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Cream is a dairy product composed of the higher-butterfat layer skimmed from the top of milk before homogenization. In un-homogenized milk, the fat, which is less dense, will eventually rise to the top. In the industrial production of cream, this process is accelerated by using centrifuges called "separators". In many countries, cream is sold in several grades depending on the total butterfat content. Cream can be dried to a powder for shipment to distant markets. Cream has high levels of saturated fat.
Cream skimmed from milk may be called "sweet cream" to distinguish it from whey cream skimmed from whey, a by-product of cheese-making. Whey cream has a lower fat content and tastes more salty, tangy and "cheesy". In many countries, cream is usually sold partially fermented: sour cream, crème fraîche, and so on.
Cream has many culinary uses in both sweet and salty dishes.
Cream produced by cattle (particularly Jersey cattle) grazing on natural pasture often contains some natural carotenoid pigments derived from the plants they eat; this gives the cream a slight yellow tone, hence the name of the yellowish-white colour, cream. Cream from goat's milk, or from cows fed indoors on grain or grain-based pellets, is white.
Cream is used as an ingredient in many foods, including ice cream, many sauces, soups, stews, puddings, and some custard bases, and is also used for cakes. Irish cream is an alcoholic liqueur which blends cream with whiskey, and often honey, wine, or coffee. Cream is also used in curries such as masala dishes.
Cream (usually light/single cream or half and half) is often added to coffee in the USA.
Both single and double cream can be used in cooking. Double cream or full-fat crème fraîche are often used when cream is added to a hot sauce, to prevent any problem with it separating or "splitting". In sweet and savoury custards such as those found in flan fillings, crème brûlées and crème caramels, both types of cream may be used. Double cream can be thinned with milk to make an approximation of single cream.
PROCESSING AND ADDITIVES
Cream may have thickening agents and stabilisers added. Thickeners include sodium alginate, carrageenan, gelatine, sodium bicarbonate, tetrasodium pyrophosphate, and alginic acid.
Other processing may be carried out. For example, cream has a tendency to produce oily globules (called "feathering") when added to coffee. The stability of the cream may be increased by increasing the non-fat solids content, which can be done by partial demineralisation and addition of sodium caseinate, although this is expensive.
OTHER CREAM PRODUCTS
Butter is made by churning cream to separate the butterfat and buttermilk. This can be done by hand or by machine.
Whipped cream is made by whisking or mixing air into cream with more than 30% fat, to turn the liquid cream into a soft solid. Nitrous oxide may also be used to make whipped cream.
Sour cream, common in many countries including the U.S., Canada and Australia, is cream (12 to 16% or more milk fat) that has been subjected to a bacterial culture that produces lactic acid (0.5%+), which sours and thickens it.
Crème fraîche (28% milk fat) is slightly soured with bacterial culture, but not as sour or as thick as sour cream. Mexican crema (or cream espesa) is similar to crème fraîche.
Smetana is a heavy cream product (15-40% milk fat) Central and Eastern European sweet or sour cream.
Rjome or rømme is Norwegian sour cream containing 35% milk fat, similar to Icelandic sýrður rjómi.
Clotted cream, common in the United Kingdom, is made through a process that starts by slowly heating whole milk to produce a very high-fat (55%) product. This is similar to Indian malai.
OTHER ITEMS CALLED "CREAM"
Many non-edible substances are called creams due merely to their consistency: shoe cream is runny, unlike waxy shoe polish; face cream is a cosmetic. There is generally no restriction on describing non-edible products as creams.
Regulations in many jurisdictions restrict the use of the word cream for foods. Words such as creme, kreme, creame, or whipped topping are often used for products which cannot legally be called cream. In some cases foods can be described as cream although they do not contain predominantly milk fats; for example in Britain "ice cream" does not have to be a dairy product (although it must be labelled "contains non-milk fat"), and salad cream is the customary name for a condiment that has been produced since the 1920s and need contain no cream.
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