What is Half and Half?

Discover the mid-range cream that's great for coffee!

Half and half
Half and half. Riou / Photographers Choice / Getty Images

Half and half is a type of cream with a fat content between 10.5 percent and 12 percent. It can be used in cooking, but keep in mind that it has a much lower fat content than heavy cream. Thus you can't use half and half to make whipped cream because it won't hold its peaks. It also won't provide the same thickening to a sauce.

One thing for which half and half happens to superb is adding to your coffee.

Forget about milk or 2%. Milk's all right for tea since tea has far fewer dissolved solids, so it's thinner. But for a strong cup of coffee, half and half adds just the right body and richness without turning your coffee gray.

Indeed, if you're ever in a situation where you're purchasing a coffee at an establishment that doesn't write your name on the side of your cup for you, it's possible that you may also find small containers (about 3/4 tablespoon) of half and half along with the packets of sugar. Note that these shelf-stable containers of half and half do not require refrigeration and will keep at room temperature for up to six months. So don't panic if you see them sitting out but do check the date.

Cooking with Half and Half

In cases where a recipe calls for cream without specifying what type, use heavy cream. Its higher fat content makes it more stable in sauces, meaning it won't curdle when it's heated and doesn't tend to form a skin on top, either.

Heavy cream will also hold firm peaks when whipped.

In restaurants, cooks use a special product called manufacturing cream, which is 40 to 45 percent fat. I've worked with the stuff myself, and I can tell you that you can bring it to a full boil and it still won't 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.

Some recipes will specifically call for half and half, in which case using something else might not give you the results you want.

Make Your Own Half and Half

Making your own half and half from other dairy products is as simple as mixing together equal parts light cream and milk. Unfortunately, light cream (16 to 29 percent fat) isn't commonly available in the U.S. So you'd have to blend whole milk with either heavy whipping cream (36 to 40 percent) or light whipping cream (30 to 35 percent).

If you have access to both 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.

One cup of half and half has approximately 315 calories, mainly from fat. One fluid ounce (30 ml) of half and half represents around 39 calories.

Finally, if you shoulder ever encounter something called "fat-free" half and half, set the container down and walk away. It's an emulsion of skim milk, corn syrup and a thickener called carrageenan, and it has no business in your food, in your coffee, or in your fridge.