Are heavy cream and heavy whipping cream the same?

Heavy cream and heavy whipping cream are more or less the same thing with a similar fat content of around 36%.

Heavy cream is mostly used as a thickening agent to make dishes creamier and richer, whereas heavy whipping cream is best used for dessert toppings and pastry fillings since it can hold its shape for much longer.

Whipping cream, on the other hand, is slightly different, with a lower fat content of around 30-35%, making it slightly lighter.

Both heavy cream and heavy whipping cream can be used to make whipping cream since they both whip up well and retain their shape.

What are the best buttermilk substitutes?

If you do not have buttermilk on hand, you can use heavy cream as a substitute, but only in certain instances.

For other times, you can add an acid to your regular milk and use it in place of buttermilk for a variety of baked goods.

To make buttermilk at home, add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar to 1 cup milk, stir it well, and let it sit for around 5 minutes.

You may also use cream of tartar mixed in milk, yogurt with milk, or sour cream with water in place of buttermilk in a 1:1 ratio.

What are the best heavy cream substitutes?

If you opt for buttermilk as a substitute for heavy cream, you may add 1/3 cup of oil to 2/3 buttermilk to give it the richness and creaminess that it lacks.

Alternatively, you may also use 1/3 cup of homemade butter or margarine in place of 1 cup of heavy cream in your recipe.

Other options include using evaporated milk, cream cheese, soy milk, coconut milk, Greek yogurt, olive oil, and whole milk with cornstarch.

How do you store buttermilk?

If stored properly in the refrigerator, buttermilk lasts longer than other dairy products. The solids may separate from the liquid, but they should all come back together with a good shake.

To store it for longer, you may freeze it into portioned containers or ice cube trays where it will stay good for around 3 months.

To thaw the frozen buttermilk, you may transfer it to the refrigerator where it will start to defrost or, if you are short on time, you may microwave it on a low setting.

How do you store heavy cream?

Like all dairy products, heavy cream must be stored properly in the refrigerator since, due to its high protein and water content, it can be prone to spoilage and bacterial growth if left out at room temperature.

Avoid storing it in the fridge door. as the temperature may be too warm for it due to the fridge frequently opening and closing. 

Instead, opt for the refrigerator’s main body for a consistently cool temperature, where most heavy creams may last up to a month after you open them.

While the high fat content in heavy cream prevents it from going bad shortly after opening, the reason why most store-bought varieties have such long shelf lives is that they have been Ultra-High Temperature (UHT) processed. 

To make your heavy cream last even longer, you may store it in the freezer where it will hold up for a good 3 months.

You may freeze your heavy cream in small batches or, for maximum convenience, use ice cube trays to freeze little cubes of heavy cream to be used later.

Pour the heavy cream into the ice cube trays and freeze them until they are solid. When you need to use them, pop a few cubes out and thaw them in your refrigerator to then use in your recipes without a worry.

Up Next: Vanilla Cake Without Buttermilk

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *