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What is half and half?

Half and Half carton
The term “half and half” shows up very frequently in cooking and baking recipes in the US, but it is not particularly well known outside of the US (or the term refers to something completely different). When it appears in a recipe, it sometimes generates a little confusion as to what it is. “Half and half” is a mixture of half heavy cream and half whole milk that is commonly found in the US. Heavy cream has a fat percentage of about 35% and that concentration of fat is what helps stabilize it when you whip it into whipped cream. Half and half has a fat percentage around 12% and, although much thicker and creamier than milk, it will not whip up into fluffy whipped cream like heavy cream will.

The rich, creamy consistency of half and half is ideal for adding to black coffee to lighten it up without watering it down and for adding to soups to enrich them. It can be used in place of milk in many recipes, such as cakes and quickbreads, and will give baked goods an even finer, more tender crumb than they would typically have (although it is worth noting that the extra fat can create a product that is too rich and even slightly greasy occasionally). My favorite application for half and half is in ice cream, where may recipes will call for both heavy cream and milk. Using half and half saves me a step when mixing up my ice cream base, it also saves me a step when writing the recipe because I can call for one convenient ingredient rather than two separate ones.

You can substitute for half and half by mixing half whole milk and half heavy cream. IF you live in a county where “light cream” is widely available, know that it has a slightly higher fat content than half and half and should be mixed with approximately one third whole milk to make a substitute for half and half.

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16 Comments
  • Graham
    November 8, 2011

    In Canada, Half-and-half is always 10% cream. We also have “light” cream, which is 5% cream. I imagine that is for people who want cream in their coffee, but don’t want much fat.

  • Alasdair
    November 8, 2011

    In the North-West of England half and half means something entirely different. Those of you who are culinary sensitive should not read any further.

    In Chinese or Indian takeaway restaurants half and half means half rice/half chips (fries) as an accompaniment to a meal e.g. a popular choice is Chicken Satay Half & Half.

  • Linda
    November 8, 2011

    I’ve always been fascinated how you can achieve fat-free half-n-half. From what I’ve learned you accomplish it with chemicals. I tend to keep half-n-half around instead of milk. I can cut it if needed for recipes or make one just a little richer and tender by using the full amount. Milk seems to have a shorter shelf life than half-n-half–not sure why. You would think the higher fat would be more sensitive.

  • Philip
    November 8, 2011

    Water and sugar contribute more to spoilage.

    Fats, an example being oil, are less prone to bacterial spoilage. They do go rancid though.

    I would think, being that cream is just the top layer of milk, that they would spoil at similar rates.

  • Lals
    November 8, 2011

    In England single cream is the closest thing at about 18% fat.

  • Marianne
    August 15, 2013

    I had too google ” half and half ” – though I had a good hunch 🙂

    So, now I KNOW…and can try making the ice cream …

    Says a Granny from Finland

  • Robert
    September 27, 2013

    In the good old days when I used to frequent pubs (when pubs were pubs and not kindergartens) a pint of half-and-half was 1/2 pint of bitter and 1/2 pint of mild. Is there anybody out there?

  • Ann
    November 21, 2013

    .oh Robert, that is/ was my husbands favourite drink. Living in Oz it is difficult to get the real thing, although he has tried, far too many times!!

  • Geoff
    May 3, 2014

    In NSW if you are to ask for an half and half in a pub you are likely to get half full strength and half light Beer, although it is not all that common it does happen…

  • Auntypizza
    November 9, 2014

    I’ve never heard of this term – I’m in Australia. Trying to make cauliflower soup and wondering if I can make it & freeze it and came across an American recipe.

  • Mike Strawson
    December 18, 2015

    Robert (2013) Trying to find mild is hard these days.

    Too many versions of English. Aussi English not too dis-similar, but I am afraid American English is sometimes difficult for us Brits to follow. For example – Chips. As far as we are concerned they are what you get at a chippy – sorry fish and chip shop – the early form of take-away – with your fish. The things toy but in bags, with various flavours, we call Crisps. It is sometimes fun finding out the differences. Has anyone produced a dictionary yet?

  • Andrew
    January 27, 2016

    Same as Alasdair, in Wales half and half is half chips, half rice rather than ordering a whole portion of each!

    The only other place I’ve known that understands what half and half means is in Newcastle!

  • Stu Clayton
    July 10, 2017

    The implied percentage math in this article is not incorrect. The article says:

    # “Half and half” is a mixture of half heavy cream and half whole milk that is commonly found in the US. Heavy cream has a fat percentage of about 35% and that concentration of fat is what helps stabilize it when you whip it into whipped cream. Half and half has a fat percentage around 12% #

    But when you mix equal amounts of cream and milk, the fat percentage of the mixture can’t be less than half of the larger percentage. Milk has less fat than heavy cream, the fat percentage of cream is “about 35%”, so the mixture must have a fat percentage of at least 35/2 = 17.

    Think about it this way: if you mixed equals amounts of cream and water, the mixture would have half the fat percentage of the cream by itrself, that is 17%. By mixing with milk instead of water (in equal amounts), the fat percentage of the mixture will be higher than 17%. It can’t be less.

    The commenter who wrote “In England single cream is the closest thing at about 18% fat” has got it right. American half-and-half is almost the same as English single cream.

  • Stu Clayton
    July 10, 2017

    That should be “is incorrect”, not “is not incorrect”

  • […] regards of whatever taste best to them. Personally when I drink whole milk I think I’m drinking half and half, I think it is too creamy and I always believe that I am just drinking mostly fat. In my opinion, […]

  • […] regards of whatever taste best to them. Personally, when I drink whole milk I think I’m drinking half and half, I think it is too creamy and I always believe that I am just drinking mostly fat. In my opinion, […]

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