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Wikipedia makes whipped cream look very simple: gas bubbles are trapped in the fat and create a colloid. However, we all know that you can easily come across "whipping cream" that just won't whip even with all the necessary precautions. Meanwhile a different cream will whip up in a matter of seconds even at room temperature. This is despite both having the same fat content and ingredients.

Furthermore, in my experience, if you take a product with the same or higher fat-content but with animal of vegetable fat instead of butterfat, then the consistency of Chantilly cream will be impossible to achieve. (With, perhaps, the notable exception of coconut cream although I can't say it worked well for me.)

Why does this happen? What is the physics/chemistry behind this discrepancy? Obviously, something sets real whipping cream aside. Something other than just fat content which allows the colloid to appear.

NB. I know, the Internet is full of lists of "whipping cream substitutes" ranging from nut butter to pureed onions. I'm pretty sure, however, that most of these will not incorporate air and fluff up anywhere near as well as homogenized heavy cream.

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Cream itself is a colloid made up of butterfat & water. That colloid is uniquely suited to have the air incorporated to create whipped cream.

The chemistry of whipping cream is more complex than just "fat + air = whipped cream". If you're trying to whip olive oil or lard into "whipped cream" then each fat will have some unique additional steps to make it hold the structure.

For example, adding a dash of acid and an egg yolk (which contains lecithin, an emulsifier) to olive oil will help create a colloid when whipped. In this case, the resultant colloid isn't whipped cream though--it's mayonnaise.

  • Might you know of a good source which would explain this chemistry of whipped cream? – imakhlin Aug 26 at 0:41
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    @imakhlin On Food and Cooking, by Harold McGee. It has a lengthy discussion of emulsions. – Sneftel Aug 26 at 13:11
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Regarding the differences in apparently like creams, the first thing that comes to mind for me is pasteurization. Pasteurized cream will whip better and taste better than ultra-pasteurized cream.

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

There are two types of heavy whipping cream available at most supermarkets: pasteurized and ultra-pasteurized.

The two are not interchangeable in cooking. Pasteurized cream has been heated to 167 degrees for 15 seconds, then chilled. It has a shelf life of about 18 days.

Pasteurized cream tastes fresher and whips up quickly into stiff peaks. It separates easily into solids and buttermilk for butter-making.

Ultra-pasteurized cream has been heated to 280 degrees for two seconds and then chilled. This gives it a longer shelf life — up to 60 days, unopened. But it won't whip up as easily or hold peaks as long as standard pasteurized cream. Some creameries add stabilizers to their ultra-pasteurized cream to help it to whip up better, but it still may not reach stiff-peak stage.

Ultra-pasteurized cream has a "cooked" taste and won't separate easily into large curds and buttermilk for making butter (or cheese).

Standard pasteurized cream is becoming harder to find. Fewer creameries are making it, and more stores are stocking only ultra-pasteurized cream.

All ultra-pasteurized cream and milk must be labeled by law, so check cartons or bottles before you buy.

In the US, heavy whipping cream must have a fat content of at least 36%. Products labeled with the interchangeable terms light whipping cream or simply whipping cream must contain 30% to 35% fat.

From the University of Guelph, this is a quite interesting article (including diagrams) about what happens when you whip cream:

The structure of whipped cream is very similar to the fat and air structure that exists in ice cream. Cream is an emulsion with a fat content of 35-40%. When you whip a bowl of heavy cream, the agitation and the air bubbles that are added cause the fat globules to begin to partially coalesce in chains and clusters and adsorb to and spread around the air bubbles.

enter image description here

Regarding creams vs. other animal or vegetable fats, this article from MILKingredients.ca states:

Functional Properties

Cream and other milk fat products (such as butter) are very different than fat from other animal and vegetable sources due to the presence of an aqueous phase, proteins and phospholipids. Milk fat exists in the form of globules dispersed in an aqueous phase of milk. Surrounding the fat globules is a membrane made up of varying proportions of protein, phospholipids and glycerides. The phospholipids in the membrane are of primary importance and account for much of the emulsifying properties of the fat globule membrane. The absorption of casein, proteins which are within the aqueous phase of cream, onto the milk fat globule surface when the globule membrane is disrupted (e.g. as a result of shear or homogenization), allows for production of variations in viscosity which can impart different functionality in food products. Caseins promote interaction with other molecules such as calcium, creating a new structure within the cream and therefore changing the textural properties.

  • Interesting idea, but most fats aren't pasteurized. I suspect that it has something to do with the protein forms in the cream - ultra-pasteurized would have these denatured so it alters how they behave. I'm definitely not sure on that though. – bob1 Aug 25 at 15:49
  • I've actually found some sources claiming that UHT pasteurization does make cream harder to whip. However, here almost all available whipping creams are ultra-pasteurized or sterilized but there's still a great variability in terms of whipping potential among them. – imakhlin Aug 26 at 0:34
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    Also, ironically, I personally have found that cream without added stabilizers is easier to whip. But I think that the main goal of adding stabilizers is to prevent the cream from separating to give it the right mouthfeel. Rather than making it easier to whip. – imakhlin Aug 26 at 0:37

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