Cream is a dairy product composed of the higher-butterfat layer skimmed from the top of milk before homogenization. In un-homogenized milk, the fat, which is less dense, will eventually rise 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 has high levels of saturated fat. 
Cream skimmed from milk may be called "sweet cream" to distinguish it from whey cream skimmed from whey, a by-product of cheese-making. Whey cream has a lower fat content and tastes more salty, tangy and "cheesy". In many countries, cream is usually sold partially fermented: sour cream, crème fraîche, and so on.
Cream has many culinary uses in both sweet and salty dishes.
Cream produced by cattle (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 color, cream. This is also the origin of butter's yellow color. Cream from goat's milk, or from cows fed indoors on grain or grain-based pellets, is white.
Cream is used as an ingredient in many foods, including ice cream, many sauces, soups, stews, puddings, and some custard bases, and is also used for cakes. Irish cream is an alcoholic liqueur which blends cream with whiskey, and often honey, wine, or coffee. Cream is also used in curries such as masala dishes.
Both single and double cream can be used in cooking. Double cream or full-fat crème fraîche are often used when cream is added to a hot sauce, to prevent any problem with it separating or "splitting". Double cream can be thinned with milk to make an approximation of single cream.
Different grades of cream are distinguished by their fat content, whether they have been heat-treated, whipped, and so on. In many jurisdictions, there are regulations for each type.
In the United States, cream is usually sold as:
|Name||Fat Content||Main Uses|
|Half and Half||10.5-18%||Coffee & Tea|
|Light Cream||18-30%||AKA Table Cream. In sauces and soups and as a garnish for desserts|
|Light Whipping Cream||30-36%||In sauces and soups and as a garnish for desserts. It can be used to make
whipped cream, but heavy cream is better for stiff peaks that hold their shape
|Heavy Cream||> 36%||Better for stiff peaks for a whipped topping.|
The Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code - Standard 2.5.2 - Defines cream as milk product comparatively rich in fat, in the form of an emulsion of fat-in-skim milk, which can be obtained by separation from milk. Cream must contain no less than 350 g/kg of milk fat.
Manufacturers labels may distinguish between different fat contents, a general guideline is as follows:
|Name||Fat Content||Main Uses|
|Extra light (or 'lite')||12-12.5%|
|Light (or 'lite')||18-20%|
|Thickened Cream||35-36.5%||with added gelatine and/or other thickeners to give the cream a creamier texture, also possibly with stabilizers to aid the consistency of whipped cream (this would be the cream to use for whipped cream, not necessarily for cooking)|
|Single Cream||~ 35%||Recipes calling for 'single cream' are referring to pure or thickened cream with about 35% fat.|
In the United Kingdom, the types of cream are legally defined as followed:
|Additional definition||Main uses|
|Clotted cream||55%||is heat-treated||Served as it is. A traditional part of a cream tea.|
|Extra-thick double cream||48%||is heat-treated then quickly cooled||Thickest available fresh cream, spooned onto pies, puddings, and desserts (cannot be poured due to its consistency)|
|Double cream||48%||Whips easily and thickest for puddings and desserts, can be piped once whipped|
|Whipping cream||35%||Whips well but lighter, can be piped once whipped|
|Whipped cream||35%||has been whipped||Decorations on cakes, topping for ice cream, fruit and so on.|
|Sterilized cream||23%||is sterilized|
|Cream or single cream||18%||is not sterilized||Poured over puddings, used in sauces|
|Sterilized half cream||12%||is sterilized|
|Half cream||Uncommon, some cocktails|
Canadian cream definitions are similar to those used in the United States, except for that of "light cream". In Canada, "light cream" is low-fat cream, with 5% or 6% fat. Another form of cream available in Canada is "cereal cream", which is approximately mid-way between 5% cream and coffee cream in fat content.
|Additional definition||Main uses|
|Whipping cream||35%||Whips well but lighter, can be piped|
|Table cream||18%||Added to coffee, poured over puddings, used in sauces|
|Half and half||10-12%||Added to coffee|
|Light cream||5-10%||Also known as cereal cream||Added to coffee|
|This section does not cite any sources. (October 2013)|
In Japan, cream sold in supermarkets is usually between 35% and 48% butterfat.
In Switzerland, the types of cream are legally defined as follows:
|Double cream||Doppelrahm||double-crème||doppia panna||45%||45%|
crème à fouetter
panna da montare
|Half cream||Halbrahm||demi-crème||mezza panna||25%||15%|
|Coffee cream||Kaffeerahm||crème à café||panna da caffè||15%||15%|
Sour cream and crème fraîche (German: Sauerrahm, Crème fraîche; French: crème acidulée, crème fraîche; Italian: panna acidula, crème fraîche) are defined as cream soured by bacterial cultures.
Thick cream (German: verdickter Rahm; French: crème épaissie; Italian: panna addensata) is defined as cream thickened using thickening agents.
In Sweden, cream is usually sold as:
- Matlagningsgrädde ("cooking cream"), 10-15 %
- Kaffegrädde ("Coffee cream"), 10 %
- Vispgrädde (whipping cream), 36 - 40 %
Mellangrädde (27 %) is, nowadays, a less common variant. Gräddfil and Creme Fraiche are two common sour cream products.
Processing and additives
Other processing may be carried out. For example, cream has a tendency to produce oily globules (called "feathering") when added to coffee. The stability of the cream may be increased by increasing the non-fat solids content, which can be done by partial demineralisation and addition of sodium caseinate, although this is expensive.:297
Other cream products
Sour cream, common in many countries including the U.S., Canada 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) is 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 (15-40% milk fat) Central and Eastern European sweet or sour cream.
Other items called "cream"
Many non-edible substances are called creams due merely to their consistency: shoe cream is runny, unlike waxy shoe polish; hand/body 'creme' is meant for the skin & 'cream' is a food product.
Regulations in many jurisdictions restrict the use of the word cream for foods. Words such as creme, kreme, creame, or whipped topping are often used for products which cannot legally be called cream. In some cases foods can be described as cream although they do not contain predominantly milk fats; for example in Britain "ice cream" does not have to be a dairy product (although it must be labelled "contains non-milk fat"), and salad cream is the customary name for a condiment that has been produced since the 1920s
- Saturated Fat
- Eat less saturated fat
- Article on sweet cream, whey cream, and the butters they produce
- Larousse Gastronomique, 1938, translated 1961, p. 337
- FDA > CDRH > CFR Title 21 Database Search
- 2005 CFR Title 21, Volume 2
- Food Labelling Regulations 1998
- Verordnung des EDI über Lebensmittel tierischer Herkunft / Ordonnance du DFI sur les denrées alimentaires d'origine animale / Ordinanza del DFI sulle derrate alimentari di origine animale of 2010-11-23, SR/RS 817.022.108 (D·F·I), art. 48 (D·F·I)
- The English terms are not legally regulated
- Dairy Fats and Related Products, edited by Adnan Tamime. This book has a great deal of technical information on cream and other dairy fat products. Extracts available on Google books 
- UK Ministry of food orders, 1945
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