Whipped cream and Cool Whip. To the average person shopping in the grocery store dairy aisle or bakery case, these two creamy white toppings seem the same. But there are some key differences between real whipped cream and products like Cool Whip that impact taste, texture, nutrition, and best uses.
Read on to get the full knowledge so you can decide when to use whipped cream and when Cool Whip is the better choice.
What is Cool Whip?
Cool Whip is a brand name for a type of whipped topping created in the 1960s as an affordable and convenient alternative to freshly whipped cream. It was designed to have a longer shelf life, easier storage method (freeze then thaw as needed), and quicker prep time compared to traditional whipped cream.
The ingredients in Cool Whip include:
- Skim milk
- Light cream
- High fructose corn syrup - for sweetness
- Hydrogenated vegetable oil - for texture
- Natural and artificial flavors
- Thickeners like guar gum - help maintain a whipped texture
- Preservatives - extend shelf life
So while Cool Whip does contain small amounts of milk and cream, the majority of ingredients are emulsifiers, sweeteners, and thickeners.
This processed formulation is why Cool Whip can be stored in the freezer for an extended time without separating or losing its whipped texture. The product simply needs to thaw before serving.
Cool Whip has a creamy, sweet flavor and thick, spreadable texture perfect for topping desserts or incorporating them into no-bake recipes. It comes pre-whipped in tubs or spray cans so requires no effort to prepare. The taste is consistent from tub to tub.
Most people consider Cool Whip more of a dessert topping rather than an ingredient for recipes requiring whipped cream. The exception would be no-bake dishes where whipped texture is needed but heat stability is also important.
What is Whipping Cream?
Whipped cream begins with pure heavy cream as the key ingredient. Additional flavorings like sugar and vanilla are sometimes added, but the base is cream.
To make whipped cream, the process simply involves:
- Chilling a metal bowl and beaters
- Pouring cold heavy cream into the bowl
- Beating on high speed until peaks form
This process incorporates air into the cream to create a light, fluffy texture. The more whipping, the stiffer it becomes. However, overbeating can cause the cream to turn to butter.
Since real whipped cream contains minimal ingredients, it has a pure, creamy rich taste. The flavor depends on the quality of the heavy cream used. It also does not last as long as Cool Whip and needs refrigeration.
Whipped cream works beautifully as a topping and also in recipes where you want real cream flavor and the ability to incorporate air, like mousses. The light texture melts pleasingly on the tongue.
Food coloring or different flavors like chocolate, vanilla, or maple can be added for variety.
Similarities Between Cool Whip and Whipped Cream
Though there are some key differences outlined below, Cool Whip and whipped cream do share some common traits:
- Aeration - Both contain air bubbles to create a light, whipped texture
- Creaminess - Each has a creamy flavor and smooth mouthfeel
- Sweetness - Sugar or corn syrup gives both a sweet taste
- Topping abilities - Can be used as toppings, fillings or folded into desserts
- Convenience - Require little prep work before use
So in terms of basic flavor profile and usage, Cool Whip and whipped cream check many of the same boxes.
Key Differences Between Cool Whip and Whipped Cream
Now let's explore the main differences between these two popular whipped toppings:
The simple, pure ingredient list of heavy cream and sugar is what sets real whipped cream apart from highly processed products like Cool Whip.
Cool Whip contains far more additives including corn syrup, thickeners, stabilizers, and emulsifiers.
So for people wanting to cut back on artificial ingredients or preservatives, freshly whipped cream is the better choice over Cool Whip.
Due to the pure cream content, real whipped cream does contain more calories and fat per serving than Cool Whip.
For example, 2 tablespoons Cool Whip has 25 calories and 1.5g fat. The same amount of heavy whipping cream has 51 calories and 5g fat.
However, Cool Whip's lower calorie count is due to more use of zero-calorie sweeteners and additives. These replace some of the high-fat cream content.
So depending on your health goals, one product may fit better nutritionally. But overall, whipped cream is more natural and less processed.
When it comes to flavor, fresh whipped cream has a richer, more indulgent taste coming from the pure dairy cream.
Cool Whip offers a sweeter flavor, lighter body, and more mass-market consistency, thanks to added corn syrup, thickeners, and emulsifiers.
So real whipped cream offers a purer, more gourmet flavor experience versus the manufactured taste of Cool Whip.
The textures of Cool Whip and whipped cream differ quite a bit:
- Cool Whip - Thick, scoopable, and spreadable texture. Holds shape well when piped or spooned. Not as airy as whipped cream.
- Whipped Cream - Ultra-light, airy and fluffy texture. More delicate than Cool Whip. Needs gentler handling to hold shape.
Cool Whip's thicker consistency makes it ideal for frosting cakes or scooping into pie fillings. The lightness of real whipped cream works better when carefully folded into dishes or piped decoratively.
One area where Cool Whip shines over real cream is its prolonged storage ability:
- Unopened Cool Whip - Lasts 2-3 months frozen. Once thawed, lasts 10 days refrigerated.
- Homemade Whipped Cream - Best fresh. Lasts 1-2 days refrigerated.
Thanks to all the added preservatives and stabilizers, Cool Whip maintains its texture for weeks or months. Real whipped cream is highly perishable and loses its whipped loft quickly once made.
So for recipes made ahead of time, Cool Whip retains that whipped texture better. Whipped cream works for foods served shortly after preparation.
Best Uses for Cool Whip vs. Whipped Cream
Now that you understand their unique qualities, here are some guidelines on the best applications for Cool Whip and freshly whipped cream:
Cool Whip Works Best For:
- No-bake desserts - Easy refrigerator desserts, pudding and pie fillings
- Cake frosting - Holds shape well when frosting cakes or cupcakes
- Stabilized foams - Mousses, fluff dips where texture needs to hold
- Mix-ins - Adding to cream-based dishes without deflating volume
- Convenience - Quickly topping desserts with no prep needed
- Controlled flavor - When taste consistency batch to batch is important
- Storage - Any recipe that needs to hold shape for several days
Whipped Cream Is Ideal For:
- Fresh uses - Toppings for immediate consumption like desserts or drinks
- Piping - Delicate decorative applications
- Uncooked applications - Folding into mousses, fresh parfaits or fluffs
- Enhancing flavor - Adding richness and depth to recipes
- Creamy mouthfeel - Desserts where silky texture is key
- Gourmet results - Elevating flavor in high-end cream-based recipes
- Flavor options - Whipping in extracts, liqueurs or herbs
Can you substitute Cool Whip for whipped cream in recipes?
In cooked recipes, Cool Whip will often break down with heat exposure. Real whipped cream has better heat stability.
For no-cook recipes, Cool Whip can often be swapped 1:1 for whipped cream. Expect slight texture and flavor variances.
Is it possible to make whipped cream with Cool Whip?
Unfortunately, Cool Whip on its own can't replicate freshly whipped texture. But mixing 1 cup Cool Whip + 1/2 cup heavy cream and whipping briefly creates a lighter, fluffier result than Cool Whip alone.
Is Cool Whip considered dairy-free or vegan?
No, Cool Whip is not vegan or dairy-free. It contains milk and cream ingredients. There are dairy-free "whipped topping" options made from plant milk if needed.
Does whipped cream go bad faster than Cool Whip?
Yes, homemade whipped cream lasts only 1-2 days refrigerated before losing its light, airy texture. Properly stored Cool Whip lasts 1-2 weeks once thawed.
While Cool Whip and whipped cream look similar in the container, they have very different properties when it comes to ingredients, nutrition, taste, and best usage.
When convenience and stability are priorities, opt for Cool Whip. It requires no preparation and retains its shaping abilities.
For pure flavor and a delicate texture, freshly whipped cream can't be beaten. The simplicity of whipped cream also means fewer calories than oil-based whipped toppings.
Knowing when to use each allows you to get the best results for your dessert or recipe. So don't just default to one over the other.