Here's the thing: It doesn't really matter if there is a difference between heavy cream and heavy whipping cream. They're both delicious dairy products that are the crucial elements behind some of our favorite recipes like whipped cream (duh), panna cotta, ice cream, crème brûlée pie . . . should I go on? But I understand that it can be confusing to decipher which one is right for your recipe, so I'm sharing what to know about these creamy ingredients.
Heavy cream vs. heavy whipping cream
Surprise! There is no difference between heavy cream and heavy whipping cream. They are the exact same product, just sold by different brands under two different names. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), heavy cream must contain at least 36% milk fat. It is pasteurized or ultra-pasteurized, and may be homogenized. The same can be said for any carton called heavy whipping cream. Again, different name, same rule. You can use them interchangeably, so my recommendation is to just look for which one is a better deal in grocery stores.
Heavy cream vs. whipping cream
There's heavy whipping cream and then there's just whipping cream (and sometimes, light whipping cream). And they're not the same thing! Let's revisit the FDA's Code of Federal Regulations (you know you want to): Light whipping cream is cream that contains between 30% and 36% milkfat. Although you can use light whipping cream to make whipped cream, it won't form really stiff peaks. Otherwise, they function similarly and you can generally use light whipping cream in recipes that call for heavy cream without noticing the difference.
Heavy cream vs. half-and-half
Now, do you think there is a difference between heavy cream and half-and-half? Think about it, really think about it, and then write your answer down. If you wrote, yes, there is a difference, then you'd be correct. Heavy cream and half-and-half are different from each other. According to the FDA, half-and-half must contain between 10.5% and 18% fat (and remember, heavy cream must contain at least 36% fat).
As its name would imply, this type of cream is squarely in the middle of heavy cream and milk. It's your run of the mill coffee creamer, but it's also a great way to add a luscious, creamy texture to certain recipes without using high fat cream. Heavy cream has a higher fat content than half-and-half and is, therefore, richer and adds more body for soups and sauces. In some cases, like mashed potatoes or tomato soup, you can use half-and-half in recipes that call for dairy products that have a higher fat content, like heavy cream. But it won't work every time. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you cannot use half-and-half in place of heavy cream to make whipped cream. It doesn't have a high fat content and therefore won't whip properly or hold its shape. Save it for your coffee instead.