Here's What You Can Substitute For Heavy Cream

Heavy cream is the Meryl Streep of the dairy world, adding flavor, believability, and a certain gravitas to any dish lucky enough to be graced with its presence. It plays a utility role in ice cream, whipped cream and cream eggs (via Food52). It takes a B+ oatmeal and makes it a scene stealer. Making a fettuccine Alfredo without heavy cream is like watching "The Devil Wears Prada" with all of Miranda Priestly's parts taken out — why would you even bother? Heavy cream is a true heavyweight; at 36%-40% milkfat, this dairy product can be used to add richness to a recipe, creaminess to coffee, and taste to tartlets, tikka masala, or tarragon cream sauce, according to Real Simple.

But what to do when you're an indie filmmaker (read: vegan), working your first documentary (read: casserole for your in-laws), and your shoestring budget means that rather than bringing out the big guns, you might have to hire an unknown (read: coconut milk)? You need someone who has that certain je ne sais quoi ... or at least does a good enough impression of Meryl to fool the in-laws. Here's a list of ten great substitutes for heavy cream, no matter your dietary restrictions or how much the studio is giving you for production. Each one can easily take the place of heavy cream in a recipe and who knows? You might even find the Next Big Thing.

1. Half-and-half

Half-and-half? Instead of cream? Groundbreaking.

Okay, so it's not as sexy as some vegan alternatives (we see you, coconut milk), but since half-and-half is made up of 50% cream and 50% milk, if you've got half-and-half, you're halfway to heavy cream, anyway. If you're whipping cream, or trying to thicken a soup or sauce, The Spruce Eats says that half-and-half will make a great substitute. Just take care that it's super cold if you're going to whip it — it's a little lighter than heavy cream, and the temperature will make a difference if you're trying to achieve stiff peaks. The Spruce Eats recommends sticking the bowl, whisk, and half-and-half that you'll be using in the freezer for a bit, to get a micro-chill before you whip.

For best results, use an equal amount of half-and-half as you would for the heavy cream in your recipe. Note that half-and-half will not take the place of heavy cream if you are trying to churn butter ... but also, it's 2021, and thanks to science you can buy butter now.

2. Milk and butter

What do you get if you combine the lightheartedness of a Julia Roberts with the serious intensity of a Dame Judi Dench? Such is the alchemy behind combining milk and butter to make a heavy cream substitute. (By the way, if you said Meryl Streep — or heavy cream — you are correct; we will accept either answer.) While butter is too heavy to be a stand-alone substitute for cream, milk is just a little bit too light. So what's a cook to do? Melt some butter and combine it with milk, and you've got the kind of high-fat content, creamy dairy product that people came to see. And taste. Healthline likes this recipe because it's easy to make, but also because the milk-and-butter combo will work in almost any cooking or baking dish. Watch out though — trying to whip milk and butter the same way you would heavy cream is kind of like "August: Osage County." It's a great idea in theory, but in the end it just won't work the way you want it to.

Mix a quarter cup of melted butter with three-quarters of a cup of full-fat milk to replace one cup of heavy cream. Pro-tip when working with these A-list celebrities: if the milk you're using is low-fat, don't add more butter to compensate. Just try adding a tablespoon of flour to thicken things up a bit.

3. Milk and Greek yogurt

"My Big Fat Greek Wedding" was a pretty perfect movie, and yet not one bit of it contained Meryl Streep. How did they do it? Greek yogurt, probably. As The Spruce Eats points out, using Greek yogurt to replace the heavy cream in your recipe will ensure that your dish maintains the creamy, rich texture you crave, while having the added bonus of lowering the overall fat content. Greek yogurt is high in protein, which is also a perk, and if you thin it out with a little milk, you'll be able to match the consistency of heavy cream pretty closely. Just like "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" proves that movies can be successful even without Meryl, Greek yogurt proves your dish doesn't need to have heavy cream to be a blockbuster.

To substitute greek yogurt for heavy cream, mix equal parts Greek yogurt and milk. Half a cup of yogurt and half a cup of milk, combined, will replace one cup of heavy cream in your recipe. Taste of Home would remind you that this replacement isn't great for baking, but that the milk factor gives you the power to achieve a perfect consistency for your faux cream — if your mix is too thick, thin it out with a little more milk.

4. Coconut Cream

Remember in the '90s, when the cast of your favorite TV show would head to Hawai'i for a tropical season finale? Uncle Joey wore too many leis, Zach, Slater, and Screech accidentally entered a beach volleyball tournament ... general hijinks ensued. Sure, the production value went way down and you could tell there was something different about the camera lens they were using, but it was thrilling to see your favorite gang in a new setting. Using coconut cream to replace heavy cream in a recipe is kind of like that.

Cancel your trip to the islands for this one — coconut cream is readily available at your nearest grocery store. Healthline promises that it's the perfect substitute for heavy cream when you're trying to vegan-ize a recipe, and that coconut cream can be baked, cooked, or whipped. The faint whiff of coconut you'll experience with the final product should be taken into account, but like that season finale, it will probably just make the dish feel special.

One cup of coconut cream will replace one cup of heavy cream. If all you've got is coconut milk, just chill it overnight in your fridge. When you open it the next day and pour out the liquid, the thick, hardened material that's left is coconut cream.

5. Evaporated milk

Evaporated milk is like skeletons — everyone's got at least one in the back of their closet. It's nothing to be ashamed of; if you've got a can of evaporated milk lurking in the depths of your kitchen cupboard, you've got a bonafide heavy cream substitute, so let your freak flag fly. According to Healthline, because evaporated milk contains 60% less water than regular milk, it has a creamier consistency that is far more ... well ... consistent ... with ... cream. Oof, even that sentence was thicker than usual — the evaporated milk is working already. The nice thing about this replacement is that it's shelf-stable; which is more than we can say for heavy cream and its delicate expiration date. When the dairy apocalypse comes, skeletons and evaporated milk will be all that survive.

The math here is as easy as it gets: substitute the heavy cream in your recipe with an equal amount of evaporated milk. Healthline suggests a drop or two of vanilla extract if you're going for sweet, while Taste of Home points out that evaporated milk tends to have a caramel, toasted taste, making it ideal for caramel-y dishes, like crême brulée or caramel sauce. See? Nothing scary about that at all.

6. Sour cream

On the other side of the taste spectrum comes sour cream, which is decidedly not caramel-y. Bitter and acerbic, with a mood that can really only be described as "sour," sour cream is a bit like when Meryl Streep played the wicked witch in "Into The Woods." And in the right dish, sour cream, like Meryl, will really sing. Taste of Home likes this as a heavy cream substitute in cheesecakes, as sour cream has just the texture you're aiming for in a dish like that. It will do the job in savory recipes as well; but be sure to taste as you go, lest you slide too far down the sour end of the scale. We want "singing witch from happy musical" sour, not "Rosemary's Baby" sour.

Country Living points out that the fat content of sour cream is around 20%, which makes it a lower-fat alternative to heavy cream. Try a one-to-one ratio (that is, a cup of sour cream where you would normally use a cup of cream), but be careful not to add sour cream to a hot, bubbling dish, as you would heavy cream, because that lower fat content means your dish could curdle. And make sure to sweeten your sour cream if that lactic acid taste is not what you're going for.

7. Cream cheese

If there's anything better than cream, it's cheese. Or, if you're lactose-intolerant, just substitute the word "better" with an equal measure of the word "worse." But if your stomach is lactose-friendly, try using Philadelphia's finest to replace the heavy cream in your recipe. It's definitely going to change the flavor profile, so maybe try it out in dishes that wouldn't balk at a bit of cheese (say, a creamy casserole, or a delicious cheesecake?) Cream cheese may not have that neutral flavor, but as far as consistency goes, you've got a heavy cream substitute that could be a Meryl Streep impersonator in Vegas. Healthline advises against using cream cheese in a recipe that requires whipping, but says that for frostings, soups and sauces, cream cheese is your gal.

Use an equal amount of cream cheese as you would heavy cream in a dish; e.g. if the recipe calls for a cup of heavy cream, throw in a cup of cream cheese instead, and award points to whoever notices the difference.

8. Mascarpone

Mascarpone is like cream cheese's dramatic Italian sister. Country Living says the fat content of this sweet, creamy cheese is around 44%, making it heavy enough to do a passable heavy cream impression, just with a barely perceptible Italian accent. Mascarpone also has a sweet, nutty flavor to it, making it a nice option for baking, or for when you want your dish more creamy, and less sour and cheesy. Because it is so thick, a hunk of mascarpone could be plopped on top of any dessert you'd normally think about pouring heavy cream over, for guests who might turn their noses up at a scoop of ice cream, but still want a topper for their dish. Mascarpone is not quite cream, not quite cheese, and not quite cream cheese. What a dolce Italian mystery.

Use a one-to-one ratio when subbing mascarpone in for heavy cream. But Taste of Home makes a great point: thin your mascarpone out with a little milk if you are using it in a cold dish, so that it's a little closer to mimicking heavy cream. If you're dropping it into a hot one, the mascarpone will melt right in, with no need to do anything else.

9. Crème fraîche

If the dairy world were a soccer field, mascarpone would definitely play for Italy. America would be represented by (Philadelphia) cream cheese, obviously. And waving the flag for the French? Crème fraîche, that saucy, sometimes sour little minx, who plays like heavy cream but with a noticeably French attitude. As far as flavor profiles go, crème fraîche has a little of the same tang as a sour cream, but with a much higher fat content (around 30%, according to Country Living), so it's less likely to curdle. Oui must be careful, however; zee delightful zip means crème fraîche will taste slightly different than the heavy cream you're replacing,

One player for one player in this game — sub in a cup of crème fraîche wherever you'd normally have a cup of heavy cream. Yellow card if you forget to add a sweetener when baking something dessert-y, red card if you mistakenly refer to the crème as sour cream — it will almost certainly walk off the field in a huff.

10. Powdered heavy cream

Like evaporated milk, powdered heavy cream is going to be your best friend. When you give the heavy cream in your fridge a sniff and notice that it's been gone for a day, a week, a month, or even a year, it can feel like you're always stuck in second gear. Powdered heavy cream, on the other hand, is the kind of thing you can stick on a shelf and trust that it will be there for you ... when the rain starts to pour, like it's been there before, etc. The shelf-stable powder is easy to use in a pinch, and Taste of Home points out that there is no need to reconstitute the stuff if you're adding it to a liquid anyway (like soups and sauces, or your coffee or tea), which makes this substitute even easier to use.

To turn solid into liquid, combine a half a cup of powdered heavy cream with a full cup of cold water, and blend the mixture. Taste of Home suggests letting it sit in the fridge overnight, and then replacing the heavy cream in your recipe with this new creation in equal measure. Is it like Frankensteining yourself a friend? Sure. But your job's a joke, you're broke, and no one told you life was going to be this way.