I used to think that heavy cream and whipping cream were the same product simply marketed under different names. Now, after a bit of research and a few tests in the kitchen, I’ve learned that there are differences—albeit slight—between these two types of cream.
Heavy cream is the richest type of liquid cream with a fat content of at least 36% (one local dairy I spoke to produces its heavy cream at 39%), while whipping cream contains between 30% and 36% fat.
In general, the more fat in the cream, the more stable it will be for whipping and for saucemaking. For whipping, you need a minimum of 30% fat. While both whipping cream and heavy cream whip up quickly, I did discover that whipped cream made with whipping cream was softer, more voluminous (25% to 30% more), and more enjoyable spooned on top of desserts (see our quick tip for how to rescue overwhipped cream). The whipped cream made with heavy cream was more dense and firm—making it a good choice for piping through a pastry bag.
In saucemaking, the minimum amount of fat required to prevent cream from curdling when boiled with acidic and savory ingredients is 25%, so again both creams qualify. Heavy cream, however, has the advantage here since it is a bit more unctuous and requires less time to cook down to thicken and enrich a sauce.
The final difference is that heavy cream has 5 more calories per tablespoon than whipping cream, and it costs 5 to 10 cents more per pint.