What is half-and-half?

half-and-half

Readers who are unfamiliar with the product, when they find it listed as an ingredient in a recipe, often ask: What is half-and-half?

Half-and-half is a product that is composed of one-half cream and one-half whole milk. In the United States, the fat percentages of those products are 30 to 36%, and 3.25%, respectively. Store-bought half-and-half can be anywhere in the range of 10.5% to 18% butterfat. (Fat-free and lowfat half-and-half items are available, but I don’t use them.) Half-and-half was likely conceived as something to be added to coffee, and was meant to be an item of convenience. It’s a common item in grocery stores in the United States, sold in pints and quarts alongside the milk, cream, and other fresh dairy products.

I use half-and-half in recipes where I want some richness, but not the same richness if full-fat cream was used. In some instances, I’ll offer an option to use either cream or half-and-half, to satisfy those looking for richness versus those looking to be a little more prudent. Like most recipes, always use what is indicated in the list of ingredients.

You can make half-and-half by mixing both whole milk and whipping cream or heavy cream, in equal proportions.



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61 comments

  • How informative! In Europe I have never encountered half-and-half as a product. The recipes usually mention cream or milk or a mix of them. In practice it often happens that heavy cream is “diluted” to get a less heavy dish or reduce calories.

    • It all can be a bit confusing, especially with the “internationality” of the internet and recipes. In the US, we have heavy, whipping, and light cream, although availability varies by region. (For example, in California, “light cream” isn’t widely available.)

  • in other words, it’s liquid panna cotta.

  • Thank you so much for this David!

  • In bars, half-and-half is often used in cocktails: richer in taste than milk, but not too creamy. But one junior-bartender once took this too far: He mixed it into an order of “Cinzano half-and-half” instead of dry and sweet!

  • Hi David,
    I’m in Australia and I must say that I have never actually seen it here. Did you see it at all when you were in Sydney?

  • Hi David,

    You are stirring fond memories for me with this post. When I went to the States for the first time (I am South African) I was an 18 yr old young lady who had never traveled abroad before. It was exhilarating! One of the things I loved was a good Americano with half and half. We finally have something similar here in SA that I make my vanilla ice cream with. It comes out light like sorbet but creamy like ice cream. Yum.

  • Thanks for clarifying that! Don’t think I’ve ever seen half n half sold in Sydney before

  • I’m in Australia. When I was making malted milk ice cream from your recipe in The Perfect Scoop, David, I Googled to find an alternative to half-and-half. The consensus seemed to be “light thickened cream” (Pauls make it, and there’s another brand too). It was perfect, and the malted milk ice cream is my favourite (it’s always in my freezer)!

  • Thank you for this insight. I always have non-fat milk because my husband drinks it. And now that I make our ice cream, I usually have heavy cream along with whole milk. It is good to know how to make half and half out of these various products when the recipe calls for it. Now if only I could find some malted milk powder. The joys of living in a small town.

  • If it’s any help to anyone, here in Britain it is sold everywhere as Single Cream, typically 15-18% butterfat.

  • I was just about to say that in Britain we know this as single cream, but Steve has beaten me to it. Wikipedia has an interesting comparison between the legal butterfat content of different types of cream in different countries: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cream

  • I remember half-and-half from my time in England. Never before had I seen so many kinds of cream before. Thick, Extra Thick, Clotted… interesting when compared to say how few kinds of haricots verts were available.

  • Paul A: Yes, they have those amazing creams in England. We have various kinds of creams in France, including crème fraîche, which is pretty amazing.

    Juanita: I use lowfat milk in my coffee. Interestingly, a lot of people think that whole milk makes better foam for coffee drinks but lowfat milk works better because it is made with non-fat milk as a base, then extra milk proteins are added back to it.

    Juanita: That can be challenging to find. Of course, you can find it online, but supermarkets do stock it (depending where you live) and sometimes it’s in the ice cream aisle, and other times they put it in the ‘drink powders’ aisle, ie: with the hot cocoa mixes and so forth. One brand changed what they call it recently, to add to the confusion. Horlicks is a reliable brand. (Sometimes you can find it in Indian food shops, too!)

  • David, can I use Ovaltine for malted milk powder? Is it the same thing? I live in Canada and I have a hard time finding it, too.

  • David, perfect timing since this is on my shopping list to make your chocolate pot de cremes for Thanksgiving!

  • Have you ever read the ingredients in fat-free half and half? It’s absolutely frightening what they add to something as simple as a milk and cream combination.
    Sam

  • I have to admit this was far more interesting a tidbit of information than I thought it would be when I saw the title. Thanks for taking a moment to share this with us! It is actually quite useful.

  • What would the equivalent be in France?…on a recent trip I searched for half and half for my coffee and settled on demi-ecreme but it didn’t seem just the same. Another time I think I gained 10 llbs by adding pure cream…

  • Melissa: Ovaltine has chocolate and sugar added and it’s not the same thing, so you can’t swap them out.

    tonia: There is no equivalent in France (that I know of.) Demi-écremé milk is actually lowfat milk, not partial cream.

  • I think it is so interesting what some people find extremely common are virtually unknown to others. My refrigerator would feel empty w/o half-and-half. It’s essential.

  • To confuse matters even more, here in the Maritimes we also have “cereal cream”, which is 10% butterfat.

  • There’s crème legère in France: it comes only in UHT that I’ve seen, but it’s only 5% fat. I’ve used it with good success for half-and-half, but now perhaps I should combine it with full cream. Pascale Weeks wrote an interesting article about cream in France a while back: http://scally.typepad.com/cest_moi_qui_lai_fait/2011/09/crème-fraiche-crème-épaisse-crème-liquide-crème-fleurette-pasteurisée-uht-etc-comment-sy-retrouver.html
    Like a lot of French cooks, she doesn’t seem to mind using UHT cream. I guess it’s what you’re used to…

  • There are a few kinds of creams In our local stores – coffee cream (10%), 15% cream, and 32-38% whipping cream.
    I use in my coffee and hot choc. soy cream Alpro 5% ( because lactose-intolerance).

  • The real question is: What is non-fat half and half???

  • Unless I’m actually making whipped cream for a dessert, I never use whole cream and substitute half in half in recipes calling for heavy cream. I always have it on hand since I use it in my morning coffee; that convenience of always having it on hand plus that it’s a bit lighter wins all the time in my book.

  • I take it it is also far more liquid than cream so there’s an action on the consistency of the recipe.
    I can’t start to understand the idea behind fat free half and half. What a misnomer. Would that not be nothing-and-less-than-nothing instead?

  • So funny that you just published this because I was just faced with a baking dilemma where I had half and half and nonfat milk on hand and needed whole milk – for a cake. I looked up the butterfat percentages and determined that half nonfat and half half and half would approximate the butterfat content of whole milk. It worked great. Whew!

  • “What would the equivalent be in France?”

    Go to the supermarket and have a look at the dairy section. You can find cream with 4%, 5%, 12%, 15% milk fat, and so on and so on. Most of them are UHT, but others are pasteurized.

  • This begs the question: the supermarket carries 1/2 & 1/2, heavy (or whipping) cream and light cream. So, what’s ‘light’ cream and how does it differ from half & half? I’ve always wondered about that. (I’ve seen it for many years, since ages before the trend for ‘light’ or ‘lite’ versions of various products.) Any idea?
    Also, personally I much prefer regular milk in coffee. There’s something about the viscosity of cream in coffee that almost makes me gag – odd, because I don’t have that reaction to creamy things in general. Go figure.

    • At the end of the post, I linked to a site that lists the fat percentages of most of the dairy products available in the United States.

  • Thank you for this information, I read alot of US blogs and converting ingredients can be tricky. Speaking of milk there’s another ingredient that confuses me, which is buttermilk. Do you know the European/French equivalent?

  • @Sofia

    Buttermilk in French is lait battu or babeurre.

    • I’ve never heard buttermilk called that in France. Perhaps it’s a regional thing? In Paris (and Brittany) they call it Lait ribot, or else in Arab and other ethnic markets it’s sold as lait fermenté.

  • My morning cup of coffee is not complete without a splash of half and half. It’s interesting how something one person takes for granted can be a complete mystery to someone in another country.

  • This is another wonderful bit of knowledge. I probably knew it once upon a time, but I’ve grown up and lost a few brain cells along the way.

    Happiest Thanksgiving to you and yours, David.

    Please keep refreshing my memory. I baked my fruitcake (your recipe) yesterday. The new baking powder made those beauties ever so lofty. :) I drank a swig of cognac in your honor.
    …okay, maybe I drank two…
    ;)

  • I never gave half and half a thought because I assumed it was an international item. Buttermilk, on the other hand, I get confused about. I see recipes calling for “natural buttermilk” or Bavarian style Buttermilk” or “full fat buttermilk”. How can it be “full fat” if it’s the whey drained from the butter or cheese making process? Shouldn’t the fat be gone? And why the labeling specifically saying it’s non fat or low fat? And how can you approximate it by adding lemon juice or vinegar to whole milk to clabber it? ….so confused!

  • thanks. i’ve often wondered exactly what half and half was when it came up in recipes. Now if someone could just explain what the heck ‘cool whip’ non dairy topping is, that would be great. (never quite worked our why anyone would want a non-dairy topping)

  • Hmm it’s sure funny the things we take for granted that people should just know.
    @Amy – in Canada where I am from, I know that “light cream” is less fatty than half and half. It’s around 5% fat. But in the US, light cream is actually higher in fat than half and half – between 18-30%. So clearly the meaning of “light” varies depending on where you live.

  • I’ve long wished that these products were sold by “percent butterfat” rather than by confusing, non-standard names. It works for 1% and 2% milk.

    • I wish it was more prominent as well. I was recently trying to find percentages for the cream here in France sold in the supermarket and none of them I found had it on the package (it’s normally 30% in France, for supermarket cream).

  • When I started reading foreign foodblogs and cookbooks and their lists of ingredients, I realized how milk products differed in varoius countries (Russia is particularly unique). It is actually pretty fascinating how many products can be made from milk – but also irritating when you try to follow a foreign recipe. You often have to use your maths skills to achieve the appropriate percentage of fat. In my country – the Czech Republic – you can usually buy only two kinds of cream: “cream for whipping” (30-33% fat) and “cream for cooking” (usually 12% fat), which I substitute for half-and-half. There are some new products now and some imported brands, but in a regular store, those two kinds are pretty much it. A dozen of local brands and they all make the same two types. Also, creme fraiche is rarely available, there is just our traditional sour cream which is between 8 to 15% fat. That is why some people make their own creme fraiche by putting a spoonful of sour cream into a tub of whipped cream and let it sit for a day or so.

  • Mmm…cream! Back home in Montreal we could get 18% creamers for our coffee. Delicious and perhaps a little on the reckless side. Having recently moved to Ecuador, we can only find various brands of heavy cream, and we have in fact been trying to mix it with milk, but we end up with undesirable floating islands of fat. Now I love my cream, but when my husband asks if I would like a little more butter in my coffee, it’s kind of depressing. Any ideas as to why this is happening? Perhaps it’s simply a matter of persisting in our quest to find a better quality cream? At any rate, thanks for the post!

  • Dear “Sam@My CarolinaKitchen”…

    Well, we (while both of us sit in North Carolina) seem to be following the exact-same blogs. It’s a good thing we’re operating in a cyber-universe…otherwise, we’d have broken our noses by bumping into each so often.

    In regard to your comment concerning “FAT FREE HALF & HALF!”?

    I went through a period (three weeks or so this past Spring) when I wondered if something had gone “wrong” with me/my taste-buds/my body…..God Knows What. I turned fifty this past June and have been simply assuming that I’ve reached the age at which I’ll be seriously forced to learn that the price of prolonged youthfulness is the absolute ambush of age.

    In any case, there were mornings after mornings when I took one sip of my first morning coffee (which I’ve loved since I was 15) and thought “This tastes like S**t…”…..weirdly/off-puttingly sweet, oddly “chemical”…and just awful. I mentioned this several times to my partner (not a business partner, so, yes, he’s generally at the breakfast table), and he agreed with me that perhaps I was just undergoing some sort of appalling, male-menopausal palate shift.

    It wasn’t until I tried making a quiche (which turned out disastrously) with this “half and half” that he actually took a look at the container and noticed that, in small print under “HALF & HALF”, it read “fat free”. I’d never noticed. since the folks at the grocery store had, after ten years of my shopping there, simply stuck the fat-free stuff where the real stuff (made, packaged, & distributed by the same company) used to be. I shop very quickly and (like every cranky, middle-aged man) just reach for things-that-i-want in the-places-they’re-supposed-to-BE-at.

    You’re smart, Sam…..he read the list of ingredients to me, and it was pretty horrifying. “Fat Free Half & Half” is composed, to a large degree, of the same stuff used to make that soft, “realistic” skin on a “touchable” Barbie-Doll.

    Only in America….(or at least I hope so)

    Resignedly yours as ever,

    David Terry
    http://www.davidterryart.com

  • My inquiring mind has always wondered “what (really) is half-and-half?” Now I know. No more whole milk request for my Starbuck lattes. Lowfat it is. Thanks for an informative post!

  • It always puzzles me to see “fat free” half & half. If the product is half cream and half whole milk, how can it be fat free (must be magic from the chemist at the dairy).

  • If you’re in a pub in Wales and ask for half and half, you’ll get half a portion of chips and half a portion of rice with your chicken curry

  • I normally have skimmed milk and heavy cream in my refrigerator. What combination would equal whole milk?

  • David,
    Greetings from Sacramento, CA. I usually don’t leave comments, but I wanted to let you know how much I agree with you that to search a recipe is bland at best, however, it’s the back story that keeps me intrigued.
    I truly enjoy your blog and recommend it to all new foodies. I especially like the stories about the French because it is so dead on!
    Happy Thanksgiving.
    All the best,
    Laurel Rogers

  • Thanks, this is interesting and helpful.

  • @Sofia: In the United States, buttermilk is a milk that has been made somewhat acidic through bacterial action. The specific bacteria used to culture buttermilk in the States is Lactococcus lactis. I know that this is probably more than you want to know, but it should serve as a base for you to work with.

    The idea is to use a slightly soured dairy product, preferably one that got sour because of the addition of a bacteria that feeds on lactose. Things I have used as successful substitutions are plain keifer, another fermented milk product which is slightly alcoholic, and acidified milk, which you can make yourself by adding a tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar to a scant* cup of milk. These are not exactly the same in their effect, but they are close enough. Yougurt can work, but it’s not really sour enough.

    *scant: on the chance that scant is not a typical cooking term for you, when something is described as “scant” then it means that your measurement should be slightly less. So, slightly less than one cup. Boy, I never thought about the peculiarities of terms and products much before. :-)

  • I use low-fat or fat-free half-and-half, but I buy the GOOD fat-free/low-fat varieties versus the cheap ones that is basically cream thinned out with water (super gross). I use it when I make custards, and so far, they still taste beautiful, and they have the most delightful daffodil yellow color once they are done, with a lovely light texture that just melts in your mouth. I know some people strictly believe in using whole fat products, but, I’ve found with a good hand and great ingredients, even if you use low-fat diary products, food will taste good no matter what.

  • @David

    Babeurre is the generic term. It’s also the term used in French-Canada. Lait-battu is what I most often heard in Belgium. I guess, as is often the case in France, there are many regional names.

    http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babeurre

    Interesting! And thanks for the link. There’s so much (more) French to learn : ) -dl

  • It sounds like half-and-half may be the same as single cream in the UK? They have almost identical fat contents.

  • Wow. One problem solved :) Thanks.

  • Forgive me if someone has already pointed this out, but it is exceedingly uncommon to find real cream with a butterfat content of 30 -36% in the US. Cream that is labeled heavy, or heavy whipping cream is always 17%. Half and half is generally 5 -7%.

    The only place I have ever found true cream as Europeans know it, 36% butterfat is at a restaurant service store like GFS or Sysco. Even Costco and Whole Foods doesn’t carry it. I shop the entire Chicago area, and as a food writer, I try to find sources for hard to find products to share with my readers. On a recent trip to New York, I looked for real cream at Chelsea Market and a couple of other ‘cheffy’ stores, but still found only the 17%.

    My point, I guess, is that what is available to restaurants and chefs is not always easy, or even possible, for home cooks to find. BTW, Re: the panna cotta remark; if someone thinks half and half sounds like liquid panna cotta, you have never had a proper panna cotta, barely set and made with real 36% cream:-)

  • Pardon me, I forgot to say that determining the butterfat content in the US is easy. The required nutritional panel lists the fat percentage.

    • Many brands don’t list their butterfat content, but they have to, by law, list their fat grams per serving on the nutritional panels in the United States. Clover Heavy Whipping Cream has a minimum butterfat content of 40% and Darigold is 36%. At the end of the post, I linked to the standards put forth by the International Dairy Foods Association.

  • I always buy my half and half and never had the chance to try mixing my own. This is a great insight on how I can make my own half and half. Nice!

  • Okay, so what is the half and half that is in that silly little tub they serve at restaurants? That is not “fresh,” but i do use it as a non-dairy substitute when cooking “kosher.” do you have any other suggestions for non-dairy milk substitutes?

  • I stopped buying half and half a long time ago because I don’t see a use for it. I always buy heavy cream. You can’t make whipped cream or creme fraiche with half and half and if you need it for cooking, you can just use a mixture of heavy cream and milk as David says. Plus as others have pointed out there are many additives in half and half which are usually not found in heavy cream. I wish American grocery stores would stop carrying the stuff and use the extra shelf space for creme fraiche, double cream, and other European style cream products that have the rich taste without the thickeners, etc, that corporations seem to think that Americans prefer. Kraft (I think) has come out with a product called “Cooking Cream” that comes in several different flavors and (I think) is supposed to resemble creme fraiche but looks absolutely horrible. Why can’t they just give us the real thing?