Whipping cream and condensed milk are two common dairy ingredients used in baking, cooking, and beverages.
While they share some similarities, there are several important differences between these two ingredients that impact how they are used in recipes.
What is Whipping Cream?
Whipping cream, also known as heavy cream in some countries, is a high-fat dairy cream that contains at least 30% milkfat.
It is made by separating the fat from fresh milk. The layer of fat that rises to the top is skimmed off to collect the whipping cream.
The exact standards for milkfat percentage in whipping cream varies by country:
- In the U.S., whipping cream must have 30-36% milkfat.
- In Canada, whipping cream has 33-35% milkfat.
- In the U.K., it's usually referred to as double cream and has around 48% milkfat.
Whipping cream is not processed significantly beyond separating the fat from the milk. It does not contain any added sugars or stabilizers.
It has a pale white color and a rich, creamy taste from the high fat content. Whipping cream is perishable and must be refrigerated. Unopened, it will last 7-10 days past the printed expiration date.
Key Takeaway: Whipping cream is the high-fat layer skimmed off the top of fresh milk. It contains at least 30% milkfat.
What is Condensed Milk?
Condensed milk is milk that has been concentrated by evaporating off around 60% of the water content. It is also nearly always sweetened with sugar.
Sweetened condensed milk contains about 40-45% sugar, which gives it a very thick, sticky texture and a glossy appearance.
It is made by heating milk and sugar together under vacuum to boil off water while preventing the milk from burning. The condensed milk is then canned to preserve it.
Condensed milk has a creamy yellow color and a very sweet flavor. It is shelf-stable and can be stored unopened at room temperature for many months. Refrigerate after opening and use within 2 weeks.
Key Takeaway: Condensed milk is milk that has been concentrated and sweetened by removing most of the water and adding sugar.
Whipping Cream vs Condensed Milk Comparison
Here is an overview comparing the characteristics of whipping cream versus condensed milk:
|Whipping Cream||Condensed Milk|
|A high-fat dairy cream separated from milk||Milk that has been concentrated and sweetened|
|Contains 30-48% milkfat||Contains 8-9% milkfat|
|No added sugar||Has 40-45% added sugar|
|Thin, pourable liquid||Very thick and sticky|
|Off-white color||Caramel yellow color|
|Rich, creamy flavor||Very sweet flavor|
|Must be refrigerated||Shelf-stable when unopened|
|Lasts 7-10 days refrigerated||Lasts months unopened|
|Made by separating fat from milk||Made by evaporating water and adding sugar|
|Higher in fat, lower in carbs/sugar||Lower in fat, very high in carbs/sugar|
|More versatile for savory and sweet recipes||Mainly used in desserts|
Let's go over these differences in more detail:
Consistency and Texture
The most noticeable difference is in the consistency and texture. Whipping cream is thin and pourable, while condensed milk is extremely thick and sticky like a glue or syrup.
This is because whipping cream is simply the fat from milk, whereas condensed milk has had up to 60% of the water removed to concentrate it down to a thick liquid.
Whipping cream is very high in fat since it's purified milkfat, with a minimum of 30% fat and up to 48% typically.
Condensed milk retains the original fat content of milk, around 8-9% fat. Much of the water is removed but the fat remains the same.
An important distinction is that whipping cream contains no added sugars and only has the natural lactose found in milk.
But condensed milk has a large amount of added sugar, between 40-45% by weight. This high sugar concentration is what gives condensed milk its characteristic gooeyness and sweet flavor.
Whipping cream is an off-white pale cream color, similar to the color of whole milk.
Condensed milk develops a darker caramel yellow or light brown hue from the sugars cooking down during processing.
Whipping cream is highly perishable since it's a fresh dairy product. It must be kept refrigerated and lasts about a week past the expiration date when unopened.
On the other hand, canned condensed milk is very shelf-stable. Unopened cans have a shelf life of many months to over a year at room temperature. Refrigerate after opening.
Given its pure fat content, whipping cream is very high in calories, providing about 50 calories per tablespoon. It's also high in saturated fat. But it does contain vitamins A and D, calcium, and some protein.
Condensed milk is slightly lower in calories by weight, but almost all of those calories come from added sugar with little nutritional value. However, it does still provide calcium, vitamin B12, and some protein.
Whipping cream is fairly inexpensive since it requires minimal processing. Condensed milk is more expensive to make since it must be carefully concentrated and involves adding refined sugar. So condensed milk generally costs more.
Whipping cream has a rich dairy flavor and creamy mouthfeel from all the milkfat. It has only a slight sweet taste.
Condensed milk is extremely sweet due to all the added sugar used to make it. It has a thicker, more syrupy mouthfeel as well.
Uses for Whipping Cream vs Condensed Milk
Whipping cream and condensed milk each serve important roles in recipes based on their distinct qualities. Here are the typical uses for each:
Whipping Cream Uses
- Whipped cream
- Adding richness and creamy texture
- Making creamy sauces and soups
- Adding body and flavor to coffee drinks
- Moistening cakes and desserts
- Making ice cream and custards
- Can be used in both sweet and savory recipes
Condensed Milk Uses
- Adding sweetness, viscosity, and body
- Binding ingredients together
- Creating glossy finishes on desserts
- Making candy, fudge, and caramel
- Flavoring and sweetening coffee drinks
- Most often used in baking desserts
Whipping cream is more versatile as it can be used to add rich dairy flavor in both sweet baked goods as well as savory dishes like creamy pasta sauces or soups.
Condensed milk is predominantly used in sweets to add body, sticky texture, and plenty of sweetness at once.
However, they aren't always completely interchangeable in recipes, which we'll explore next.
Can You Substitute Whipping Cream for Condensed Milk?
You can substitute whipping cream for condensed milk in some recipes, but you'll need to:
- Add sugar - since whipping cream has no added sweetness, you'll need to incorporate white granulated sugar along with the cream. Use about 1/4 to 1/3 cup sugar per 1 cup cream.
- Reduce any other sweeteners - balance the added sugar by cutting back on other sugars in the recipe.
- Cook it down - simmer the cream and sugar mixture for 5-10 minutes to thicken it closer to a condensed milk texture.
The results may not be quite as thick, sticky, or sweet as condensed milk. But whipping cream with sugar added can work decently in a pinch.
Reduce the cream by about 1/4 to 1/3 when substituting for condensed milk or the recipe may end up too thin.
Can You Substitute Condensed Milk for Whipping Cream?
It's a bit trickier to use condensed milk when a recipe calls for whipping cream. Here are some tips:
- Dilute with milk - thin out condensed milk to closer to whipping cream consistency by mixing with milk at about a 1:1 ratio
- Reduce sweetness - cut back on other sugars in the recipe since condensed milk is so sweet
- Limit to sweets - condensed milk won't work as well in savory dishes that need whipping cream's fresh dairy flavor
- Adjust consistency - you may need to use thickeners like cornstarch or extra eggs to make up for condensed milk's thicker texture
Condensed milk is generally too thick, sweet, and syrupy to perfectly stand in for whipping cream in most recipes. But with careful tweaking, it can work in a bind when whipping cream is unavailable.
Other Substitutions for Whipping Cream or Condensed Milk
Some other ingredients that can potentially stand in for whipping cream or condensed milk include:
- Evaporated milk - add sugar to equal condensed milk; dilute with milk for whipping cream
- Half and half - won't whip but can sub for whipping cream in some recipes
- Whole milk - thicken with butter or cornstarch; add sugar for sweetness
- Heavy cream - has higher fat than whipping cream but can sub for it
- Mascarpone - has a thick, creamy texture similar to condensed milk
- Yogurt - best for whipping cream; dilute with milk and add sugar
- Cream cheese - can mimic some properties of both but gives a tangy flavor
- Coconut cream - for a dairy-free whipping cream substitute; may alter flavor
Can you whip condensed milk?
No, condensed milk cannot be whipped because it doesn't contain enough fat. Whipping relies on heavy cream's high fat content to incorporate air and create fluffy whipped cream. The low fat in condensed milk means it won't whip up.
Is condensed milk healthier than whipping cream?
No, whipping cream is healthier overall. While high in fat, whipping cream is a natural dairy product. Condensed milk has added sugar with little nutritional value. However, both should be consumed in moderation.
Can you make whipped cream from evaporated milk?
Not usually. Evaporated milk only has around 5-10% fat, while whipping cream needs at least 30% fat in order to whip up. Adding sugar or gelatin to evaporated milk can help stabilize it a bit, but it still won't whip up like heavy cream.
Is condensed milk good in coffee?
Yes, adding a dollop of condensed milk to coffee is popular in many parts of the world. The condensed milk provides sweetness and a creamy, frothy texture. It pairs especially well with iced coffee rather than hot coffee.
Does condensed milk curdle?
Yes, condensed milk can curdle if boiled or added to extremely hot solutions. The proteins may curdle and separate similar to what happens with regular milk. To prevent curdling, mix condensed milk into lukewarm ingredients instead of boiling liquids.
Whipping cream and condensed milk have significantly different nutritional values, textures, flavors, and ideal uses in recipes based on how they are produced.
Understanding the unique qualities of each allows you to use them properly. While they can occasionally be swapped, each brings distinct characteristics that suit certain foods and beverages.