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Heavy Cream Heavy

December 9, 2009

This is the time of year people do a lot of cooking.  Sure, Thanksgiving is behind us.  But there are Christmas and New Year’s Eve ahead of us.  I remember making a lobster bisque for one special New Year’s celebration.

The vast majority of foods that are cooked during this season are rich and comforting.  There is a lot of butter.  There is a lot of cream.  And that brings me to my rant of the day.

It may never have occurred to you to look at the ingredients in your cream.  Now you are probably saying, “Ingredients in cream?  It’s cream.  Have you gone mad?”  That is exactly what I thought, too.  But now it is exceedingly difficult to find just cream.

Maybe you have a carton of the stuff in your refrigerator right now.  I urge you to play along at home.  Go grab it and see what it says.

I’ll wait.

Got it?  If I was right likely your cream will include three unwelcome guests: carrageenan, mono- and diglycerides, and polysorbate 80.  If yours has none of these interlopers, please let me know the brand and where you got it – because yours is the cream that I am looking for.  But don’t tell me Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, or Wegmans because that will just me angry.

Now you might be asking yourself, what are these things doing in my cream?  Fair question.  Let me break it down by ingredient.

Carrageenan is a food gum.  If you read the labels of processed foods, you will see it everywhere.  Gums act as thickening agents and stabilizers.  It’s safe, but it is in your cream to give it the feeling of being fattier than it actually is.  Which is really theft.  Because when you are paying a premium for cream, you are paying for expensive milkfat, and not gums derived from seaweed.

Mono- and diglycerides improve the shelf life of the products they are put into.  An interesting fact that I learned from a former colleague’s blog is that this additive can be derived from an animal source and vegetarians are advised to steer clear.  Sorry to be the bearer of bad news to those already on restricted diets.

Polysorbate 80 is an emulsifier, and as far as I can tell is used to make sure that the cream doesn’t separate.

Honestly, it’s the gums I care about the most, because to me that is tantamount to a bait and switch.  The consumer is paying for a thick and luscious liquid filled with expensive and delicious milkfat, but instead it’s being supplemented with cheap and less delicious seaweed molecules.

Although if I were a vegetarian, I’d be pretty peeved about the mono- and diglycerides.

Still, there is another, more insidious thing lurking in your heavy cream.  And that is rBGH, recombinant bovine growth hormone, which doesn’t make it onto the ingredient list at all.  Technically it’s not in the cream per se, but we’ll talk more about that later.

Unless, of course, your cream is organic.  Organic milk comes from cows that are not injected with rBGH.  For that matter, organic milk comes from cows that do not receive antibiotics.  But even organic cream can, and most likely will, contain the food additives listed above.

Grrr.  It makes me so angry!

Let this be a reminder to you.  Check your ingredients.  Always.
You may be surprised at what you find.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. December 9, 2009 12:06 pm

    I just checked. My cream has no extra ingredients and no growth hormones. It’s from the Battenkill Creamery http://www.battenkillcreamery.com/ and I am lucky enough to live down the road from them. Check the website for local availability. The cream is beautiful, thick and very pale yellow. It makes luscious whipped cream that whips up in seconds- it’s that thick.

  2. E. (née O.) permalink
    December 9, 2009 12:38 pm

    I noticed this the last time I bought whipping cream and checked the ingredients to see how it was different from heavy cream. I can’t remember the exact additives but they were similar to what you’ve mentioned, possibly exactly the same. I’m told these additives help the cream whip up fluffier and stay whipped longer, but I don’t mind a little extra work. Plus, if I’m making whipped cream it’s going to be consumed fairly quickly!

    @Jennifer: thanks for the tip!

  3. RealFoodMom permalink
    December 9, 2009 8:34 pm

    Meadow Brook Farms Dairy cream is available at Honest Weight Food Co-op. It is delicious and if my memory serves me correctly, contains no ingredients other than cream. One must use it up quickly, which is a good thing, as it contains no preservatives. It is not organic, but it does not contain RGBh (the co-op does not sell dairy products which contain RGBh). You cannot buy a product like this at a conventional supermarket.

  4. Ellen Whitby permalink
    December 9, 2009 11:50 pm

    Grrr. I agree. But the supermarket doesn’t sell anything but “enhanced” cream. Nor do they usually have anything except lowfat buttermilk. Not the best for baking.

    But have a look here for info on locally-obtainable additive-free (as far as I know) cream. http://blog.timesunion.com/eatlocal/meadow-brook-farms-milk/168. It’s heavenly. And what’s leftover (what I don’t use for baking cheesecakes) makes unbelievable omelets.

  5. Chris permalink
    December 10, 2009 3:42 pm

    I’ll try this one more time… Honest Weight also carries Heavy Whipping Cream from Evan’s Farmhouse (lightly pasturized) and Hawthorne Valley Farm in Ghent can supply you with the good stuff (raw cream, raw milk) if you call ahead and are up for the drive. Both come from grass-fed cows on pasture. Yummy!

    More sources of great dairy at http://www.realmilk.com

  6. Joe permalink
    December 20, 2009 11:01 pm

    There’s a simple explanation for the additives; the butterfat content in most commercial cream is fairly low. It’s only 38%. Decent heavy cream is never less then 40%. So go with Meadowbrook farms, Ronnybrook farms or any of the other wonderful local dairies.

    • December 22, 2009 1:58 am

      Thank you for the insight. It’s my point exactly. Cream is expensive because butterfat is expensive. But most large dairies are now selling cream with less butterfat and cheap additives, yet still charging for cream. And most of this goes unnoticed by the consumer. I think it’s a form of theft. Or at the very least, highway robbery.

      • Joe permalink
        December 22, 2009 4:46 pm

        There’s no logical reason for cream and butterfat to be so expensive. With the high demand nowadays for part skim and fat free dairy products, cream becomes a byproduct of the manufacturing process. Your absolutely right, we are being robbed.

  7. Gillis permalink
    March 7, 2010 2:06 pm

    I was kind of surprised by this post, because I work at a grocery store and, being an abnormally curious person wondering what the difference is between heaving cream and whipping cream, have paid attention to the ingredients lists in the past. All of the brands of heavy cream that my store carries are just cream. Most of the whipping creams have carrageenan in them, as a stabilizer. I always thought that that was the only difference between the two, but apparently that’s not the case. I won’t mention the name of the store I work for, because you told me not to in the post, but I will say that I usually stick to the heavy cream from a local dairy. It doesn’t have any additives, and as far as I can tell, neither does dairy from many small-scale producers.

  8. enough already! permalink
    September 21, 2011 11:48 am

    stewarts has pure heavy cream… truly a convenience store!

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