Light cream is a milk product with a fat content which ranges from 18-30%. It is sometimes known as coffee or table cream, and it is used most commonly in mixed drinks or as a cream for coffee. To put this product in perspective, half and half has around 12% fat, while whipping cream has a fat content of between 30-40%. Generally, a container of light cream will indicate the fat content; many dairies produce versions with around 20% fat.
There are two ways to extract cream from milk. Traditionally, milk was allowed to stand in the dairy for up to a day to allow the butterfat to rise to the top. The butterfat could be skimmed and churned into butter or mixed with varying amounts of milk to create creams of varying thicknesses. Most modern dairies run their milk through a centrifuge to pull the milk out, since standing milk can attract harmful bacteria.
There are a few tricks to working with light cream which cooks should remember. The first is that this cream is not “light” in the sense of “healthy.” It still has a high milkfat content and while it is lighter than whipping cream, it is by no means a great dairy choice for people who are trying to restrict their fat intake. Light cream is also not whippable, because it does not have enough fat to create the necessary emulsion, and it tends to break apart when subjected to stress and high heat. If you use this cream in a sauce, heat the sauce slowly, and do not allow it to boil; the sauce may turn out thinner than expected because of the lower fat content, in which case it can be thickened with flour, cornstarch, or an alternative thickener of your choice.
Many mixed drinks call for light cream since heavier creams can be dense on the stomach when mixed with alcohol. It can also be used in coffee and tea, although half and half is a more common choice for coffee in some parts of the world. Just like other dairy products, light cream can also be flavored with various essential extracts like vanilla, hazelnut, or coffee.
Generally, light cream keeps for around 10 days. Always remember to check expiration dates when you buy dairy products, to ensure that your dairy is within safe limits. In some cases, it may be safe to consume dairy after the expiration date, but you should only do this if the cream has been kept at a consistently chilled temperature. If the cream smells at all questionable or it has become chunky, it should be discarded, as it has soured, and it may not be safe to use.