Is Buttermilk The Same As Heavy Cream? (Full Analysis)

Buttermilk and heavy cream play an essential and alluring role in cooking and baking.

Think about it; these creamy dairy delights bring a tasty and soul-satisfying eating experience to several savory dishes and scrumptious baked treats.

So, is buttermilk the same as heavy cream? Can you substitute one for the other, and what impact does each have on your recipe?

Let’s whip into the dairy world to unveil the differences, culinary applications, production processes, and nutritional aspects, plus debunk a myth or two!

img of is whipping cream the same as buttermilk


🧁 Buttermilk is a tangy and refreshing by-product of butter churning, while heavy cream is a rich, creamy, and indulgent skimmed fat from non-homogenized milk.

🍽️ Buttermilk is great for baking muffins, pancakes, and biscuits, as well as a meat tenderizer and base for savory dishes. Heavy cream is perfect for baked goods like cakes and pastries, as well as enhancing the texture and flavor of soups and stews.

📊 Buttermilk has lower fat and calorie content, offering health benefits like promoting strong muscles and a healthy gut, while heavy cream is high in fat and calories, so moderation is advised for those with dietary restrictions.

👩‍🍳 Buttermilk can be substituted with milk and vinegar, lemon juice, yogurt, or cream of tartar, while heavy cream can be replaced with light cream, whipping cream, milk, butter, or evaporated milk.

The Great Reveal of Buttermilk vs. Heavy Cream 

Understanding Buttermilk

img of Buttermilk

The name “buttermilk” implies a mixture of butter and milk, right? However, this is not the case.

To understand buttermilk clearly, we need to explore its source and how it came into being.

Traditional Buttermilk:  

Originally, the churning process of butter left behind a thin, non-fat liquid. Despite being “leftovers,” it offered a rich taste alongside healthy and delicious cultures, namely lactic acid.

This tangy and refreshing by-product made an excellent addition to baked goods and several savory dishes. Also, it lasted longer than raw milk and butter in the days before refrigeration.   

Cultured Buttermilk:

Cultured buttermilk is a fermented, cultured milk product similar to natural yogurt. 

The production technique involves fresh pasteurized milk inoculated with lactic acid, transforming it into the buttermilk we know today.  

Certainly, we have a wide variety of buttermilk products on our shelves. You can expect to find anything from low-fat to full-fat and plenty in between.  

The exact origin of buttermilk is shady. Yet, many cultures worldwide use buttermilk to make culinary delights, such as refreshing beverages in India known as “chaas.”   

Germany, Scandinavia, and Eastern Europe use it to make cheese called quark. This cheese is a staple cooking ingredient in these countries.  

That said, avid epicures use buttermilk globally to create and entice our palates with morish meals and sweet spoils.  

Heavy Cream: A Creamy Delight

img of Heavy Cream

No one ever feels heavy-hearted when enjoying heavy cream!

Heavy cream is skimmed fat from the top of non-homogenized milk.  

Dairy farmers separate the fat from the rest of the milk contents to make heavy cream using a high-speed spinning machine known as a milk or cream separator.  

This method ensures the fat rises to the top, leaving skimmed milk below. Then, by combining precise proportions of the fat and milk, various fresh dairy products fill the grocery stores’ refrigerators.  

Familiar products include:

  • Heavy Cream
  • Whipping Cream
  • Skimmed Milk
  • Low Fat Milk
  • Medium Fat Milk
  • Full Fat Milk

If you are looking for a high-fat cream, heavy cream is a perfect choice. It has a fat content of approximately 30 to 40%, making it one of the best rich and creamy dairy-based indulgences.  

Nutritional Composition and Flavor Profiles

Here is a table indicating the nutritional composition and flavor differences.

Buttermilk – composition per one cup serving (250ml) of 1% buttermilkHeavy Cream – composition per one cup serving (250ml)
Flavor:  tangy and refreshingFlavor:  rich, creamy, and indulgent
Fat:  3gFat:  86g
Carbs:  13g net carbsCarbs:  6g net carbs
Protein:  9gProtein:  6g
Fiber:  0gFiber: 0g
Calories:  110Calories:  808
Sugar:  12gSugar:  7g

Certainly, the flavor is on the opposite side of the spectrum, and the nutritional value needs to be considered if you are following a specific diet.  

We all love a little soul food from time to time. Even so, our health must be considered when enjoying our meals, desserts, and baked treats.

Let’s dig a little deeper into the health implications and benefits.

Health Implications and Benefits

Buttermilk – An excellent low-fat choice

The word “butter” in buttermilk may lead to the idea it is high in fat.  

Well, here is the good news. It isn’t!

Buttermilk is an excellent source of protein, promoting strong and healthy muscles, skin, and bones. Furthermore, the buttermilk available on the market is fortified with a ton of vitamins, including:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin D
  • Calcium
  • Potassium, to name a few.

In particular, vitamin A encourages eye health, boosts immunity, and keeps your heart, lungs, and kidneys healthy.

While these added vitamins and minerals offer excellent health benefits. Here’s the best part.

Buttermilk is packed with healthy bacteria and lactic acid. These elements help digestion and improve metabolism.  

A healthy gut equals a healthy heart and mind!

Heavy Cream – The ultimate alluring indulgence

We understand that heavy cream is high in fat and calories and may not be suitable for diets following fat and calorie restrictions.

Don’t worry; ongoing studies have started to reveal that high-fat dairy products may not increase the risk of heart disease and strokes. Yet, no clear evidence suggests it doesn’t either. 

Currently, swapping high saturated fat products for lower unsaturated fat products has proven to lower the risks of heart disease and strokes.  

Regardless of your diet, moderation plays a vital role when enjoying a rich and indulgent product.

Consulting with a medical professional is beneficial for those with high-fat diet sensitivities.

Want to learn more about the health aspects? Have a look at the links below:

Let’s jump into how to use these products in food preparation and easy recipes to make at home.

Culinary Applications

Baking with Buttermilk

Avid bakers love buttermilk!

It gives muffins, pancakes, and cookies a moist and tender texture. If you love a light and fluffy cake, you can thank buttermilk for creating this pleasing indulgence. 

When mixed with baking soda, it makes one of the best leavening agents. No wonder bakers ensure buttermilk is always on hand.

Did you know Southern biscuits get a fluffy and flaky texture from the buttermilk ingredient? Who knew it plays such a vital role?!

We love that Southern biscuits can be served savory with sausage gravy or topped with eggs and bacon. Also, serve them sweet with jam or honey. Delicious!

Are you ready to try them out?  

Check out this recipe and surprise the family with a freshly baked batch for Sunday breakfast.

Pro Tip: whip up heavy cream to serve with the jam or honey option

Buttermilk in Cooking

Besides sweet treats, buttermilk is a complementary and tasty addition to savory dishes, such as stews, soups, and curries. Also, it is the base ingredient for the renowned “Range Dressing.”

But here’s the kicker!

Buttermilk is a superb meat tenderizer and a great liquid base for meat marinades. The bacterial properties soften the meat and ensure a juicy and tender bite every time.  

Let’s be honest; there is something deeply satisfying about buttermilk deep-fried chicken. It’s soul food at its best when served with a honey-mustard or BBQ dressing.

If you are a deep-fried chicken fan, check out this delicious recipe. It is packed with fragrant spices, including paprika, cayenne pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder. 

Pro Tip:  prepare the chicken the evening before and place it in the refrigerator until lunch or dinner the next day. This lengthy method allows the buttermilk to penetrate the chicken deeply, making it tender and tasty.

Baking with Heavy Cream

The high-fat content in heavy cream complements the rich and creamy texture of baked goods, such as cakes, scones, and pastries.  

When whipped well, it peaks beautifully. For this reason, heavy cream is the perfect topping for baked treats and makes a light and less sweet filler for a layered cake.

Decidedly, a decadent chocolate mousse made with heavy cream is luscious. Even better, add a bit more heavy cream as a topping.

In other words, heavy cream is any baked product and dessert’s best topping friend!

Something for the Scones Fans

Try out this recipe for delightfully fluffy scones when having guests for afternoon tea.  

Pro Tip:  Remember to purchase extra heavy cream to serve alongside.  

Heavy cream in cooking

Oh, the pure eating pleasure!

A warm and hearty soup, stew, or curry warms the body and soul on a chilly winter evening. 

When you add heavy cream to the dish, it adds the final hearty touch.

The rich and creamy flavor and velvet texture are thanks to the high-fat content. Next time you prepare your family’s favorite hearty meal, enhance the texture and taste with a generous addition of heavy cream.  

Calling all Chicken Fans

We love this “all in one” recipe – One Skillet Creamy-Sundried Tomato Chicken with Orzo.

Super creamy with a tangy tomato touch.  

So, light your fireplace, grab your wine, and savor every mouthful!

Buttermilk Substitutes

Did you forget to purchase buttermilk for your recipe?

Don’t panic; creating DIY substitutes is easier than you think, and the ingredients you need are popular everyday items.

Here is a list of ideas for you to consider:

  • Milk and vinegar
  • Milk and lemon juice
  • Plain yogurt and milk or water
  • Milk and cream of tartar
  • Sour cream and milk or water

The key to making a substitute for buttermilk lies in the acidity. After all, the lactic acid and bacteria in buttermilk contribute to its culinary success.

If you need an alternative, have a look here or follow this easy-peasy recipe!

Heavy Cream Alternatives (Plus Plant-Based Options)

We know that heavy cream is prized for its decadence and exquisite whipped peaks.  

So, what is a good alternative for heavy cream, and can you make a plant-based option?

You can make a heavy cream substitute as an ingredient in baking or cooking recipes. Regrettably, substitutions do not whip as well as heavy cream. In fact, nowhere close.

For this reason, using light cream or whipping cream is the best and closest option.  

While both these products are lower in fat, they still bring a creamy and rich touch as an ingredient or topping. Also, you can expect them to whip. Yet, the peaks will be lower and less stable.

If you are looking for a heavy cream alternative as an ingredient, consider the following:

  • Milk and butter
  • Half-and-half and butter
  • Evaporated Milk

Do you have milk and butter? Great!  Make this quick and easy heavy cream to use as an ingredient.

Learn more about heavy cream alternatives here.

Plant-Based Heavy Cream Alternatives

The culinary pleasure dairy cream brings to our palates is also available as a plant-based product. 

Let’s explore some nutty and exciting alternatives.  

Coconut Cream

Undoubtedly, the best alternative for heavy cream. Use it as an ingredient in baking and cooking. 

You can whip coconut cream.  However, it will only become thicker with no peak success.

Cashew Nut Cream

If you do not have nut sensitivities, then cashew nut cream is the way to go. You can expect a smooth and creamy texture with a pleasing nutty flavor. 

As with coconut cream, cashew nut cream does not peak. 

Why not give it a try? The nutty and creamy results may surprise you. Check out this recipe!

Silken Tofu and Soy Milk

Silken tofu blended with soy milk makes a suitable creamy and smooth alternative. Use it as an ingredient in baking or cooking. Add a dash of vanilla extract or a pinch of sugar for toppings. 

Of course, nothing quite matches the heavy cream we all adore. 

In the same way, quick and convenient alternatives make great quick fixes in times of need.  

Shelf Life and Storage

Here is a table displaying the shelf life and storage tips of fresh buttermilk and heavy cream.

Fresh ButtermilkFresh Heavy Cream
Shelf life: Once opened can last up to 14 days in the refrigeratorUnopened can last 3 – 4 days after the expiry dateShelf life: Opened or unopened for up to 1 month(assuming constant refrigeration temperature and no lengthy exposure to room temperature)
Storage:  in the refrigerator in the original packaging or earthen potStorage: in the refrigerator until it reaches the expiry date(always smell heavy cream before you use it-any sour smell is an indication it has turned)
Frozen: up to 3 months in the original packaging or ziplock bagFrozen: whipped or unwhipped for up to 3 months in an airtight freezer-safe container or ziplock bag

Remember, all fresh dairy products require refrigeration regardless if opened or unopened.

Notably, the consistency of buttermilk and heavy cream alters slightly once defrosted.  

To rectify this, whisk or stir buttermilk to eliminate the “grainy” texture.  

For heavy cream, give it a good stir before adding it as an ingredient. If you want to use heavy cream as a topping, it will still whip well once defrosted.  

Should you defrost whipped heavy cream, whip again and add a pinch of sugar powder to even out the grainy texture if necessary.  

Adding sugar powder makes the heavy cream sweeter. Be sure to consider this aspect complements your recipe.  

Pro Tips:  

  • Keep heavy cream in the body of the refrigerator to limit room temperature exposure when opening and closing the refrigerator door
  • Freeze heavy cream and buttermilk in ice trays, and only use what you need

Cultured Buttermilk vs. Traditional Buttermilk

Let’s clarify the main differences between cultured buttermilk and traditional buttermilk.

Cultured ButtermilkTraditional Buttermilk
Product:  fermented, cultured milkProduct: a by-product of butter
Production process:  fresh pasteurized milk inoculated with lactic acid transforming it into buttermilk.Then, fortified with added vitamins and mineralsProduction process:  churning process of butter leaves behind a thick, non-fat liquid
Availability: wide range in grocery stores from low-fat to full-fat and everything in betweenAvailability:  not for sale in grocery stores in the US.  Only from local farmers or specialty dairy producers

if you prefer traditional buttermilk and can not get your hands on it, make your own!

Choosing the Right Option for Your Recipe

Matching the right dairy product to your dish is key to optimal results. With this in mind, here is a table displaying various aspects to consider.  

ButtermilkHeavy Cream
Flavor in baking: subtle tang meets sour tasteFlavor in cooking: tangy meets sour tasteFlavor in baking:  neutral Flavor in cooking: neutral(assuming no added sweeteners)
Consistency: thicker and lumpy, mild richness, and refreshingConsistency: thinner and smooth, rich, creamy, and indulgent
Purpose in baking: add gentle tang, serves as a leavening agent, contributes to moist and tender texturePurpose in cooking: ideal for dressings, marinades, add subtle richness and sour taste to stews, soups, and curriesPurpose in baking:  adds rich and creamy texturePurpose in cooking:  velvety texture and richness
Perfect for baking: southern biscuits, cookies, muffins, scones, pancakes, and cakesPerfect for cooking: stews, soups, and curries with complementary ingredients such as zesty spices and citrus flavorsOther uses: gut-healthy refreshmentsPerfect for baking:  pastries, scones and pancakesPerfect for cooking: stews, soups, and curries to enhance the texture and richness of the dish. Add it to mashed potatoes for extra creaminess.Other uses:  desserts, creamy toppings, cake fillers, and pastry fillers

Popular Myths Debunked

Food-based myths travel far and wide, and it can be confusing as to what is true and what is, in fact, a myth.

The evolution of food alongside scientific studies helps us debunk myths surrounding food.

So, here’s the deal.

Myth 1: Buttermilk is high in fat

Traditional buttermilk is a non-fat product.  Compared to modern cultured buttermilk, we must remember that brands vary in fat content.

A big, however, is most buttermilk on the market contains only 1 -2% fat. High? Not really.

Conclusion:  Myth debunked!

Myth 2: Heavy cream can’t be used in savory dishes

By now, you can see how heavy cream can be used in several savory dishes.

The neutral taste, creaminess, and velvety texture make it one of the most versatile and sought-after dairy-based products for savory dishes.  

Conclusion:  Myth debunked!

Feeling uncertain? Pop up to the Nutritional Composition and Flavor Profiles section to learn more.

Takeaways: Unveiling the Differences

In short, the primary difference between buttermilk and heavy cream is clearly understanding their culinary uses.

Each product offers a unique and distinct flavor, texture, and consistency.  

We understand there is common ground in the uses. 

Nevertheless, to achieve optimal results when baking and cooking, follow the recipe closely, and use a suitable substitute if necessary.  


Final Dairy Thoughts

Let’s recap.

Buttermilk and heavy cream bring a delightful finesse and enhance your eating experience of baked goods and cooked dishes.  

Undoubtedly, two valuable dairy products for bakers and epicures. 

We encourage you to embrace buttermilk and heavy cream and whip up your favorite culinary creations.

Each product’s unique qualities have stood the test of time and will continue to do so!

Which is your favorite ingredient for baking?

Buttermilk X

Heavy Cream X

We would love to hear from you.  Get in touch!

About The Author

Scroll to Top