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I noticed that cutting half & half with water does not make it taste like whole milk. What is the reason for this?

I'm trying to apply some systems thinking to my understanding of ingredients.

  • 35
    Milk is not diluted cream, so no combination of half&half and water is going to give you milk. – brhans Mar 8 '18 at 2:16
  • 15
    Perhaps you could try cutting it with skim milk instead. – Micah Mar 8 '18 at 4:11
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    This is also why adding water to whole milk doesn't give you 2% or skim milk. – JPhi1618 Mar 8 '18 at 15:31
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    What is half & half? When I google it, I get images of Arizona Ice Tea, some KFC deal, maths and some TV show. Maybe someone can edit the tag wiki. – Belle-Sophie Mar 9 '18 at 7:13
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    Half&half is half cream and half milk. FYI, it shows up on Google Images correctly for me. – Feathercrown Mar 9 '18 at 17:06
59

The difference between whole milk (or any milk, really) and half-and-half is one of fat content, not overall concentration. Half-and-half gets its name from being a 50/50 blend of milk and cream, which normally separate because the less dense fats concentrated in cream float naturally to the top of the mostly-water milk. However, milk also contains a number of other proteins, sugars, etc. that give it flavor. When you dilute half-and-half with plain water, you're diluting the fat content (potentially down to a similar range as contained in whole milk) but you're also diluting all those other flavorful components. You wind up with something that has the right fat level but not enough of anything else, and which tastes somewhat flat and flabby by comparison with proper milk.

  • 8
    Skim milk + half & half? – jkd Mar 8 '18 at 4:28
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    Whole milk is 4% fat, half and half is 12% fat, so a 50/50 is at least 6% fat. So what you get is an overly fat, badly homogenized mix with half the flavor compounds of milk. – GdD Mar 8 '18 at 8:45
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    @jakekimdsΨ Yes, you can mix skim milk and half & half (or skim milk and cream) to approximate whole milk or whatever % you want. You can find "recipes" for the proportions online. – 1006a Mar 8 '18 at 16:38
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    ...and similarly you can dilute half-and-half (or cream) with 1% or 2% to get down to whole milk range, but the math is tricky. Whole milk is about 3.5% butterfat. – Lee Daniel Crocker Mar 8 '18 at 18:51
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    Or you could just buy the right milk. – OrangeDog Mar 9 '18 at 12:06
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I've done some experimentation on this topic and I've come to the conclusion that one of the main flavors missing is sweetness. If you look at the sugars in half & half they are usually lower to start with than whole milk. When you dilute it to try to match whole milk you end up with quite a bit less sugars in the final product, even if concentration of milk fat is about the same as whole milk.

Adding in some sweetener to the diluted mixture makes the flavor much closer to that of whole milk. The actual amount of sweetener depends on the type of sweetener and your individual taste. A tiny bit of salt can also help. It's difficult to obtain a perfect match but you can get pretty close with this trick.

The reduced sugars can be exploited if you're on a low glycemic diet, substituting diluted heavy cream, half & half, or other high milk fat ingredients for other types of milk, then adding in lower glycemic index sweeteners.

  • 3
    And the name of the sugar in milk? Lactose - that stuff you hear about that some people have an issue digesting. – JPhi1618 Mar 8 '18 at 15:37
  • @JPhi1618 Yep, it is the main one. I figured that it wasn’t that important to name it. – ColGraff Mar 8 '18 at 16:31
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Pretend milk is Kool-Aid

The cream is sugar and the Mr Strawberry is a powder with strawberry taste but no sweet.

I am supposed to mix 1 pack Kool-Aid, 1 cup sugar, and 1 gallon water. I mess up and put in 2 cups of sugar. If I dilute down the sugar with a gallon of water I get the sugar ratio correct but now the Kool-Aid ratio is 1/2 what it is supposed to be.

If you dilute half and half to get the fat ratio down you also dilute the other stuff. Half and half is not concentrated milk. If half and half was just remove half the water from milk it would work. Half and half is adding cream to milk to increase the fat content.

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    Unfortunately, this analogy completely fails to anybody who doesn't understand Kool-Aid, which is surely more people than don't understand cream. I have no clue whatsoever what "Mr Strawberry" is. – David Richerby Mar 8 '18 at 15:12
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    @DavidRicherby Still the good will. Not going to argue with you. What do you need to know other than "Mr Strawberry is a powder with strawberry taste but no sweet"? – paparazzo Mar 8 '18 at 15:16
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    I think this analogy works. He spells out the three components as: Kool-Aid, sugar, and water. It is a ratio thing... if you know what sugar and water are you can figure it out whether you know what Kool-Aide is or not. – J. Chris Compton Mar 8 '18 at 21:13
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    The fundamental problem is this. If you explain cream to me, I might misunderstand that explanation, which is too bad but that's the way it goes. If you instead explain Kool-Aid to me and then explain how to translate that explanation to cream, I might misunderstand Kool-Aid and I might misunderstand the translation. That's just more ways for things to go wrong. Why not just explain cream in terms of cream? – David Richerby Mar 8 '18 at 23:16
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    Just a reminder: Be nice. – Stephie Mar 9 '18 at 13:43

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