I have heard cooks talk about the following products and was wondering what exactly they are and what the difference is between them?

Buttermilk, Creme Fraiche, Clotted cream, whipped cream, double cream, heavy cream, and sour cream?


First, there is something that is not explicitly placed on your list, but is needed to understand the others: cream, also called sweet cream when a mixup with cultured dairy is possible. Used without any further qualifiers, it is made from milk by removing liquid such that there is higher fat percentage left in. How much higher is not known from simply the word "cream". Both milk and cream can be cultured with bacteria to produce fermented types of dairy.

Now to the points in your list, in an order more convenient for explaining:

  • Heavy cream is cream that contains at least 36% fat.
  • Double cream is cream that contains at least 48% fat.
  • Whipped cream is cream that has been physically agitated to turn into a foam.
  • Sour cream is cream that has been fermented with standard yogurt cultures. In German supermarkets, sour cream is typically made from 10%-fat-cream, but in principle, it can be made with other grades of cream.
  • Clotted cream is sweet cream that has been heated using a specifc process to change its texture.
  • Creme fraiche is a cultured product made from cream. It has at least 30% fat and is made with a special strain of mesophilic cultures.
  • Buttermilk in the modern sense is a cultured product made from milk. It uses yet another specialized culture strain that takes even lower temperatures than creme fraiche cultures.

The original sense of buttermilk was something different - they left out unpasteurized milk to naturally sour, then beat the butter out of it. The resulting fermented whey with pieces of butter floating in were the buttermilk. Nowadays, it is the whole liquid that you can buy (without the fat having been removed as butter) and the cultures are added intentionally to pasteurized milk. But you are unlikely to see that product in the English speaking world, the only reason to remember this sense is if you are working with historical recipes.

To get from definitions to usage: these are all different products with different texture and taste. For each application calling for one of them, any of the the three cases may apply: - It is impossible to substitute one for the other for technical reasons - It is technically possible to substitute, but eaters acquainted with the original dish will not recognize it as "properly made" or as the same dish - The substitution may work without snags

So, in the end, there is not much to be said about the difference in general. As a cook, you just use each of them according to suitability and tradition, as your recipe directs you.

  • 3
    Although OP didn't mention it, might be worth adding yogurt in terms of how it relates to sour cream and creme fraiche (fermented/cultured, lower fat content).
    – Wolfgang
    Feb 29 '20 at 0:04
  • 2
    In an Indian context, buttermilk is made by collecting the fat layer that accumulates on top of milk. Fermenting it by using standard yogurt cultures. And then beating the butter out of it. The left over liquid is buttermilk.
    – Tejas Kale
    Feb 29 '20 at 10:39
  • 3
    Well, as a rule of thumb substituting cultured for uncultered milk products, or vice versa, will change the result significantly. Staying on one side but using a product with a different fat content will change the result only gradually. Feb 29 '20 at 15:00
  • "Sour cream is cream that has been fermented with standard yogurt cultures" this is not correct, the bacteria used is significantly different than yogurt cultures.
    – eps
    Mar 1 '20 at 16:16
  • @eps as far as I know, there is no sour cream tradition in anglosaxonian countries, and the product was popularized from other cuisines. The version I know is made exactly as I described, but I wouldn't be surprised if there are other versions where different cultures are used, and the average person from an English speaking country would call all the different versions "sour cream". Also note that there are many cultures used for making yogurt - maybe the cultures you have in mind are also yogurt cultures, just not commonly used for yogurt in the area you are familiar with.
    – rumtscho
    Mar 5 '20 at 11:16

Using wikipedia:

There might be regional (country) differences in all of those products, different ways of making them, different fat content, different "sourness" , different name for the same things.

(limited answer)

  • Buttermilk ( I don't have experience with it)
  • Crème Fraiche is usually used in French cuisine as a thickener (for example in sauces).
  • Clotted Cream is mostly used as a spread over bakes goods (scones)
  • Whipped Cream is mostly used in dessert, for example as a ingredient in mousse recipes. or just as a garnish.
  • Double Cream, Heavy cream: used as a thickener for sauces or for example as a condiment over strawberries.
  • Sour cream: mostly used as a condiment over tex-mex food, and/or as a finishing ingredients over some savory food.
  • Buttermilk in the South African context is soured as well.
    – Neil Meyer
    Feb 28 '20 at 16:15
  • 1
    That's why I wrote originally, the article says that it made differently nowadays.
    – Max
    Feb 28 '20 at 16:20

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.