Crème fraiche and heavy cream are both dairy products commonly used worldwide. They have multiple purposes and are a treasured addition, like sauces, in many dishes. Still, they have differences, and you can’t always substitute one for the other. So what are the differences between Crème fraiche and heavy cream, and which is better?
Both crème fraiche and heavy cream are derivatives of dairy milk. But, their purposes are quite different, and it’s virtually impossible to say that one is better than the other. While heavy cream is essentially buttermilk, crème fraiche is cultured heavy cream.
Since these two types of cream are widely available and very commonly used, they find their place in many households and restaurants. I like to experiment with their uses, but those experiments are not always successful. So, I will share with you the differences between them, their intended uses, and the nutritional value they provide.
Crème Fraiche vs. Heavy Cream: Differences
Even though they come from the same source, dairy milk, crème fraiche, and heavy cream are considered two different types of cream. Made of the top layer of the milk, which separates when the milk is heated, heavy cream is the fattier one, with 36 to 40% fat, while crème fraiche contains about 30%.
The heavy cream production process is quite simple, and there are many recipes for making it at home. The milk is heated until the top fatty layer separates from the rest of the milk, which is less dense. Before the milk homogenizes, the butterfat is skimmed off, and voila, heavy cream.
Crème fraiche, on the other hand, is made of heavy cream, whereby the heavy cream goes through a fermentation process triggered by bacterial culture. This process works by adding Lacto bacteria (milk bacteria) to the heavy cream, altering its taste, consistency, and texture. The fermentation period can vary anywhere from 12 to 24 hours, depending on its thickening speed.
In terms of texture, crème fraiche, is pretty thick, creamy, of course, and it curdles. It has the consistency of mayonnaise or thick yogurt. Heavy cream is fatty, but it isn’t as thick as crème fraiche. Generally, the thickness of the heavy cream depends on the amount of buttermilk contained in the top layer of the dairy milk.
However, the standard rule of thumb is that crème fraiche is thicker than heavy cream but not as heavy, and heavy cream is fattier but not as thick. Therefore, one might say that heavy cream is more of a very thick liquid than stable cream.
In addition to their different consistencies, crème fraiche and heavy cream taste differently. Heavy cream is more neutral tasting, and it finds its place in sweat and savory dishes. However, it still has a distinctly rich, buttery, and creamy taste. Crème fraiche is a bit of a different story- tangy, slightly sour, and mildly salty, it is more restrictive in its use.
Because of its neutral yet rich flavor, heavy cream is perfect for sauce base, as a thickener, or as an addition to custard desserts. It is also an excellent addition to any dish that needs creaminess, for DIY cheese such as ricotta and paneer, and anywhere where you want to add the buttery richness of heavy cream.
Crème fraiche offers fewer combinations than heavy cream, but it’s a wide range of opportunities nonetheless. You can’t use it as a sauce base, but it fits perfectly as a sauce thickener, salad dressing, or roasted meat topping, as well as on top of fruit salads, with a pinch of sugar. It also does wonders in omelets or smeared on top of baked goods.
Although seductive, crème fraiche is highly saturated with fats, and only two tablespoons can account for 35% of your daily fat needs. It isn’t a rich source of vitamins and minerals, though it does contain a good amount of calcium. Still, it has some benefits, as it is low in carbohydrates, making it an excellent choice for a low-carb diet.
Although it contains fewer calories than heavy cream, crème fraiche should be consumed in moderation and shouldn’t be a part of your daily diet. The Lacto bacteria make creme fraiche good for your gut health, but it doesn’t do much for the overall health.  Also, it is very low in protein.
Heavy cream is even more saturated with fats and calories than crème fraiche, but surprisingly enough, its health benefits are more versatile. Heavy cream contains vitamins that help dissolve fat, such as vitamins A, D, E, and K, and Calcium, Chlorine, and Phosphorus. It also contains low amounts of carbohydrates and protein, and its protein value is more significant than in crème fraiche.
Although beneficial for bone health and an overall rich source of vitamins, its consumption should still be moderate.
Overall, crème fraiche and heavy cream are not something to overdo. Both should be used sporadically and not in large quantities.
To sum up the differences between heavy cream and crème fraiche, here is the table that says it all.
|Heavy cream Vs. crème fraiche- differences||Heavy cream||Crème fraiche|
|Production||Skimmed from dairy milk.||Fermented heavy crème.|
|Texture||Thick, but still liquid.||Thick and creamy.|
|Use||As a thickener, sauce base, whipped cream, desserts, or anywhere to add creaminess.||As an addition to sauces, salad dressing, meat topping, on top of fruit salads, as an addition to baked goods or omelets.|
|Nutrition value||High fat, high calorie, a rich source of vitamins A, D, E, and K. It also contains Calcium, Phosphorus, and Chlorine. Low amount of carbohydrates and protein.||High fat, high calorie, but still lower than heavy cream. It contains significant amounts of calcium, but it doesn’t contain vitamins. Low in carbohydrates and protein.|
|Health impact||Good bone health and overall health benefits from the high amounts of vitamins. However, it should be consumed in moderation because of the high-fat amount.||Good for gut health, it doesn’t have other health benefits. It isn’t as fatty and caloric as heavy cream.|
|Taste||Rich buttery taste, but still neutral.||Tangy, slightly sour, and mildly salty.|
Crème Fraiche vs. Heavy Cream: Which Is Better?
Whichever you choose would be incorrect. Both creme fraiche and heavy cream have advantages and disadvantages, and their use depends on the final goal and the consumer’s taste. It is impossible to choose one over the other because it is better.
Crème fraiche combines better with baked goods, fruit salads, a salad dressing, roasted meat topping, or added in a pan sauce. Essentially, crème fraiche is an excellent addition to dishes that need a bit more character, tang, and zest.
Heavy cream is the perfect solution wherever you need extra creaminess and thickness. It does wonders as a sauce base, thickener, or custard desserts. It also works great for DIY cheeses.
Crème Fraiche vs. Heavy Cream: Which Is Better for Chili?
Because it doesn’t originally contain any thickeners, chilly can be a little runny, so heavy cream is a good idea instead of flour or cornstarch.
Crème fraiche wouldn’t fit well in this combination, as it would add tang and mild sourness to the dish, which isn’t a good flavor choice here. Also, the thick texture of the crème fraiche would overwhelm the dish.
Crème Fraiche vs. Heavy Cream: Which Is Better for Pasta?
Heavy cream is the obvious winner here, as one of its primary purposes is to serve as a sauce base. When gradually heated, it thickens additionally, making it perfect for any white pasta sauce. Still, crème fraiche could serve as a nice garnish to the main heavy cream sauce.
Crème Fraiche vs. Heavy Cream: Which Is Better for Scrambled Eggs?
Crème fraiche is an excellent addition to scrambled eggs. It thickens the consistency of the eggs, and it also adds flavors that combine excellently with the taste of pan-made eggs. Heavy cream wouldn’t be a good fit here, as it would make the omelet runny instead of creamy.
Crème Fraiche Vs. Heavy Cream: Which Is Better for Soup?
Generally, both can do an excellent job in this regard. However, crème fraiche is more frequently used as a soup addition because it adds sourness and zest. On the other hand, heavy crème could also do nicely adding creaminess, so essentially, this would be a judgment call and taste preference.
Crème Fraiche vs. Heavy Cream: Which Is Better for Frosting?
Here the odds favor heavy cream because of its neutral and buttery taste. On the other hand, creme fraiche is no stranger to frosting either. However, since frosting usually goes on top of sweet-tasting food, the safer choice would be heavy cream.
Can You Substitute Crème Fraiche for Heavy Cream?
Since they both come from the same source, crème fraiche could substitute for heavy cream, but not everywhere, and of course, the dishes won’t taste the same. As a thickener, crème fraiche wouldn’t be the best substitute for a sauce base because it curdles, but it will do nicely as a frosting or a soup addition.
Can You Substitute Heavy Cream for Crème Fraiche?
In some cases, such as in soups or frosting, this could be good, but it is a terrible idea in omelets, dressings, or pastry smears. Because it is less thick than crème fraiche, heavy cream has lesser application as a substitute for crème fraiche than vice versa.
Where crème fraiche would add some sourness and maybe a few curdles when used instead of heavy cream, the reverse would result in runny dishes without the necessary zest and tang.