What Is Heavier: Cream or Milk?

Written by lauren whitney
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What Is Heavier: Cream or Milk?
Prior to homogenisation, cream rises to the top of a bottle of milk. (Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

If you read the labels on containers of cream in the supermarket, you'll notice that some bear the label "heavy cream." The term describes the dairy product's texture, not its weight; the term "heavy cream" is a misnomer. An equal volume of whipping cream weighs less than the same volume of whole milk. The heaviest form of milk -- skimmed milk -- has the lowest calories.

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Volume and Weight

Measuring the weights of different varieties of milk and cream requires knowing how much volume the liquid occupies. A pound of feathers weighs the same as a pound of lead, but the two substances take up differing amounts of space. The relationship works the same for liquids, too; a cup of skimmed milk and a cup of double cream fill the same measuring cup, but have different weights. Professional bakers rely on recipes by weight instead of by volume because weights allow more accurate measurements from batch to batch.

Density

An ounce of whipped cream occupies a much larger volume than the same cream before whipping because of the air that whipping incorporates into it. Globules of fat in double cream act in much the same way as air bubbles distributed throughout whipped cream, reducing the product's density. The chemical structure of milk fats forces them into less dense configurations, causing cream to float atop the denser, less fatty milk.

Skimming and Homogenization

Raw milk from the animal will naturally separate just as any oil and water mixture does. Before scientists developed the process of homogenisation to hold milk-fat in suspension, whole milk required stirring or shaking to emulsify it temporarily. Homogenised milk incorporates the naturally occurring fat throughout the milk and keeps it distributed for the usable life of the product. Skimmed milk derives its name from the process manufacturers first used to create it: skimming the floating cream instead of mixing it into the milk.

Taste and Texture

Although double cream weighs less than skimmed milk, the term "heavy" applies to the product's mouth-feel. Fat globules in double cream spread out to coat the mouth and tongue, giving cream a richer and more lingering flavour than whole milk. At the other end of the spectrum, low-fat and skim milks do not contain fat to carry the flavour of the milk; these products have a lighter feel and flavour despite weighing more than double cream or whole milk. "Heavy" could also refer to caloric content; despite being lighter on a chemist's scale, double cream's high fat percentage makes it more caloric than skimmed milk.

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