Buttermilk or Heavy Cream

Buttermilk or Heavy Cream : Deciphering Dairy Delights

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We often hear beginner bakers and cooks being confused about whether to add buttermilk or heavy cream to their cooking. If you consider the two in general we can’t blame bakers. But they are actually very different in texture, flavor, and nature. Below we provide a breakdown of twoEnter your text here...

Buttermilk or Heavy Cream Which Way to Go

What is Buttermilk

Buttermilk has been enjoyed for centuries in different cultures around the world. It is known as a tangy, creamy dairy beverage. Despite its name, buttermilk does not contain butter but is a byproduct of the butter-making process. As it was invented, it was the remaining liquid after butter from cream. But the modern way of doing it involves adding lactic acid bacteria to milk that eventually ferments and thickens it.

It has a flavor that is distinct. Tastes both tart and slightly creamy. The texture is definitely different than milk. It is thinner than regular milk. But the acidity that a lot of people complain about gives a refreshing taste. The unique texture and taste add a new dimension to baked items. 

That is why it serves various purposes in baking. It is in fact the main ingredient in many recipes. The secret to the mechanism is that it can activate leavening agents like baking soda which makes it possible for baked items to be fluffy later on. People use it to bake pancakes, waffles, cakes, biscuits, cookies, etc. It adds fluffiness and softness to these items. It is quite versatile and delicious too. Buttermilk adds a tangy taste to sweet and savory dishes. It can also be consumed on its own. Therefore, food lovers keep liking buttermilk for all of its benefits.

Interestingly, buttermilk has cultural and historical contributions too. In India, it is known as “chaas” which is a popular traditional drink. It is taken during hot summer days to hydrate and feel a cool down. Sometimes they add mint, cumin, etc to make it spicy and tasty. It also adds a nice twist to the taste of it.

What is Heavy Cream?

What is Heavy Cream

Heavy cream, also known as heavy whipping cream or simply whipping cream, is a rich and high-fat dairy product. The unique and elegant taste and richness make it so desirable for bakers and cooks. The reason for its rich taste comes from the ingredients it is made from. It is made of a high-fat layer of milk. That layer gets separated on its own. Milk is left to stay still for a while and the fat layer rises to the top. The reason is definitely the higher fat content. This layer is then skimmed off and processed to create heavy cream. It typically contains around 36-40% milk fat. But the exact amount depends on the region and regulations.

The richness of heavy cream is felt in its texture and taste. The excellent consistency and texture feel very smooth and enhance the taste. That is why it is considered ideal for fluffy whipped cream topping. You will see people use it for various types of desserts like mousse and ice creams. That way the items get the creamy flavor and texture. The best thing about heavy cream is that It can also be used for savory dishes. Not only for desserts it creates the same consistency for dishes like pasta, soups, and sauce. They can get a smooth flavor with the help of heavy cream in the ingredient.

There are some other types of cream that are different than heavy cream. Such as light cream. It has lower fat content which is about 20-30% whereas heavy cream contains much more. It is therefore used in beverages like coffee and tea. Half-and-half cream is another version of light cream. It contains more fat like 20-30%. The reason is milk is later added to light cream to make it.

What are the Differences Between Buttermilk and Heavy Cream?

In order to use them accurately in baking you need to know the differences that set them apart. There are some big differences between the two

Percentage of Fat Content

The first one is their fat content. This difference alone influences the differences in the texture, flavor, and uses of these two dairy products. Buttermilk contains about 1-2% of fat whereas heavy cream has 36-40% fat content in it. So you can tell why heavy cream is able to create rich fatty content.


Buttermilk has a more runny consistency compared to heavy cream. Because the first difference we mentioned that is the fat content, buttermilk can not create a smooth consistency as heavy cream can. Heavy cream is way dense and stiff. Which is why it stands still at the top of desserts.


Buttermilk offers a tangy taste to the recipes. It makes the cakes or baked items tart and sour. Which is why it is a unique ingredient that you can use. But heavy cream has the opposite flavor profile. It brings richness, smoothness, and unique texture to your items. It can also be used in savory dishes which makes it versatile.

Uses in Cooking Items

From the flavor profile, you can already tell they have different uses in cooking and baking. Buttermilk is more commonly used in baking. You will see this ingredient in almost all creamy dessert recipes. Especially when you need to bake with baking soda or baking powder buttermilk is a must.

It helps activate those chemical agents and helps the dessert to be fluffy. Therefore buttermilk is often used in biscuits, pancakes, and cakes. But heavy cream can be sued everywhere. You will even see drinks with heavy cream in it. It can be used in savory dishes as much as in sweet ones. It is mostly used to enhance flavor.


If you read the fat content above, you can take guess which one is the healthier option in general. And yes, it is buttermilk. With one 1-2% fat, it doesn’t make the dish much heavy in general. As opposed to heavy cream which is responsible for a very heavy ingredient with 40% fat.

So a healthier option is definitely the buttermilk. But heavy cream also contains essential vitamins and gives you energy with a high-calorie intake. Buttermilk contains calcium, vitamin, and probiotics. In fact, taking buttermilk regularly can slow aging and keep carters flexible for a long time according to a published study.

What are the Similarities Between Buttermilk and Heavy Cream

Despite the differences that we mentioned above, they have some similarities that you should consider while cooking:

Milk base

Buttermilk and heavy cream come from the same base- milk. They are essentially dairy items. Both of them are also made by processing the milk further. Therefore, if you are lactose intolerant you have to consume them with caution.


Both buttermilk and heavy cream are used quite often in recipes. You can use them in sweet and savory too!

Adds Unique Flavor

Buttermilk and heavy cream can create a creamy flavor to your recipes. Although they bring different flavor profiles to the table, essentially they add unique flavors that are hard to replace.


You might be thinking about how can nutrition be added in both similarity and difference! While their nutritional content differs, both buttermilk and heavy cream offer some nutritional benefits. Both of these items have high calorie and fat content that will make you energetic. They also provide important vitamins and minerals.

How to Replace Buttermilk in Baking

If you don't have buttermilk and prefer an alternative, there are several ways to replace it in baking recipes! But using a substitute will never produce the same output as buttermilk. So you should expect a bit of difference here and there. Therefore it's a good idea to test in a smaller batch and then add it to the main recipe to ensure you get the near-perfect taste and flavor.
Here are a few suggestions you can use:

The first substitution that you can add is milk with an acidic liquid like lemon juice or vinegar. This will create a similar consistency as buttermilk. You can add one tablespoon of lemon juice to milk then stir and let it stay for 5-10 minutes. The consistency will be thicker after that. Another idea can be to use Greek yogurt or plain yogurt. Especially greek yogurt can be quite acidic, to begin with. You can just replace the buttermilk with yogurt in the same amount.

The tanginess and moisture offered by yogurt will make it taste like buttermilk. The third suggestion would be to use sour cream. It works so well as buttermilk but in specific cases. Based items like quick bread or pound cakes are prime examples of using sour cream as a substitution for buttermilk. The richness and texture it brings create the perfect blend of sourness.

Last but not least- milk! You can mix one cup of milk with one and a half tablespoons of cream of tartar. Let the mixture sit for 5-10 minutes to allow them to react and eventually create the best texture. This one works best for recipes where tanginess doesn’t matter in flavor. To get a visual breakdown, you can watch this video

How to Replace Heavy Cream in Baking

Replacing heavy cream is easier than replacing buttermilk. Once you know the measurements it should come quite easily to you. You also need to know what to use when to get different outcomes every time. Let’s see a few examples below 

Half-and-half, which is a mixture of light cream and milk, can be used here. It contains lower fat than heavy cream too so you need to add it where you won’t be needing as much fat content. But you can still expect half as much creaminess and richness to your recipes as you add half-and-half. As a substitute, you need to add an equal amount to provide almost the same texture. You can use this in recipes like custard, sauce, etc.

If you going for near-perfect texture consider combining milk and melted butter. Butter is generally a rich ingredient. Once you add milk it gets more velvety. For every cup of heavy cream, you can combine a quarter cup of milk with one-fourth cup of butter. Once you mix them really well you can see the new texture that is much smoother. It will create a very nice creaminess in the recipe.

Evaporated milk is another good idea. It is the most commonly used substitute. It comes in a can and has about 60% of its water removed. Therefore the end result is very thick and rich. It gets creamier than regular milk because of the decreased water content. However, there’s a catch. Evaporated milk can often change the recipe’s flavor. It might not work well in every case. Another option is yogurt. In particular recipes like cheesecake yogurt or sour cream work really well. The measurement should be as equal to heavy cream. For one cup of heavy cream substitute one cup of yogurt. It will give a tangy taste to the recipe.

Last but not least, coconut cream. It sounds like it would not work but it does really well. For a nondairy alternative, consider this to be the one. It is the layer at the top of a can of coconut milk that we can use in recipes. The measurement is again equal.


Now that you know the difference and similarities and all other information about heavy cream and buttermilk, it’s about time you make some delicious and tasty treats for all. With the right measurement, ideas, and information cooking and baking can be easier and hassle-free.

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Bella Howard

Bella Howard is a contributing writer and foodie with a particular love of Mexican, Chinese and Euro...

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