Half cream (minimum 12% fat):
Also known as half-and-half in the United States, half cream has a low fat content and is not suitable for whipping. Some dairy brands have developed a stabilised half cream that is ideal for cooking as it will not split when boiled.
Light or single cream (18% fat):
Light cream does not whip well but is good for topping beverages and making sauces. Does not split easily, so it is suitable for acidic sauces. In the US, it is called half-and-half. Good for sauces, fast thickening.
UHT whipping cream (generally 30-40% fat content; light whipping cream is between 30-36% fat and heavy whipping cream, over 36% fat):
If you have to select just one cream for all your kitchen needs, select this one. This is probably the most versatile of creams for both whipping and cooking. It has no sugar added, and can be used for savoury dishes as well as desserts. It has a long shelf-life and does not split while boiling. This cream has been ultra-heat treated (UHT) to kill bacteria and enzymes, in order to preserve it. Some cooks, however, prefer unpasteurised cream for a better taste. The unopened carton remains fresh in the refrigerator for up to six months. Whipping creams can be whipped to double their volume. So for 500ml of whipped cream, start with 250g of cream.
Double cream (at least 48% fat):
A British term for heavy cream with a fat content of over 48%, known to the French as crème épaisse. Thicker than whipping cream. If used for whipping, go slow, as it is easy to overwhip double cream.
As the name suggests, this is cream that has been thickened -- the moniker does not refer to its fat content. Thickened cream can be spooned (like clotted cream or crème fraîche) so you don’t have to whip it. Ideal for use in pastries and whipped cream. Not recommended for sauces.
Sour cream (18% fat):
Sour cream is single cream that has been soured and thickened by the addition of a natural bacteria culture. It gets its characteristic tang from the lactic acid created by the bacteria. Sour cream is a traditional topping for baked potatoes and soup, and is also used in Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisines, added to tacos, nachos, burritos, or guacamole.
Crème fraîche (30-40% fat but also available ''Light''):
The French crème fraîche is heavy cream that has been slightly soured and thickened by the addition of a bacteria culture. It is not as sour as sour cream, and about just as thick.
The fermentation of cream was first practised as a means of preservation. The lactic acid curdles the cream and thickens it. Crème fraîche is regarded as the predecessor of UHT cream; prior to the 70s, it was the only cream available on the shelves. When used in sauces, avoid rapid boiling to prevent splitting the cream. Smooth and luscious, crème fraîche is best used as it is, as a topping for pancakes, pastry, baked potatoes and fruits.
Clotted cream (minimum 55% fat):
A specialty of the Devon and Cornwall counties in the southwest of England, clotted cream is a thick, yellow cream made by heating the cream of high-fat breed cows to evaporate some of the liquid, then allowing it to cool slowly. It is the perfect topping for warm, buttered English scones.
Whipped cream in aerosol cans is not truly whipped but is expanded by a gas, such as nitrous oxide. The cream will expand to four times its volume, so there is twice the air in the cream coming out of a can than in hand-whipped cream. The cream is sweetened with icing sugar and flavoured with vanilla. It is, in effect, what is known as Chantilly cream. It may also contain stabilisers and emulsifiers. Kept refrigerated, cream sprays have a long shelf life and good hygiene – if you make sure the nozzle is cleaned well after each use. It is usually used as a topping for ice cream, coffee and chocolate milk