Cream is surprisingly complicated, as it comes in multiple grades based on the fat content, with the names for these grades varying from country to country. If you’re in the United States, then the term light cream should be familiar (elsewhere, a similar product may be called single cream, table cream, or coffee cream.
Regardless of name, you’re generally looking at a fat content of between 18% and 30%. It’s the type of cream that you’ll often add to coffee, use in a creamy sauce, or even include in a cocktail.
In contrast, heavy cream typically has a fat content of 36% or above, while half and half is somewhere between 10.5% and 18%. These differences in fat content matter, as the amount of fat influences how the product behaves in your recipe. Too much fat might overwhelm other ingredients, while too little fat gives you a runny sauce instead of a creamy one.
Thankfully, there are plenty of decent substitutes for light cream, including blended silken tofu, half and half, diluted heavy cream, and even milk with melted butter. To get the desired effect, you need to choose the right ingredient for your recipe. So, let’s look at the options and what each offers.
Half And Half
Half and half is a decent substitute for light cream, as the flavor and fat content are similar. Some recipes will even taste exactly the same, regardless of whether you use half and half or light cream. Simply use a 1:1 substitution of light cream to half and half, then you’re good to go.
You can also make your own version by combining 3/4 cup of whole milk with 1/4 cup of heavy cream. Or, try half a cup of whole milk with half a cup of heavy cream. This will bring the fat content closer to that of light cream.
There are some vegan half and half products out there. These get pretty close to the flavor and texture of half and half, but they’re more processed and may rely on additives. While the processing and additives aren’t ideal, it’s still nice to have a convenient vegan option.
Diluted Heavy Cream
Heavy cream has the same properties as light cream – it just contains more fat. Because of this, you’ll sometimes be able to simply use heavy cream instead of light cream, even as a 1:1 replacement. Doing so would make your dish thicker and creamier but still delicious.
Still, most of the time, you’ll need to decrease the fat content, at least a little. Diluting with milk works the best, as you’re not changing the flavor profile at all. However, you could also dilute your cream with water or with plant-based milk.
The ratio of ingredients will vary depending your recipe and what you’re diluting with. For example, cream for a cocktail might need to be more diluted than cream for a sauce.
If you’re not sure, start with just a small amount of water/milk/plant-based milk and see how your recipe is impacted. You can always add more liquid if your initial dilution isn’t sufficient.
Blended Silken Tofu
Of course, you won’t always have cream or half and half on hand. Or, perhaps you want a non-dairy ingredient instead. Surprising as it may seem, blended silken tofu is one of your best options (not just for vegans either, this substitution works well even if you enjoy dairy).
This substitute is popular because tofu thickens your dishes, making them creamy in the process. Tofu is also low in fat and nutritious, so it’s also a healthier ingredient than heavy cream.
This is an easy substitute to make too. Simply replace each cup of light cream in your recipe with a cup of blended tofu. Make sure you use silken tofu specifically. Regular tofu doesn’t have the same creaminess and would be a strange addition to most recipes.
Whole Milk And Melted Butter
Combining whole milk and butter is another idea that sounds strange at face value. This one works because the butter adds to the fat content of your milk, giving it a similar creaminess to light cream.
You’ll need to be cautious when combining the melted butter and cold milk, as the temperature difference can easily lead to separation. Try beating the butter and adding milk slowly – allowing plenty of time for the mixture to cool as you go.
A cup of whole milk and three tablespoons of butter is an excellent starting point for this substitution (make sure you use unsalted butter!). Some people decrease the milk content a little, which then raises the fat content of their final product.
This substitution is best when you’re cooking, like in a sauce or soup. You’ll often end up with a slightly runnier sauce, which can be easily thickened with a little cornstarch.
Combining milk and butter doesn’t work nearly as well in your coffee or poured over desserts, as the combination of butter and milk doesn’t really taste like cream.
Plant-Based Milk And Plant-Based Margarine
You can make a plant-based version of the previous substitute by combining plant-based milk with melted plant-based butter. If you can’t find an appropriate plant-based product (one that will actually melt!), try using light olive oil instead.
Here, you’ll often be looking for around 2/3 cup of plant-based milk and 1/3 cup of your melted butter or oil. Experimenting is crucial here, as the fat content can vary dramatically between products. So, play around with the ratios of your ingredients until you get a texture that’s similar to light cream.
Like the previous example, this substitution is fantastic for cooking and doesn’t work as well in other situations. It won’t whip up like regular light cream either, so it doesn’t work well in desserts.
Some cream-based recipes don’t actually need the fat content that comes with cream. As a result, you may be able to turn to regular milk instead of cream. Plant-based milk is a viable option too, especially the fattier options, like coconut milk.
Such substitutions also work well when you’re trying to be healthy. After all, you don’t really need cream in your coffee, oatmeal, or grits. Using milk instead still works and gives you a healthier dish.
If your dish isn’t thick enough with milk alone, try whisking in some cornstarch. This thickens the mixture and is a great approach for soups and sauces. Cornstarch and milk is viable for some desserts too. Other times, you might need to use gelatin and milk instead.
Milk is a good option as it’s such a common household ingredient. You might even freeze some for later use.
Coconut cream is high in fat and creamy, so it’s a great way to make dishes more decadent. Plus, coconut cream is shelf stable until it’s opened, allowing you to keep a can in your cupboard for emergencies.
There’s one big issue though – the distinct coconut flavor. This complements some dishes, especially desserts and meals with tropical flavors. But, other recipes don’t work well with coconut cream at all. For example, coconut flavored alfredo is just plain weird.
Coconut milk can work in a pinch as well. This is basically a more diluted version of the same product, so you’ll simply need a way to thicken it. Cornstarch and gelatin are viable options here too.
Cauliflower cream is a cream-based sauce that is made using cauliflower, vegetable broth, and a handful of other ingredients. It’s most often used as a type of dairy free pasta sauce, but you could also use it as a light cream substitute.
Here, you’ll typically use 3/4 cup of cauliflower cream for each cup of light cream in the recipe. This should give you the right consistency for your recipes.
Evaporated milk has a fat content of around 6.5%, so it isn’t as good substitute as many others. Still, it’s a very convenient option, as an unopened can of evaporated milk will often last a year, if not longer.
The product is simply milk with some of the water removed. As a result, it has a familiar milk-like flavor, but is much thicker and less watery than milk. The evaporation process also heats the milk, which makes it a touch sweeter than regular milk.
If the fat content is too low, consider mixing some cornstarch or flour into the milk to make it thicker. Here, you’ll want a cup of evaporated milk and 1/4 tablespoon of thickener for every cup of light cream in your recipe.
Yogurt And Sour Cream
Yogurt and sour cream have a similar consistency, so we’re lumping them together for this entry. While both are thicker than light cream, you can easily dilute them with a little milk if needed (this is especially true for Greek yogurt, which is thicker than regular yogurt).
That said, some recipes won’t require dilution at all. You’ll simply get a little more texture from yogurt than from light cream.
The biggest issue here is the flavor. These products have a distinctive tanginess. The flavor note works in unexpected places, but won’t suit every recipe. Opinions also vary. So, while some people may like pasta sauce made using Greek yogurt, others might hate it instead. Then again, it’s impossible to please everyone.
Creamer is an obvious replacement for cream in your coffee, as that’s what it’s designed for. However, you can use coffee creamer in completely different situations too.
Some people even include coffee creamer as an ingredient in soup, mashed potatoes, and other savory dishes. Of course, the effect varies from product to product.
The best creamers are relatively high in fat and free from added flavors. Or, if you choose a flavored version (like pumpkin spice coffee creamer), make sure it complements the recipe you’re working on.
While coffee creamers often rely on dairy, there are some vegan friendly options as well. These are designed to have the same texture and effect as regular coffee creamers, making them a fantastic option.
Half and half or coffee creamer are the most obvious choices for your coffee, as they have a similar flavor profile and offer some fat. Coconut cream is excellent if you need a plant-based alternative instead.
You could also go for milk or plant-based milk. However, while those are common coffee additions, they don’t have the rich creaminess found with light cream.
Blended silken tofu is one of the best vegan light cream substitutes for cooking or for some desserts, but it doesn’t work so well for coffee or cocktails. For those situations, you may need to turn to coconut cream, plant-based milk, or a processed vegan coffee creamer.
Half and half works well with cooking too, provided you don’t need too much creaminess. You can also turn to the combo of whole milk and melted butter. This has a higher fat content, so it adds more thickness and creaminess to your recipes.
Blended silken tofu works well in many desserts, especially if you need a thick and decadent texture. Coconut cream is also an excellent addition, as long as you don’t mind a distinct coconut flavor.
If you’re making a dessert cocktail or some other light treat, half and half is the way to go.