We’ve all had milk in our cereal and cream in our coffee, but when faced with a container of half-and-half, many of us have more questions than we’re willing to admit.
It’s much more than just “dairy” and it comes with a unique set of storage requirements.
If you’ve got a container that you aren’t sure you’re going to use before the best before date and you don’t want to waste it, can you freeze half-and-half? Yes, you can freeze half-and-half for up to 3 months. It is not recommended to freeze half-and-half in the carton because they generally aren’t freezer safe. It’s best to transfer the half-and-half to a freezer-safe Ziploc bag or airtight container.
If you’re using it for cooking or baking, it won’t even be noticeable. If you’re using it for anything else, a good whisk will bring it mostly back to normal.
In the rest of this article, we’ll detail the process of freezing half-and-half for various purposes, as well as answer many of your other important questions about half-and-half.
What Is Half-and-Half?
If you had to take a guess at what half-and-half is, there’s a good chance you’d assume it was half cream and half milk, and you’d be right.
Specifically, half-and-half is half whole milk, which usually has about 3.5% milk fat, and half light cream, which has about 18-20% milk fat.
For half-and-half, the percentage of milk fat ranges somewhere in the middle of the two contributing ingredients, 10 – 12% depending on the brand.
You can find non-fat or fat-free half-and-half, which replaces the cream content with alternative ingredients like corn syrup and carrageenan to approximate the taste and thickness.
Half-and-half is like a specialty dairy, and it’s priced accordingly. If you’ve purchased a larger container than you have use for, you certainly don’t want it to go to waste. But you can freeze it quite effectively, especially if your future usage is likely to be for cooking.
For best results, freeze your half-and-half in single-serving portion sizes.
If you know you’ll need 1/3 of a cup for making ice cream, freeze 1/3 cup portions. If you only need ¼ of a cup for your favorite pasta sauce, freeze it in ¼ cup servings.
If you use half-and-half for your coffee, we’ll cover that specifically in the next section.
Once you’ve measured out your portion sizes, follow these easy steps:
- Transfer each serving of half-and-half to a freezer-safe Ziploc bag.
- Use the smallest bag you have that’s freezer-safe and appropriate for your serving size – you don’t want to put ¼ cup of half-and-half in an extra-large Ziploc bag.
- Lay the bag flat on a baking sheet and squeeze out as much air as possible, letting the half-and-half flatten out to fill the entire bag with no air bubbles.
- Double and triple check to make sure the bag(s) is completely sealed.
- Write the date you’re freezing the half-and-half on the Ziploc bag along with the recommended best before date.
- Place the entire baking sheet in your freezer and do not open the door for at least 1 hour, preferably 2.
- When the half-and-half is completely frozen solid, you can remove the bag(s) from the baking sheet and either stack and lay them flat in your freezer or stand them up against the side of your freezer to save space.
Can You Freeze Half-and-Half for Coffee?
Yes, you can, but we recommend thawing it before adding it to your coffee though.
Here is our best suggestion for freezing half-and-half for coffee and then using it:
- Pour half-and-half into ice cube containers, but only fill them ½ of the way full.
- Standard trays hold 1 ounce per cube, which is 2 tablespoons and, for most people, too much for a single coffee. Filling it ½ full will give you approximately 1 tablespoon of half-and-half.
- Of course, if you’re particular about your coffee, you can always measure the portions into the ice cube trays.
- Freeze the tray until the half-and-half is frozen through and through.
- Remove the cubes and transfer to a freezer-safe Ziploc bag.
- If you only have one coffee in the morning, every night take 1 cube out of the freezer, place it in your favorite mug and leave it in the fridge overnight.
- In the morning, take a spoon and mix the half-and-half well before adding your coffee to the cup.
- Bonus: the cooled cup will bring your hot coffee to a comfortable drinking temperature more quickly, shortening the time from waking up to enjoying that first sip of coffee.
Can You Freeze Fat-Free Half-and-Half?
Fat-free or non-fat half-and-half does not freeze well.
The ingredients used to replace the cream and fat in the milk will completely ruin the texture of your half-and-half once it’s thawed and no amount of shaking or whisking will make it palatable again.
Can You Freeze Half-and-Half In the Carton?
We do not recommend freezing half-and-half in the carton it comes in, especially if that carton has been opened.
If it has been opened you absolutely must transfer it to a new container or freezer-safe Ziploc bag that can be sealed airtight.
For best results, you want to freeze your half-and-half in portion sizes that are pre-measured for your usage needs. If you freeze it in the unopened carton, you will have to use the entire carton once it is thawed.
Do not refreeze previously frozen half and half, nor any other products.
The containers you purchase dairy in are not necessarily freezer-safe, but if your half-and-half is unopened and you aren’t concerned about using it all at once when it is unthawed, it should be safe in your freezer. It just is not recommended.
Half-and-half will expand as it freezes and an unopened container may not expand with the liquid. A cardboard container may split, so keep an eye on it.
If your container splits or cracks, take it out of the freezer right away and either repackage it while it’s still frozen and get it back in the freezer as quickly as possible or thaw and use.
How Long Can You Freeze Half-and-Half?
The longer half-and-half stays frozen, especially in a freezer that gets a lot of use and therefore has minute temperature fluctuations, the more the consistency and flavor are going to be at risk when you use it.
If half-and-half is frozen properly in a perfectly sealed, freezer-safe Ziploc bag with no exposure to temperatures warmer than 0 F, it should stay safe indefinitely.
For best taste, however, try to use your half-and-half within about 3 months of freezing.
Once it is thawed, calculate how many days were left between the freezing date and the best before date, and that is how long it will stay safe and fresh in your fridge.
For example, if you froze your half-and-half on July 28, 2020, and the best before date is August 1, 2020, once thawed you will have 3 – 4 days of safe usage.
How to Use Frozen Half-and-Half
You should always thaw half-and-half before trying to use it. When it freezes, the fat and water will separate and it may even develop a slightly grainy texture.
Once it’s thawed, a good shake or whisk will reconstitute the liquid so that it’s smooth and creamy once again, but it may still have a slightly off-putting texture.
If you’re cooking or baking with it, you shouldn’t notice the difference between fresh and frozen half-and-half at all.
How Long Is Half-and-Half Good For Once Opened?
The rule of thumb for any dairy product is always to abide by the best before date printed on the carton.
With half-and-half, if it’s carefully stored you can usually extend the lifespan a bit. Unopened half-and-half should be safe in your fridge for 7–10 days.
Keep it as far from the door as possible to minimize the exposure to the warm kitchen air and the temperature fluctuations, which is not good for dairy products.
Once your container is open, if you want it to last as long as possible in your fridge, it’s a good idea to transfer it to a glass jar with an airtight seal. This will keep it fresh as long as possible.
Box containers never fully reseal and your half-and-half will go off quicker if left in an unsealed environment.
Once opened, try to use your half-and-half within 3–5 days.
It’s also a good idea to always give your half-and-half a good, hearty shake before using it – yet another reason a sealed container is useful. This will reconstitute any milk fat that may have started to separate and smooth out the texture and flavor.
If you have the small, single-serving sized creamer cups, they’re packaged to be shelf-stable and don’t even need to be refrigerated if they’re not opened. They will last in a cool, dark cupboard usually for 1–2 months.
Why Does Half-and-Half Last So Long?
There are two main reasons that half-and-half lasts longer than most other dairy products:
- It has a higher fat content. The bacteria that can colonize milk making you sick typically is attracted to the water, not the fat, so the higher the fat content in a dairy product, the longer it will safely stay free from harmful bacteria
- It is pasteurized at a much higher temperature than milk. You’ll often see “Ultra-pasteurized” for dairy products that have a high-fat content, like half-and-half, whipping cream, or heavy cream.
- Pasteurization is the process of heating the liquid hot enough to kill bacteria, but not so hot that it will curdle your milk.
- Ultra-pasteurized dairy is heated to 275 F rather than the standard 160 F, killing more bacteria and therefore extending the healthy lifespan.
More Facts About Half-and-Half
Substitutes for Half-and-Half
Finding the best substitute for half-and-half depends on why you’re substituting if.
If you’re worried about the fat content and want a product that gives you the taste and texture without the fat, you’ll need to choose a fat-free half-and-half.
However, if you simply can’t find half-and-half, try to find a replacement that is as close to 10 – 12% milk fat as possible. It’s best to buy something with more milk fat so that you can temper it with a lower fat dairy product to get a similar result.
Though they are never going to be exact matches, here are a few substitutions that will be quite similar:
|= 1 cup of half-and-half|
|½ cup whole milk (3.5%) + ½ cup light cream (18%)|
|¾ cup whole milk (3.5%) + ¼ cup heavy cream (36%)|
|1 cup whole milk (3.5%) + 2 tablespoons unsalted butter|
|2/3 cup skim milk (<1%) + 1/3 cup heavy cream (36%)|
|2 cups evaporated milk, reduced|
|½ cup coconut cream + ½ cup unsweetened milk alternative|
The ingredients in half-and-half will vary slightly depending on the brand you purchase. Different additives, preservatives, sweeteners, and thickening agents may be used in certain containers and not in others.
A very pure half-and-half will include only milk and cream.
Many brands may also include some or all of the following: corn syrup, artificial flavoring, disodium phosphate, carrageenan, guar gum, vitamin A palmitate, sodium citrate, disodium citrate, dextrose, locust bean gum, or other similar additives.
Most of those ingredients are either flavor enhancers, preservatives, or thickening agents and they’re all commonly used in packaged foods.
Nutritional Information for Half-and-Half
Most half-and-half suggests that a serving size is 2 tablespoons or 30mL. In each serving size you’ll get the following nutritional content:
- 40 calories
- 3 grams of fat, 2 grams of which are saturated fat
- 1 gram of carbohydrate, which is sugar, not fiber
- 1 gram of protein
- 15 mg of cholesterol
- 30 mg of sodium
- 45 mg of potassium
- 2% of your recommended daily intake (RDI) of Vitamin A
- 4% of your RDI for Vitamin C
Half-and-Half Vs Heavy Cream
Half-and-half and heavy cream may seem very similar, but the key difference is the fat content.
Half-and-half, as we’ve discussed in this article, is a combination of half whole milk and half light cream. This brings the milk fat content to approximately 10–18%, depending on the brand.
Heavy cream is pure cream and it has a much higher milk fat percentage, coming in between 30–36%.
In many cases, you can substitute one for the other in cooking or baking, but the fat content may influence how baked goods, in particular, react to the rest of the ingredients.
Substituting half-and-half for heavy cream will lighten the recipes, particularly sauces or soups. Heavy cream can replace half-and-half and even be slightly watered down if necessary.
The one place you cannot use half-and-half as a substitution for heavy cream is in whipped cream or any whipped recipes. Half-and-half will not hold together like heavy cream.
Up Next: Can You Freeze Lactose-Free Milk?