Half and Half Versus Milk

When it comes to coffee creamers, two of the most common choices are milk versus half and half. Here is how they compare in terms of fat content, calories, and shelf life.

Half and Half

Half and half, or "half-and-half" is a dairy product made by combining equal parts whole milk and cream with a resulting fat content of 10.5 to 18 percent. It is pasteurized or ultra-pasteurized, and may be homogenized. Optional ingredients include emulsifiers, stabilizers, nutritive sweeteners, and various flavorings.

Half-and-half is commonly used as a creamer for coffee and tea. It can also be used in cooking where some creamy richness is desired but because it has a much lower fat content than other types of cream, it does not whip very well and it won't provide the same thickening or stability to a sauce.

Note that non-fat versions of "half-and-half" are produced that use ingredients such as corn syrup as a thickening agent in place of cream. Whether such a product is really half-and-half is questionable.


Milk is thinner-bodied and contains fewer calories and fat than half and half. The actual fat content depends on the type of milk. 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.

Milk is used as a beverage and as an ingredient in a wide variety of prepared foods such as baked goods, cereal, pasta dishes, and sauces. It is also used a coffee creamer, especially by the calorie-conscious, in place of half-and-half or other higher-fat creamers.

Calories and Fat Content

A 1 cup serving of half and half contains 315 calories and 28g fat. The same size serving of whole milk contains about 150 calories and 8g fat. For lower 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.

Looking specifically at whole milk versus half-and-half, a 0.5 ounce serving (the size of a typical coffee creamer container) of half and half weighs in at 20 calories and 1.7g fat whereas whole milk provides 9 calories and 0.5g fat. About 3/4 of the calories in half-and-half come from fat. For whole milk, half the calories come from fat.

Shelf Life

According to Land of Lakes, an opened container of half-and-half should be used within 7 to 10 days of opening or by the expiration date printed on the container - whichever date comes first. Ultra pasteurized cream products keep several weeks longer than pasteurized ones, but once opened, should be used within 10 days. Tip: if the cream in half-and-half curdles when you add it to hot coffee, this means the product is not fresh.

Whole milk keeps for about a week after the store expiration date. However, once opened, it should be consumed within a week.