Buttermilk vs. Heavy Cream: Know The Difference Between Them

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Buttermilk vs. Heavy CreamBoth buttermilk and heavy cream are made out of milk. However, from the name already, they are different things. While heavy cream is homogenized milk fat, buttermilk on the other hand is produced by lactic acid fermentation.

And because of the different processing methods, they taste and look different. That said, we’re about to find out the major differences between buttermilk and heavy cream. If you stick around, you’ll learn how they’re made, preserved, used in food, and more importantly when one should swap another!

Sounds good to you? Let’s get into that…

What is Buttermilk?

What is Buttermilk

To produce buttermilk, lactic acid bacteria are added to milk for fermentation. This will make a thick substance that looks like yogurt. And because of the acid bacteria, it tastes tangy eventually with low fat.

Traditionally, it’s a little bit different from what’s normally found in grocery shops. It was the leftover liquid portion due to butter production. In other words, you can say it’s the byproduct of making butter. The name was given from that sense as the milk of butter.

Uses of Buttermilk in Recipes

If a recipe (pancake/biscuits) has backing soda in it, you’ll need buttermilk. This will react with baking soda as the leavening agent causing the dough to become fluffy. So you get that nice moist texture once backed.

Added to that, let’s try to understand how does buttermilk work when backing?

First of all, you have note that milk has a pH of around 6 while buttermilk’s pH value is closer to 4 so it’s more acidic in nature. Consequently, when you bake something with it, the acid will react with baking soda as the leavening agent. As a result, you’re able to make those fluffy and spongy cakes or muffins, or biscuits with a moist texture.

How to Make Buttermilk at Home?

How to Make Buttermilk at Home

Homemade family dishes like cakes, pancakes, or fried chickens aren’t awesome without buttermilk. Do you have it stored in the fridge? Or, perhaps you have it but rotten somehow because you don’t often use it or do just a tiny amount.

Anyways, you’ll be amazed to know that there is a quick and simple method to make buttermilk at home. And, here’s how you do it –

Step-1: Take the Milk

Take one cup of whole milk or if you’re not into using cups, measure around 10 ounces of whole milk into the pot.

Step-2: Add Acid Substance

Add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice into the cup and mix it very well. Then set it aside or put it into the microwave oven to warm it up for around 45 seconds. Note, if fresh lemon juice isn’t available, you can always use rice vinegar or white vinegar which works the same. But don’t use balsamic vinegar which isn’t for this purpose we’ve learned.

Step-3: Let it Set Properly

Let it sit for about 10 minutes after taking out of the microwave. So it’s always a good practice to prepare the buttermilk before putting hands down on a recipe. Once it’s set, give it a good shake to make smoother. Then it’s ready to use in a recipe.

What is Heavy Cream?

What is Heavy Cream

From the name, this cream is heavier that’s good to whip. Lighter creams are a mess when whipping since they can’t hold their shape very well. But heavy cream in that sense has held the first place to go!

It’s the homogenized milk fat as we’ve said earlier. And the fat contentment is around 36 – 40% of the cream. You can make mouth-flashing delicious recipes with it.

The process of making heavy cream is skimming the milk. So the milk is left for a certain time until the fat rises to the surface level. It is then skimmed to separate the fat and what’s left is referred to as skimmed or, semi-skimmed milk.

After that, the fat is preserved in a pressurized metal can, that’s the heavy cream. This will be used by chefs to make food items. On the other hand, fat-skimmed milk isn’t done yet. It’s used for other purposes like your cereal diet breakfast with low-fat milk.

Also Read: How long can coffee creamer sit out?

Uses of Heavy Cream in Recipes

Heavy cream is used for recipes like backing, soups, ice cream, sour cream, homemade butter, sauces, and many more. This will give a yummy rich texture when baking biscuits or pancakes. And because it holds the shape for an extended period, professional dish presenters can’t go without it!

Restaurant chefs love to decorate dishes because it holds the shape longer from the kitchen to the table of the customers.

How to Make Heavy Cream at Home?

Your kids love delicious desserts and you love to prepare them at home! So you stepped into making them happy – but ALAS!!!

You don’t have a go-to ingredient…heavy cream!

Fret not, there’re many different ways professional chefs use to make heavy cream and these are all easy to follow at home. Below, we’re going to discuss a very simple method on how to make heavy cream using unsalted butter.

Step-1: Gathering Ingredients

Take a cup and measure around 5.5 ounces/160 milliliters of whole milk. Again, take 2.5 ounces or 75 grams of unsalted butter in a pan or microwave-safe bowl.

Step-2: Melting the Butter

Heat the butter to melt completely in a microwave or on the stove. If you’re using a microwave, you’ll need to go for 10 seconds at a time. Then, give it some time and start again. Take the bowl out once it’s fully melted and let it cool down to room temperature.

Step-3: Adding Milk

Now, add the premeasured (160ml) whole milk into the butter and mix it well. You should start to see it forms heavy cream. And based on the amount of butter and milk used, it’ll make around 240 milliliters of heavy cream. You can start making recipes with it or preserve in the fridge for up to 2 days.

Heavy Cream vs. Buttermilk: What to Choose?

Heavy Cream vs. Buttermilk

Now that we know what, how, and where these ingredients are used, it’s time to visualize some situations where one performs better than the other. There are situations to substitute one for the other.

So, to your question “can I use heavy cream instead of buttermilk?”

Straight to the answer, some recipes won’t allow swapping since the core components aren’t the same and react differently. And here’re some key pointers to help you make the right decision –

  • If you need to whip, don’t choose buttermilk it’s not able to hold a shape.
  • If you’re making low-fat dishes, don’t choose heavy cream.
  • Recipes with baking soda require buttermilk to produce a fluffy texture.
  • Go with heavy cream if you want a thick and rich texture like on ice cream.
  • Buttermilk will give you a tangy flavor that heavy cream doesn’t.

Frequently Asked Questions & Answered

1. Can you use heavy cream in place of milk for pancakes?

Making pancakes requires whole milk. However, you can use heavy cream as a substitute by adding 50% water so it’ll be a 50:50 ratio (cream & water).

2. What can you substitute for buttermilk in pancakes?

From the above sections, you can easily understand milk+vinegar/lemon juice is the substitute for buttermilk. However, there are other ingredients you may use.

And some of them include; milk & cream of tartar, sour cream & water, buttermilk powder & water, plain yogurt & water, etc.

3. Is heavy cream the same as heavy whipping cream?

Well, they’re basically different names of the same component. Manufacturers would call them differently as they wish. And it has over 36 – 40% fat depending on the brand.

4. What happens if you use milk instead of buttermilk?

Buttermilk is made more acidic by adding acid to it. This nature helps to react as a leavening agent thus helping to bake foods that whole milk alone can’t do. Hence, swapping buttermilk isn’t going to produce the expected results. However, you can always choose a substitute like whole milk+vinegar/lemon juice. This will give very closer properties of buttermilk.


We hope the battle of buttermilk vs. heavy cream ends up with today’s comprehensive discussion. You should note that buttermilk’s key functions are that it’s sour, low fat, and reacts with baking soda to produce a light, fluffy, and moist texture.

Contrarily, heavy cream has up to 40% milkfat, it holds a thick and rich shape, and is good for decorative dessert recipes. So that’s the naked inspection of both of these cooking ingredients. Hope we’ve provided you with enough information to make an informed decision of what to choose in a certain condition.

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