Buttermilk vs. Heavy Cream: Differences & Which One to Use?

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Buttermilk and heavy cream are sometimes used interchangeably, meaning that they have a lot of similar features. However, they cannot always serve as a substitute to one another, which means that they also have some significant differences that make them distinguishable. So, what are the actual differences between buttermilk and heavy cream? 

Heavy cream is known to contain a higher amount of fat, and that is why it is usually used to add fat to other stuff. On the other hand, buttermilk does not contain so much fat, so it is used to make stuff fluffier and lighter. Sometimes, it is possible to use them interchangeably if you know how.

In order to use buttermilk and heavy cream as substitutes, you need to know their features. Otherwise, you will end up with a completely ruined recipe, and that is definitely not what you are looking for. Therefore, in this article, I have compared buttermilk and heavy cream, so you would learn which one would be more appropriate on a certain occasion. 

Is Buttermilk the Same as Heavy Cream?

Even though they come with a lot of similarities, buttermilk, and heavy cream are not the same thing. Namely, they have a lot of different features, and they cannot always be used interchangeably. Even if substitution is possible, you still have to know the right way to do that. 

Both buttermilk and heavy cream are used in baking goods, such as scones, biscuits, cakes, waffles, and so on. However, they can also be used for making marinades, sauces, and similar stuff. In other words, the use of buttermilk and heavy cream is widely spread, so if you are into cooking, you will definitely come across them at some point.

Nonetheless, they cannot always be used interchangeably, although some people think it is possible. This is because their contents are not the same, which means that they have a different effect on the stuff to which they are added. 

For instance, buttermilk has a lighter structure than heavy cream, meaning that it will give a lighter texture to your recipes. On the other hand, heavy cream contains more fat, and it usually contributes to the levels of fat in your recipes. Considering this, it is obvious that they cannot always be used as substitutes to one another, and they are definitely not the same thing. 

Buttermilk Vs. Heavy Cream: Differences

As I already said, there are many similarities between buttermilk and heavy cream, and many times they can substitute one another. However, they also come with a lot of differences, and these differences make them suitable for different purposes. To use them in the right way, you need to familiarize yourself with their actual properties, and you need to learn how their differences affect the recipes in which you include them.

Therefore, below, you will see the comparison that I have made, so you will get a clearer image of the features and properties of buttermilk and heavy cream. 


Both buttermilk and heavy cream are made of cow’s milk. However, in the case of buttermilk, there is low-fat milk in a combination with fermented lactic acid bacteria. Store-bought and homemade buttermilk can differ in ingredients, but they still end up with the same texture. 

For instance, homemade buttermilk is usually made only from heavy cream. However, this is the original recipe for buttermilk, and not many people nowadays tend to make buttermilk from scratch. That is why the use of cultured buttermilk is nowadays widely spread. 

On the other hand, heavy cream is made with the use of whole milk and butter. Since these ingredients are known for high levels of fat, it is logical that heavy cream would be heavier in texture. That is the main reason why heavy cream is usually added to make recipes richer in fat. 

Nutritional Values 

Since they have very similar features, you cannot see significant differences in their nutritional values. [1] Namely, heavy cream is slightly higher in the number of calories in comparison to buttermilk

In addition, heavy cream is richer in calcium, but it does not contain vitamin C as buttermilk does. 

Also, heavy cream contains slightly higher levels of cholesterol, but it contains significantly lower amounts of sodium. Considering these facts, you can see that the nutritional values do not mean much since the differences are really minimal. 

Texture And Flavor

On the outside, buttermilk and heavy cream look pretty much the same. However, if you take a closer look and taste them, you will notice some slight but important distinctions. 

Buttermilk contains less fat than heavy cream, and that is why it is thinner and lighter in texture. On the other hand, heavy cream has a thicker consistency due to the higher amount of fat, and it is usually used to add fat to different recipes that require it. 

When it comes to flavors, buttermilk is known to have a tangy flavor, while heavy cream is sweet and creamy. In addition, if you pay attention, you will notice that buttermilk has a slightly yellow color, while heavy cream is purely white. These differences cannot be immediately spotted, especially if you are new to this.

Buttermilk Or Heavy Cream: Can You Substitute One For Another? 

To be sure when it is okay to substitute buttermilk for heavy cream, or vice versa, you need to know when they are suitable to be used. 

There are recipes that are suitable for buttermilk, but not for heavy cream, and you need to know details like these if you do not want to ruin and waste your food. That is why it is important to learn what kind of recipes allow both buttermilk and heavy cream, so you will be on the safe side when you need to use one of them.

To make your cooking or baking easier, it is wise to learn where buttermilk and heavy cream are most commonly used. You will learn what their properties do in combination with other ingredients, so you will be more aware of how you use them. 

When Do You Use Buttermilk? 

Buttermilk is a more suitable option for baked goods that need to be softer and fluffier in texture. Since it has a tangy flavor, it is the perfect addition to recipes that need a little bit of acidity in their content. In other words, it can be said that buttermilk is quite flexible, and its tangy flavor would not mess up your recipes. 

This being said, it is convenient to mention some of the recipes where buttermilk is commonly used. For instance, buttermilk is usually used with fried chicken in order to conceive the crunchiness and crispiness of the chicken skin. Also, it can be used as a healthier option for a salad dressing, such as the dressing of Caesar’s salad.

Furthermore, you can use it in mashed potatoes to achieve a creamy and tasty texture. Also, buttermilk is used when making bread, for example, cornbread. With the use of buttermilk, the cornbread becomes fluffy and soft, which are the basic features that you desire in homemade bread. 

When Do You Use Heavy Cream? 

Heavy cream is mainly used in desserts, but also in appetizers and main courses. Since it has a sweeter taste, it can be used in a wide variety of dishes for intensifying the flavors and the tastes. 

For instance, it is usually used in pasta sauces, such as the Alfredo sauce because that is how the texture becomes thicker and suitable for pasta. 

Also, heavy cream is a great ingredient for holding the shape of pasta as well as pastries. In addition, it is used in baked goods because of the high amount of fat, so it gives the fluffy crusts that everyone likes in them. 

I already mentioned that heavy cream has a creamy texture, and that’s why people use it to make cream soups and salad dressing.

The greatest feature of heavy cream is its possibility to be whipped and turned into ice cream. Similarly, you can use it to make panna cotta, chocolate ganache, Irish cream, etc. 

Also, you can use it for dessert toppings, or for the fillings of scones. It will also taste great with pancakes, meaning that it is the perfect addition to baked goods. 

Note that heavy cream is not the same as whipping cream. Compared to heavy cream, whipping cream is sweeter and has less fat. More precisely, heavy cream contains between 35% and 40% of fat, while whipping cream has only 30%. 

buttermilk vs heavy cream

How Can You Replace Buttermilk With Heavy Cream Or Vise Versa? 

As I mentioned previously, buttermilk and heavy cream are not always able to be used as substitutes. You have read about their properties, so you are probably already aware of what I am talking about. 

However, when you can replace one for the other you need to be careful and do that in an appropriate way. 

For instance, if you do not have buttermilk for your recipe, but you need its acidity, you may use heavy cream with a splash of lemon or vinegar, depending on what your recipe allows. 

On the other hand, if you need to make a cake or bread, you can easily use heavy cream instead of buttermilk, but you have to consider that they will not be as fluffy as you expect. To achieve the fluffiness you need and successfully substitute buttermilk with heavy cream, you will have to combine heavy cream with baking powder. 

Nonetheless, if your recipe calls for heavy cream because it can be whipped, buttermilk is not an option as a substitute. This is because buttermilk does not have whippable features, and it will be of no use in a recipe that calls for it. Also, buttermilk would not be a good substitute in recipes that need a higher amount of fat since it is actually made of low-fat milk. 

Since this can be a little bit confusing, you can always follow the rule of the thumb. That means that you need to consider two things – buttermilk gives you light and fluffy textures, while heavy cream gives you rich and thick textures. So, when you need strictly those textures, consider that using replacing one for another is not an option. 

To make things easier for you, I have prepared a table that will help you in your baking and cooking. This table will be your cheat sheet, and you will always know when it is better to use buttermilk, and when it is better to opt for heavy cream. This way, you can easily prepare your ingredients and avoid wasting any food or ingredients that might be needed for a certain recipe. 

When is it better to use buttermilk?When is it better to use heavy cream? 
Bread Pastries 
Mashed potatoes Pastry fillings 
Fried chickenIce cream 
Salad dressingDessert toppings 
Fish marinadePancakes

As you could see from the information above, buttermilk and heavy cream are not easily used as substitutes. There are occasions in which you can use them interchangeably, but you still have to know their properties if your intention is to replace one for the other. When you know their features, you cannot go wrong with your choices. 

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