Half-and-half is simply an equal-parts combination of milk and cream. It is half whole milk, half heavy cream. This not only affects the taste but also the way it works in recipes.
- Origin: Invented at a dairy farm in Florida in the 1920s
- Commonly Known: Known in the UK as "half cream"
- Preparation: Coffee creamer or dairy thickener
What Is Half-and-Half?
Half-and-half is simply a blend of equal parts milk and cream. Whereas heavy cream has at least 36 percent fat, half-and-half has between 10 and 18 percent. Half-and-half can be incorporated in recipes, but because of the lower fat content, it cannot be used to make whipped cream since it won't hold its peaks. It also won't thicken a sauce the way that heavy or whipping cream does.
Half-and-half is commonly used as a coffee creamer. Milk is traditionally used for tea since tea has far fewer dissolved solids and is thinner. But for a strong cup of coffee, many coffee drinkers find that half-and-half adds just the right body and richness.
A container of half-and-half from the grocery store must be immediately placed in the refrigerator. The tiny containers of half-and-half at the local coffee shop are sitting out because they are shelf-stable do not require refrigeration; they will actually keep at room temperature for up to six months. However, do check the expiration date.
You might encounter a variation called "fat-free half-and-half" which is confusing given half and half is made with milk and cream. The fat-free version replaces the milk fat with corn syrup and thickeners. It is not a very healthy option.
Cooking With Half-and-Half
When a recipe calls for cream without specifying what type, it is best to use heavy cream; its higher fat content makes it more stable in sauces, meaning it won't curdle when it's heated and won't form a skin on top. Heavy cream will also hold firm peaks when whipped. When recipes call for half-and-half, it's often to get a creamy consistency without needing the full fat or richness of cream.
In restaurants, cooks use a special product called manufacturing cream, which is 40 to 45 percent fat. You can bring it to full boil and it will not curdle. It also tastes great and adds incredible richness to sauces. (It's also one reason eating out is notoriously bad for your waistline!) Manufacturing cream is rarely seen at the supermarket, but restaurants order it by the case.
What Does Half-and-Half Taste Like?
Half-and-half tastes like rich, creamy milk. It may be even more flavorful than milk. It's not sweet since it contains no sweeteners and like cream, it's rarely consumed on its own.
If you don't have half-and-half on hand, making your own half-and-half from other dairy products is as simple as mixing together equal parts of light cream and milk. Unfortunately, light cream (16 to 29 percent fat) isn't commonly available in the U.S. So you may have to blend whole milk with either heavy whipping cream (36 to 40 percent) or light whipping cream (30 to 35 percent).
If you are using heavy whipping cream and milk, you can make half and half by combining four parts whole milk with one part heavy cream. If you only have light whipping cream, use three parts whole milk and one part light whipping cream.
When recipes will specifically call for half and half, you should try not to substitute with something else since that might not give you the results you want; the combination of milk and cream creates a certain balance in flavor and richness.
Half-and-half can be found in a wide variety of recipes, ranging from sweet to savory.
Where to Buy Half-and-Half
Half-and-half can be found in the dairy aisle of any grocery store. It usually comes in pint and quart containers, so if you are using it for cooking, double-check the recipe prior to buying. The individual, shelf-stable mini cups are usually sold in packages of minimum 100 and can be found at restaurant supply stores or warehouse stores.
As a dairy product, half-and-half should be kept in the refrigerator. Most brands are ultra-pasteurized so they will have a long shelf life, but always check expiration dates. Shelf-stable mini cups do not need to be refrigerated.
Pasteurized versus Unpasteurized Milk: Why Such Long Sell-By Dates? Cornell University