But what exactly is the difference between these two popular ingredients?
Cream cheese and heavy cream have the following nutrition profiles per 100 grams, according to the USDA :
As the table shows, both cream cheese and heavy cream are high in calories, total fat and saturated fat. Heavy cream contains slightly more total fat and saturated fat per gram.
Heavy cream also provides more vitamin A and a good amount of vitamin D, while cream cheese has more calcium and considerably more protein.
So while both can add richness, heavy cream offers more fat-soluble vitamins, and cream cheese provides more bone-building calcium and satisfying protein.
Key Takeaway: Cream cheese and heavy cream both contain high amounts of calories, fat, and saturated fat. Heavy cream has more saturated fat and vitamins A and D, while cream cheese provides more calcium and protein.
The ingredients in cream cheese and heavy cream also differ:
- Cream cheese is made by culturing cream and milk with lactic acid bacteria, along with salt, stabilizers and emulsifiers in some commercial varieties.
- Heavy cream only contains cream, sometimes with thickeners, emulsifiers or stabilizers added.
So cream cheese requires culturing and usually more additives to create its distinctive tangy, spreadable texture. Heavy cream is simply the fatty layer skimmed from milk, though stabilizers help some commercial versions achieve better whipping properties.
Despite their differences, cream cheese and heavy cream work well in a variety of recipes:
Cream Cheese Uses
- Cheesecake, dips, spreads
- Frostings, fillings
- Bagels with cream cheese
- Cream cheese icing
Heavy Cream Uses
- Whipped cream
- Ice cream
- Soups like chowders or bisques
- Sauces and gravies
- Custards and puddings
- Creamy pasta dishes
Cream cheese shines in sweeter applications like frostings, dips and cheesecake where its tangy flavor stands out. Heavy cream is more often used in savory dishes like pasta, seafood, sauces that benefit from its rich, creamy texture.
However, don’t be afraid to use them interchangeably in moderation in recipes where one is specified when their flavors will still work. Just keep in mind differences in tanginess, fat content and liquid vs. spreadable consistencies.
You can substitute cream cheese and heavy cream for one another in a 1:1 ratio in some cases, though the taste and textures may differ.
Some examples of quantity substitutions:
- 1 cup heavy cream = 1 cup cream cheese
- 1 tbsp cream cheese = 1 tbsp heavy cream
You can also use the following dairy and non-dairy substitutes:
Cream Cheese Substitutes
- Greek yogurt
- Cottage cheese
- Silken tofu
Heavy Cream Substitutes
- Whole milk + butter
- Half and half + butter
- Coconut cream
- Soy milk + olive oil
- Greek yogurt + milk
When making substitutions, opt for ingredients with similar fat and moisture contents to get as close as possible to the original. Testing out small batch recipes first can help you adjust amounts to suit your tastes.
Storing Cream Cheese and Heavy Cream
Proper storage is important for preserving freshness and shelf life. In general:
- Refrigerate both cream cheese and heavy cream at 40°F or below.
- Store cream cheese tightly wrapped for 1-2 weeks.
- Keep heavy cream for 5-7 days. Heavy cream can last longer when ultra-pasteurized.
- Heavy cream can be frozen for longer storage. Thaw in fridge before using.
Always check package dates and use opened cream cheese and heavy cream within the times listed above. Discard if mold develops or you notice any unpleasant odors or textures.
Whipping Ability Differences
Whipped cream is made by whisking cold heavy cream with sugar until fluffy and billowy. The same process doesn’t work as well with cream cheese.
This is because heavy cream contains at least 30% milk fat, allowing it to incorporate air and hold its whipped shape. Cream cheese has less fat at around 33% and a much denser texture.
So while substituting cream cheese for heavy cream or vice versa can work in some recipes, you won’t be able to whip cream cheese on its own into airy, sweetened peaks.
If you want to make a whipped cream substitute with cream cheese, try mixing equal parts softened cream cheese and Greek yogurt. The yogurt provides tanginess while the cream cheese contributes fat and structure. Mix in sugar or other flavorings like vanilla to taste.
Baking Substitution Differences
While cream cheese and heavy cream both add richness in baking applications, they serve different culinary purposes:
- Cream cheese provides flavor, protein and structure. It’s often used as a key component in cheesecakes, frostings, dips and spreads.
- Heavy cream mainly contributes fat and moisture. It helps make cake batters, fillings and doughs tender while providing richness.
So in baked goods, cream cheese should be thought of more as an essential ingredient while heavy cream acts as a moisture-boosting enhancement.
You can sometimes carefully swap them for one another by adjusting liquid contents. But expect changes in taste, texture and structure when replacing all the cream cheese in a recipe with heavy cream or vice versa.
Nutrition and Diet Differences
Here is how cream cheese and heavy cream compare if you are watching calories, fat, carbs or specific nutrients:
- Calories: Cream cheese and heavy cream have nearly equal calorie densities at around 325-350 calories per 3.5 ounces (100 grams). So there is little difference nutritionally if you use small amounts of either. However, heavy cream has more fat calories as a percentage, while cream cheese provides some protein and carbohydrates.
- Fat & saturated fat: Heavy cream contains more total fat and saturated fat per serving - about 2-3 extra grams per tablespoon. So cream cheese would be the better choice for limiting fats.
- Carbs: Cream cheese has slightly more digestible carbs from milk sugars (lactose). Just 2-3g net carbs per ounce, but something to consider for low carb/keto diets.
- Protein: Cream cheese contains 2-3 times more protein than heavy cream. So it offers more nutritional benefits if you are adding it to dishes for a protein boost.
- Vitamin D: Heavy cream naturally provides this important, hard-to-get vitamin. Just 2 tablespoons supplies 25% of your daily vitamin D.
So in terms of nutrition, cream cheese has a slight edge if you are watching saturated fats, carbs and calories. But heavy cream offers the benefit of vitamin D along with its rich flavor.
Heavy cream typically costs slightly less than cream cheese. Based on average U.S. nationwide prices:
- Heavy cream: $2.50 per pint
- Cream cheese: $2.00 for 8 ounces
The exact price differential depends on brand, fat percentage, organic labeling and other factors. But you’ll usually pay a bit less for heavy cream on a per-ounce basis compared to cream cheese.
The different ingredients and production methods give cream cheese and heavy cream distinctive flavors:
- Cream cheese has a fresh yet tangy, acidic taste thanks to culturing with lactic acid bacteria. It provides a rich dairyness along with signature tang.
- Heavy cream tastes purely rich, sweet and indulgent with a buttery, fatty flavor. It provides creamy richness without much tang or cheese-like sharpness.
So while both impact dishes through their richness, cream cheese’s tang makes it ideal for pairing with things like fruit and baked goods. Heavy cream’s neutral flavor blends seamlessly into savory dishes like Alfredo sauce without altering tastes much.
What is the difference between cream cheese and heavy whipping cream?
Heavy whipping cream and heavy cream are the same product. They refer to the high-fat cream skimmed from milk that whips up easily into peaks. Cream cheese is a cultured cheese made from milk and cream that has a softer, spreadable texture.
Is it OK to substitute cream cheese for heavy cream?
Yes, cream cheese can work as a 1:1 substitute for heavy cream in some recipes depending on flavor preferences. The tanginess may come through more strongly depending on the dish. Expect possible texture differences as well since cream cheese is thicker.
Can you make whipped cream with cream cheese?
It's difficult to whip plain cream cheese into airy whipped cream, but mixing equal parts cream cheese and Greek yogurt then whipping creates a nice stabilized whipped topping. Add sugar and flavorings as desired. The yogurt provides tang while the cream cheese lends fat and richness.
Is cream cheese or heavy cream healthier?
Heavy cream has more vitamins A and D, but cream cheese contains less saturated fat. Cream cheese also provides some protein, calcium and carbohydrates absent in heavy cream. Overall nutrition is comparable if you use small amounts of either. Heavy cream packs more fatty calories as a percentage, while cream cheese offers more overall nutrients.
Why is heavy cream cheaper than cream cheese?
Heavy cream requires less processing since it's just the fatty portion of milk. Cream cheese must be cultured, stabilized, molded, packaged appropriately, etc. So heavy cream costs less to get from dairy farm to grocery store shelves. However, prices vary based on brand, milk type, percent butterfat, organic classification and more.
Cream cheese and heavy cream — two of the most beloved high-fat dairy products used in cooking and baking. While they share traits like richness and creaminess, they differ in meaningful ways when it comes to nutrition, taste, best uses and substitutability.
Cream cheese brings protein, tangy flavor and structure thanks to culturing cream and milk into a spreadable cheese.
Heavy cream is pure thickened dairy fat, bringing lush richness and body to dishes and drinks.