Buttermilk vs. Heavy Cream – What Are The Differences?

When you are baking you are often faced with many decisions. Should you use milk, heavy cream, buttermilk, or something else? These options all have different properties and add something new to your recipe.

Keep reading to see why buttermilk and heavy cream are different and how they both work. You can now choose the right ingredient next time you bake or cook.

What Is Buttermilk?

In the simplest terms, buttermilk is fermented milk. Back in the day, buttermilk came from the liquid left behind after churning butter. However, these days buttermilk is cultured on its own as butter is no longer made with cultured milk.

Although you can drink buttermilk, it is often too sour for drinking. For the most part, this type of milk is used in baking bread, cakes, and pancakes, among others. Buttermilk reacts with baking soda to produce carbon dioxide, which then creates a leavening action.

The first commercially produced buttermilk was introduced around the 1920s in the United States. These days, buttermilk is homogenized and pasteurized, and inoculated with two different bacteria strains, usually Lactococcus lactis or Lactobacillus bulgaricus. The specific tartness comes from the production of lactic acid from these bacteria.

Back in the early 20th century, buttermilk was valued as an anti-aging food. Since it does contain bacteria, it is somewhat lower in lactose and good for your gut. However, with the introduction and popularity of yogurt, buttermilk became less important.

Today you can see that buttermilk is used mostly for baking. Some famous dishes with buttermilk include fried chicken, waffles, scones, pancakes, and biscuits. You can also find buttermilk as an ingredient in cheese making.

In terms of nutrition, buttermilk tends to be very similar to regular milk. It has about 8 grams of fat per cup, but you can also find low-fat options. Unlike milk, buttermilk will give you a boost of healthy microorganisms that can aid your gut in digestion.

Nutrition Facts

One cup of whole buttermilk (244 g) has the following nutritional content (*):

  • 151 calories
  • 7.83 g protein
  • 8.08 g fat
  • 11.9 g carbohydrate
  • 0 g fiber
  • 11.9 g sugar
  • 281 mg calcium
  • 0.073 mg iron
  • 24.4 mg magnesium
  • 207 mg phosphorus
  • 329 mg potassium
  • 256 mg sodium
  • 12.2 µg folate
  • 115 µg vitamin A
  • 26.8 mg cholesterol

Is Buttermilk Healthy?

Buttermilk is a healthy option if you are trying to add some dairy to your cooking and baking. Since it contains healthy bacteria cultures, it can be beneficial to gastrointestinal health. It still has some fat and carbohydrates due to the natural content of dairy.

Because it is fermented, buttermilk is a bit easier to digest than other dairy products. It contains less lactose than milk, which could be a better option for those with lactose intolerance. However, it might still be a bit harsh on the digestive system, which is why starting with a smaller serving size is recommended.

As with other dairy products, buttermilk also contains vitamins and minerals. It contains calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium, all of which are beneficial for bones and muscles. Consuming this product can help keep your reserves of these minerals and your bones strong.

Since it contains healthy bacteria strains, buttermilk can help keep inflammation at bay in your intestines. Having a healthy gut microbiota is essential for efficient digestion and also for preventing chronic inflammation. Drinking this beverage and adding it to your food can help promote better absorption of nutrients.

It is important to note that buttermilk might be high in sodium. In some cases, manufacturers add sodium to help preserve the buttermilk. Remember to always check the label to ensure that your buttermilk does not have excess sodium because that can cause adverse health effects, like high blood pressure.

Although it contains less lactose, buttermilk still has some and might cause some gastrointestinal discomfort for some. It is best to always check with your health care provider if you have a dairy allergy or lactose intolerance. Stay away from buttermilk if you have had severe reactions in the past.

Buttermilk is a good source of vitamin A, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium. Adding it to your diet can help boost your nutrient daily intake. Keep in mind though that there is some natural sugar and fat in this product.

As you can see, buttermilk can be a healthy alternative to milk. Not many like to drink it straight because of its tartness, but it can be a good addition to your baked goods. Try substituting whole milk with buttermilk next time you are cooking.

What Is Heavy Cream?

Heavy cream is a dairy product that is at least 35 to 40% fat. It is usually the thickest part of the milk that collects at the top. You can also find it by the name heavy whipping cream, but it refers to the same product.

Since it contains so much fat, it serves a specific purpose in cooking and baking. Heavy cream is part of making ganache, ice cream, and fudge. It is also an ingredient in sauces, soups, and casseroles.

Many prepared foods contain heavy cream because it lasts longer than regular milk. It also adds more creaminess due to its fat content. When you mix it with eggs, heavy cream can create more fluffiness and airiness that is perfect for baking.

Although it mostly contains fat, heavy cream has a slightly sweet taste. This dairy product goes well in both sweet and savory dishes. Because of its fat content, heavy cream can hold its shape longer when you whip it.

You can find light cream, which is the same as heavy cream but with lower fat content. While this could seem healthier, sometimes the properties of this product are lost. Most heavy creams sold commercially contain 30 to 35% fat.

Using heavy cream has to be limited to certain times because it contains a very high-fat content. For the most part, it will add too many calories from fat, which can make your dish less healthy. Be mindful when you use it to avoid adding too much fat to your meals.

Nutrition Facts

One cup of heavy cream (240 g) has the following nutritional content (*):

  • 816 calories
  • 6.82 g protein
  • 86.6 g fat
  • 6.82 g carbohydrate
  • 0 g fiber
  • 7.01 g sugar
  • 158 mg calcium
  • 0.24 mg iron
  • 16.8 mg magnesium
  • 139 mg phosphorus
  • 228 mg potassium
  • 64.8 mg sodium
  • 1.44 mg vitamin C
  • 40.3 mg choline
  • 986 µg vitamin A
  • 3.84 µg vitamin D
  • 3.77 g polyunsaturated fatty acids
  • 271 mg cholesterol

Is Heavy Cream Healthy?

Heavy cream is not the healthiest option when it comes to dairy products. Its main purpose is to add fat and creaminess to your dish or meal, but it means more calories too. Using heavy cream sporadically is not bad but should not be an everyday event.

Your commercial heavy cream will have at least 35% fat. This means that your one cup of heavy cream will have around 80 grams of fat compared to the 8 grams in regular milk. Overall, heavy cream is much thicker, so using only a bit is necessary.

As with other dairy products, heavy cream contains a variety of nutrients. You can obtain vitamin D, calcium, vitamin A, and phosphorus. These nutrients are essential for bodily processes, including strong bones, healthy vision, immunity, and more.

To make it last longer once you open it, heavy cream might contain additives. In some cases, you will see carrageenan and sodium caseinate added. These additives can be inflammatory and cause intestinal damage in the long term.

Since heavy cream comes from cow’s milk, it contains some cholesterol too. Heavy cream contributes a large proportion of cholesterol to your meal, which is not very healthy. Although it is still better than eating red meat every day, excess cholesterol increases the risk for heart disease.

Using a low-fat alternative can be a better option. If you have to choose between heavy cream and light cream, check what purpose it serves in the recipe. You can choose a low-fat option for most recipes or even a non-dairy substitute.

While not the worst food out there, heavy cream is the best option you have. Using regular milk might be more sustainable, but a low-fat dairy choice is a right choice. Be careful not to use heavy cream all the time, as the fat and calories will add up quickly.

What Are The Key Differences Between Buttermilk and Heavy Cream?

The first thing to note between buttermilk and heavy cream is their microorganism content. Buttermilk is a fermented beverage that contains healthy probiotic microorganisms. While heavy cream still comes from milk, it is not fermented and does not act as a probiotic.

It is also relevant to note that buttermilk and heavy cream serve different purposes. Buttermilk cannot react to whipping and will not become airy and fluffy. Heavy cream is added to many recipes because it whips well and holds its shape.

On the other hand, buttermilk and heavy cream will not react the same as baking soda. Buttermilk is fermented and contains lactic acid, which reacts with baking soda for a leavening process in baking. Although some baking recipes call for heavy cream, this product does not react directly to baking soda.

The fat content in these two foods is also very different. Buttermilk is generally considered a low-fat product, or at least similar to milk. Heavy cream is mostly fat, at a 35 to 40% total fat content.

Since the production process is different, these two foods do not taste the same. Buttermilk is very acidic and tastes tart. Heavy cream is much sweeter and somewhat neutral.

Using these two products will be different due to their properties. You will mostly see buttermilk used in baking recipes, such as waffles, scones, and pancakes. Heavy cream is part of many recipes, including soups, creams, sauces, casseroles, ganache, and ice cream.

Finally, because they are not the same product and their nutrient content is different, their texture is also not equal. Buttermilk is light, resembling thicker milk or a less dense yogurt. Heavy cream is thick and rich, leaving a streak of fat everywhere.

Main DifferencesButtermilkHeavy Cream
OriginWestern Europe and the United StatesUnited States
IngredientsMilk and bacteriaMilk fat
FlavorAcidicSweet and thick
UsesUsed in baking and coatingSoups, creams, sauces, ice cream, candy-making, and more
Cost per quart$1.59 to 5.99$3.99 to 6.99
Calories per cup151 calories816 calories

Is Buttermilk or Heavy Cream Healthier?

These two dairy beverages are clearly not the same. Buttermilk is a very acidic drink and is also high in bacteria. Heavy cream is just the thick and fattest part of the milk.

Because it is a probiotic, buttermilk is the healthier option. This food is lower in calories, fat, and sugar. It will also help heal your gut and reduce inflammation.

Heavy cream is not something you should have all the time because it increases the cholesterol and fat content of your meals. It does serve a purpose in baking and cooking by adding texture and creaminess. However, a lower fat option might be the best choice.


Now you know what buttermilk and heavy cream are and how they serve a purpose in cooking and baking. Be sure to choose the right product depending on what you are preparing. Either way, your recipe will be tastier than ever!

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*image by alexbai/depositphotos

*image by brebca/depositphotos

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