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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Yes, There's Lactose in Heavy Cream

Here's a question I received that reflects a common confusion, one actively created by the way the dairy industry constructs its labels and nutrition information.

My questioner was hoping to use heavy cream to make a lactose-free ice cream.

On your website, you note that whipping cream contains an average of 2.9% lactose. When I went to the grocery store today I grabbed some cartons of cream and read their labels. It turns out that the heaviest cream I could buy was listed as having ZERO grams of sugars per 1 tablespoon of cream. Half and Half and whipping cream both contained measures of sugars ... but the heavy cream did not. Do you think it might be safe to assume that the heavy cream really doesn't contain any sugars / lactose?

And of course it's not a safe assumption, or I wouldn't be able to turn it into a explanatory post.

My response was:
You have the right answer in front of you without realizing it.

The heavy cream is measured with a serving size of one tablespoon.
Well, 2.9% of a tablespoon is probably less than half a gram. By law, they can claim 0 whenever a quantity is less than 0.5 gram.

What are the serving sizes of the Half-and-Half and the whipping cream? I'll bet they are 1/2 cup or a full cup. And they have lots of lactose.

But you're not going to use a mere tablespoon, are you? You're going to use huge amounts of heavy cream, probably more than a full cup. And that's going to have about 3% lactose in it. Lots, in other words.

Sorry, no way out.

The problem here is that the fat content of dairy products has become a stick that the milk-haters of all stripes like to use to beat dairy with. And not in the good way that results in ice cream.

Heavy cream is heavy fat. Legally, in the U.S. anything called heavy cream must contain at least 36% milkfat. If you gave the calories and fat content in a cup of heavy cream, the size of the numbers would create palpitations in people.

However, while heavy cream has many uses, it is probably most often used a smoosh at a time to add to milk as a, well, creamer. That allows the industry to set the standard serving size at a tablespoon. Since there are 16 tablespoons in a cup, they get to shrink those awful-looking numbers down to puny size.

All perfectly legal and aboveboard. But it creates confusion, because none of the rest of the fluid dairy products use a tablespoon as a serving size.

I have the fat information about dairy products in massive detail in my book, Milk Is Not for Every Body, but I didn't bring it over to my website. However, I do have some useful pages on dairy products there, such as my SuperGuide to Dairy page and the Lactose Percentages page.

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