Cream can come in a number of different varieties meant for different purposes. You have lighter creams such as half and half, which is essentially thickened milk, all the way to whipping cream which is the richest type with the highest fat content of about 36%.
Light cream sits somewhere in the middle of the two, with a milk fat content of somewhere between 18-30% which makes it just right for things such as adding to coffee, pouring over desserts, or even using them to thicken up pasta sauces.
Because of its fat content, it cannot be whipped and also cannot be boiled, which makes it a poor substitute for double/whipped cream.
Today we’ve prepared a list of the best light cream substitutes, so if you find yourself without any cream to hand, you’ll have plenty of other options available to you.
The best substitutes for Light Cream
Because of the non-interchangeable nature of different cream types, where the fat content makes them unideal substitutes for each other, if you find yourself missing the particular cream there’s not a lot of wiggle room to just go grab another one.
But who’s to say you need to reach for another cream? There are plenty of other alternatives that share similar properties and are every bit as delicious as light cream.
Here are our top suggestions for ideal alternatives.
1. Full Fat Coconut Cream
The thing that makes full-fat coconut cream so great is that it’s not only a very viable substitute in terms of fat content, but it’s also a vegan option making it great regardless of dietary preference or dairy intolerance.
Of course, it will add a slight coconut-ish flavor to whatever you use it in, but it still has a high enough fat content to produce a similar result.
Not only that, it’s overall a more healthy option! It’s higher in saturated fat, but it’s the kind where your body is quick to take and use as energy, and less likely to store as fat.
Plus it contains a whole host of other nutritional benefits from vitamins and minerals similar to that of coconut milk.
It’s very much a ‘superfood’.
2. 2 percent milk
Also known as ‘reduced fat’ milk, named as such because it simply only contains 2% fat.
But we mentioned earlier that light cream contains 18-30% fat, surely 2% is nowhere near enough to be considered an acceptable substitute?
Well, yes, in some circumstances. 2 percent milk oftentimes doesn’t have the thick creamy quality required to make things like dessert toppings or really rich pasta sauces.
A neat trick is to use a little cornstarch to help thicken the milk up to give it a little bit more of that creamy texture. This can help assist in making something like a soup feel a little richer.
3. Half-and-half cream
Arguably a better substitute than 2 percent milk, it has a higher fat content and tastes quite a bit richer (although not quite as rich as light cream).
While there’s no secret to making it taste like light cream if you’re willing to concede a little on the thickness and creaminess of whatever it is that you’re making, this can make a perfectly acceptable substitute.
Try to avoid using it for things like gravies as it will make them a little lighter than desired, but does work exceptionally well for baking!
4. Coffee creamer
Unexpectedly one of the best substitutes for light cream is coffee creamer.
Coffee creamer is a powdered (or can also be bought as a liquid) substitute for milk which is commonly used to add creaminess and a little thickness to teas and coffees.
Something to note about this is that depending on the brand of coffee creamer the fat content can vary quite wildly, so try to get something that’s roughly in the range of light cream’s 18%+ fat content.
You can use this as a simple 1:1 replacement for light cream, but do be aware it’s not ideal for baking, so try to stick to things like creaming drinks and desserts.
5. Pureed tofu
Take some tofu, chop it up a bit, then use a kitchen towel to extract as much water as you reasonably can from it (a little remaining water is fine), and then blend it up to make a puree.
While it doesn’t quite have that fat content, it does work as a fantastic 1:1 ratio substitute for light cream. It works particularly well in dishes such as lasagna where you need some creamy cheese, it also works as a good meat alternative due to its thicker texture.
As an added bonus it’s also vegan and lactose-intolerant friendly! Making it one of the most versatile substitutes on the list!
6. Evaporated milk
Also known as ‘unsweetened condensed milk’, it’s a particularly good one because it has such a long shelf life, so you can keep some around the kitchen if for some reason you find yourself unable to get some light cream.
It’s essentially milk which has had the water content reduced and some additional sugar added to both sweeten and caramelize/thicken it up.
In that scenario, we recommend getting the ‘unsweetened evaporated milk’ variety.
Fortunately to get the same kind of finish as Light Cream you don’t need to use a straight 1:1 ratio. While it varies from recipe to recipe you shouldn’t ever need a ton of sweetened condensed milk.
7. Whole milk
While it certainly does have a higher fat percentage than 2 percent milk (usually sitting at the 3.5% mark), it does need a little assistance to match the richness of light cream.
In some applications, it’s not a big deal, but particularly for sauces and soups where that butterfat content is so vital for the thickness, viscosity, and creaminess of the end result, it definitely needs a little help.
Fortunately, this is super easy to do. You just need to get some regular butter and melt it using low heat (really low, we don’t want the milk curdling). Beat the melted butter and slowly add in the milk, stopping briefly to let it cool and keep things as low as possible.
This is key to combining the butter and milk together or they will just separate.
8. Heavy cream + milk (butterfat manipulation)
One of the biggest factors in deciding how thick and creamy a kind of milk is the percentage of butterfat it contains.
As we mentioned above light cream contains an 18-30% butterfat content (depending on where you get it from), while whipping cream can contain as much as 35%, while half and a half only have 10-12%.
What we can do here is use the high butterfat content of heavy cream and dilute it with lower butterfat milk such as half and half.
The general rule here is to add 50% heavy cream and 50% half-and-half to create a light cream substitute.
9. Rice Milk
Rice milk can work as a great non-dairy substitute for Light Cream. It has a remarkably similar taste and texture. But the catch is it doesn’t whip so it doesn’t work as well for things like desserts.
But it can also be purchased in a range of flavors including chocolate and vanilla which makes it a really nice and adaptable choice.
10. Almond Milk
While not the thickest or creamiest option in the world, it is a very healthy option that is low in calories and fat content.
This can make it less ideal for cooking/baking scenarios, particularly for cake as it lacks that all-important richness. But it can work well for things like creaming up tea and coffee.
11. Soy Milk
Another option that isn’t particularly creamy – but you can get this pre-flavored so, in cooking applications, that twinge of vanilla can really add a great and unique flavor to the dish.
Not only that, it’s often being reinforced with additional protein and vitamins, so for the health-conscious, this is definitely worth considering!
12. Plain Yogurt
Regular yogurt can make a good replacement in any scenario where you don’t need to bake, so for things like fresh desserts, adding to drinks, cold potato or pasta salads, etc it’s ideal because it has a nice creamy quality to it.
13. Butter + milk combination
In a similar fashion to combining butterfat with milk, we can also use 3 tablespoons of melted (unsalted) butter with just a dash of milk to emulate the qualities of light cream.
Be sure to stir these thoroughly, particularly for cooking applications as they may have a tendency to separate. But overall it does work well for cooking!
How to choose the a light cream substitute
There are a few things to consider when we are looking for the best light cream substitute.
There are so many substitutes available that have varying degrees of similarity when it comes to the various qualities that we look for in light cream. This can be anything from taste, and texture, to how well it cooks.
We’ve made a quick round-up of the best substitute so you can be sure you’re picking the most appropriate one for your cooking needs.
The most ideal substitute if you really want that light cream flavor is going to be the heavy cream and milk combination.
This is because it contains the closest percentage of butterfat to real light cream which gives it an almost indistinguishable similarity in flavor.
We are primarily talking about thickness or creaminess here, that’s why we recommend pureed tofu.
When prepared correctly it’s wonderfully smooth and a joy to eat, it really is a tremendously versatile food.
Also great for vegans and lactose intolerant diners too!
Some tasty substitutes don’t bake very well. That’s why for baking, we recommend coconut butter.
It contains a very similar fat content and is substituted in a 1:1 ratio which makes baked foods respond remarkably well to it.
The only catch being the dish needs to accommodate the coconut flavor.
A pretty obvious one, but 2% milk will be the cheapest. Even after you add some cornstarch to it, it’s going to work out the cheapest than anything else here.
One of the most readily available substitutes you can find is the coffee creamer, as stores are always running out of milk: one day they’ll have full fat, and the next only the 2% which makes most milks/creams unreliable in terms of availability.
But if there’s one thing we always drink its coffee, which means there’s always going to be coffee creamer around too.
Our top pick
Our overall top pick is the heavy cream and milk combination. Because we can manipulate the butterfat levels to our preference we can essentially control the balance until it’s as close to that of light cream as we can possibly get.
Give it a try and we’re sure you won’t be disappointed!