Whipping cream and whipped topping may seem similar, but they are quite different ingredients. In this article, we will compare and contrast whipping cream vs. whipped topping, looking at how they are made, their uses, nutrition, cost, taste and more. Read on to learn the key distinctions between these two popular whipped products!
What is Whipping Cream?
Whipping cream, also sometimes called heavy cream, is a dairy product made from the fatty portion of milk. To be classified as whipping cream, the milk fat content must be between 30-40%. The higher fat content gives whipping cream a thicker, richer consistency and allows it to whip up into soft peaks when aerated. Whipping cream contains no added sugars, thickeners or stabilizers – it is pure cream.
When chilled and whipped, the fat molecules in cream partly solidify and encapsulate air bubbles, allowing the cream to form a light foam that holds its shape. Whipped cream is often sweetened with sugar and used as a topping for desserts like pie, cakes, fruit, ice cream and more. It can also be flavored with extracts like vanilla, chocolate or citrus.
Types of Whipping Cream
There are several varieties of whipping cream available:
- Heavy whipping cream – Contains 36-40% milk fat, whips up thick and fluffy.
- Whipping cream – 30-36% milk fat, still whips up but a bit lighter.
- Light whipping cream – Contains 30-36% milk fat and has added milk solids to improve stability.
What is Whipped Topping?
Whipped topping, also called whipped cream topping, is an imitation cream product made from water, vegetable oil, sugar, thickeners, emulsifiers and stabilizers. It may contain some dairy ingredients like milk proteins, but does not contain significant amounts of milk fat like real cream.
The oils, thickeners (like carrageenan) and emulsifiers allow the product to mimic the texture of whipped cream once aerated, while remaining stable and stiff for longer. Common brands of whipped topping include Cool Whip, Rich’s and Dream Whip.
Whipped topping is sold frozen or refrigerated. It is sweeter and lighter than whipped cream, since it contains added sugars. Flavorings like vanilla are also often mixed in. Because it does not contain as much dairy fat, whipped topping holds its shape longer when piped or spooned onto desserts.
Due to the differences in their ingredients, whipping cream and whipped topping also differ in their nutritional value:
|Nutrition Facts||Whipping Cream (1/4 cup)||Whipped Topping (1/4 cup)|
As shown, whipping cream contains significantly more calories and fat compared to whipped topping. Whipped topping has about 4 times less fat than real cream. The fat in whipping cream is also predominantly saturated fat. Whipped topping provides a few grams of carbohydrates and sugar, unlike cream which has minimal carbs naturally.
Whipped topping is generally the cheaper option between the two. An 8-oz tub of whipped topping like Cool Whip can cost around $1-3. Comparatively, 8-oz of whipping cream may cost $2-5 depending on the type and brand. Per ounce, whipping cream is around 2-3 times more expensive than whipped topping.
Whipped topping can be found in larger tubs for even more cost savings, while whipping cream is usually only sold in smaller containers up to 16 oz. The longer shelf life of whipped topping also makes it more economical – it stores in the freezer for 4-6 months unopened. Whipping cream has a much shorter shelf life of just 2-3 weeks.
Taste and Texture
Since it contains pure dairy fat, whipping cream has a richer, sweeter and more natural flavor compared to whipped topping. It provides a smooth, creamy mouthfeel. Whipped topping is lighter in texture, with a sweeter, fluffier and more moussey consistency.
Whipped cream made from real cream also melts and absorbs into desserts and drinks more evenly. The stabilizers in whipped topping can sometimes leave a filmy texture on the tongue. However, whipped topping does hold its shape well when topped onto cakes, pies and hot drinks.
Both whipping cream and whipped topping can be used as a topping, garnish or accompaniment to desserts, drinks, fruits and more. However, their differences means that one or the other may be more suitable for certain applications:
- Cakes/cupcakes – Whipped topping is ideal as it holds its swirled or piped shape well.
- Pies – Whipped cream gives a more authentic taste, but whipped topping works too.
- Hot drinks – Whipped topping holds up better on hot coffee or cocoa.
- Fruit salad – Whipped cream gives a nice creamy complement.
- Milkshakes – Whipping cream blends in smoothly.
- Parfaits – Either works well layered in parfaits and trifles.
So in products where the whipped topping is not subject to melting, both can be used. Where cream may break down too fast, whipped topping has the advantage.
Due to its higher milk fat content, whipping cream is not as stable once whipped. It will start to break down, soften and “weep” liquid faster – usually within 2 hours at room temperature or up to 2 days refrigerated. With its added stabilizers, whipped topping can retain its texture for around 4-6 hours unrefrigerated or 4+ days refrigerated.
Whipping cream and whipped topping may seem interchangeable, but understanding their distinct differences allows you to choose the best option for your needs:
- Whipping cream is a dairy product made from the fatty portion of milk. Whipped topping contains vegetable oil, thickeners and stabilizers instead.
- Whipping cream has more natural dairy flavor while whipped topping is sweeter.
- Whipped cream provides more calories, fat and saturated fat compared to whipped topping.
- Whipped topping costs less and has a longer shelf life unopened.
- Whipped cream works well in products where the topping does not need to hold its shape. Whipped topping is better where stability is required.
So when a recipe calls for whipped cream, be aware substitutions with whipped topping may change the texture and flavor. But whipped topping can be a convenient, budget-friendly alternative in the right applications!