Cream Versus Milk

Although cream and milk are both derived from raw milk, they differ considerably in terms of calories, fat content, texture, and taste. Here is how they compare.


Cream is a dairy product made from the butterfat in raw milk. It is yellowish-white in color and thicker than regular homogenized milk due to its higher fat content. The traditional way of extracting cream is to wait 12 to 24 hours for the butterfat to rise to the top and then skim it off. It relies on gravity to get the job done. The more modern, faster way involves centrifuges called "separators" that rotate the milk at high speeds, causing the butterfat globules to separate from the denser liquid. This latter method is employed by most commercial dairy operations.

Several grades of cream are produced based on the butterfat content which typically ranges from about 10% to 50%. Specific grades and fat content vary from country to country. In the United States, the most common types of cream are: half and half (10.5-18% fat), light cream (18-30% fat), medium cream (25% fat), whipping or light whipping cream (30-36% fat), heavy whipping cream (36% or more fat), extra-heavy or double cream (38-40% or more). In the UK, double cream has a fat content of 48%.


Compared to cream, milk is thinner, whiter, and contains less fat. It is produced as part of the cream extraction process which relies on either natural gravity or centrifuges to separate the cream from the denser milk. Once milk is separated out, its fat content is adjusted and it undergoes further processing that typically includes filtering, pasteurization, and homogenization. Homogenization prevents the cream from separating out of the milk.

Commercially produced milk is standardized to yield products of varying fat content. The specific fat content is controlled by government food standards which vary from country to country. For example, in the United States, federal regulations specify 3.25% fat in whole milk, 2% in Reduced fat milk, 1.8% in Semi-skim, about 1% in Low fat, and 0.0 – 0.5% in Skim milk.

Calories and Fat Content

A 1 cup serving of whole milk contains about 150 calories and 8g fat. For low fat milk, the numbers are: 2% milk -120 calories, 4.5g fat; 1% milk -100 calories, 2.5g fat, Skim milk - 80 calories, 0g fat.

For a 1 cup serving of various types of cream, the numbers are: half and half - 315 calories, 28g fat, light cream - 468 calories, 46g fat, heavy cream - 821 calories, 88g fat.

Nutritional Differences

Milk and cream are good sources of protein, fat, carbohydrates and a variety of essential nutrients including calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, and vitamins A, D and B12. However, because cream contains considerably more calories, cholesterol, and fat than milk, its wise to limit your daily intake. Unless you drink many cups a day, a little bit of cream added to your coffee or tea is unlikely to have serious long-term health consequences.

Taste Differences

Thanks to all the extra fat, cream is richer, more filling, and tastier than milk - especially compared to the low fat milk varieties. That's why ice cream tastes so good. On the other hand, it's hard to beat the satisfying taste of a glass of cold milk as an accompaniment to freshly baked chocolate chip cookies or brownies... It's all relative.