Buttermilk vs Heavy Cream: A Comprehensive Guide

Buttermilk and heavy cream are two dairy products that are often used in cooking and baking. While they may seem similar at first glance, there are some key differences between the two that are important to consider when choosing which one to use in a recipe.

What is Buttermilk?

Buttermilk is a cultured dairy product that is made from the liquid that is left behind after making butter. This liquid is usually made from cow’s milk and is then fermented using lactic acid bacteria, which gives it its distinct sour flavor and thicker texture. Buttermilk is often used in recipes for baked goods, like biscuits, cakes, and pancakes, as it reacts with the baking soda to help the batter rise and become light and fluffy.

Buttermilk vs Heavy Cream

What is Heavy Cream?

Heavy cream, also known as heavy whipping cream, is a type of cream that has a high-fat content of 36% or more. It is made from the high-fat layer of milk that rises to the top of unhomogenized milk. Heavy cream is often used in cooking and baking as a thickener, as well as for making whipped cream, sauces, and soups.

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The Differences Between Buttermilk and Heavy Cream

While buttermilk and heavy cream may look similar, they have distinct differences that make them better suited for different types of recipes. Here are some of the key differences between the two:


The most noticeable difference between buttermilk and heavy cream is their flavor. Buttermilk has a sour, tangy flavor that is a result of the fermentation process, while heavy cream has a mild, slightly sweet flavor that is more neutral.

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Fat Content

Another key difference between buttermilk and heavy cream is their fat content. Buttermilk typically has

a fat content of around 2% to 3%, while heavy cream has a much higher fat content of 36% or more. This makes heavy cream much richer and creamier, which makes it ideal for use in recipes where a thick, creamy texture is desired.

Uses in Cooking and Baking

Buttermilk is commonly used in baked goods as a leavening agent, as the acid in the buttermilk reacts with baking soda to help the batter rise. Heavy cream, on the other hand, is often used as a thickener in recipes, as well as for making whipped cream and sauces.

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Nutritional Value

When it comes to nutritional value, buttermilk and heavy cream also have some differences. Buttermilk is a good source of calcium, vitamin B12, and phosphorus, while heavy cream is higher in calories and fat.

Choosing the Right Dairy Product for Your Recipe

When choosing between buttermilk and heavy cream, it’s important to consider the specific recipe you’re making and what you’re looking to achieve with the final product. For baked goods, buttermilk is the best choice for its ability to help the batter rise and add a tangy flavor. For recipes that require a thick, creamy texture, heavy cream is the better choice.


In conclusion, buttermilk and heavy cream are both versatile dairy products that have different uses in cooking and baking. Understanding the differences between the two will help you make the best choice for your specific recipe, whether you’re looking for a leavening agent, a thickener, or simply a rich, creamy flavor.