I’ve personally taste-tested a variety of heavy cream substitutes to find the best one for pasta dishes. Whether you’re on the hunt for the closest flavor match, in need of a last-minute pantry substitute, or want a swap that fits your diet, I’ve got the answers.
If you need a quick substitute for heavy cream, a mixture of butter and milk will do the trick. You can also mix milk with cornstarch to thicken it. Some vegan options you can replace heavy cream with include cashew cream, pureed silken tofu, or pureed cauliflower.
I made different batches of creamy garlic pasta to try out different heavy cream substitutes.
Heavy cream is the thick part of milk that rises to the top because of its high-fat content, clocking in at about 38%. This means heavy cream can be heated without the risk of curdling, making it a popular ingredient to make pasta sauces thicker and more flavorful.
Here are the substitutes I tested and my verdicts:
|Whipping Cream||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||10/10|
|Butter and milk or plant-based milk and olive oil||1 cup heavy cream = 1/4 cup fat + 3/4 cup milk||8/10|
|Half-and-Half||Replace in a 1:1 ratio for a lighter dish||7/10|
|Béchamel||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||7/10|
|Creme Fraiche||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||8/10|
|Mascarpone Cheese||Replace with ¾ cup mascarpone + water||8/10|
|Cream Cheese||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||9/10|
|Cashew Cream||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||9/10|
|Silken Tofu||1 cup heavy cream = 1 cup pureed tofu||8/10|
|Milk + Cornstarch||1 cup heavy cream = 1 cup whole milk + 2 tbsp cornstarch||6/10|
|Pureed avocado or cauliflower||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||7/10|
Is whipping cream all you can find in your local store? Don’t hesitate to grab that carton — it’s exactly like heavy cream.
This dairy product is a staple in baking and is primarily used to add volume and airiness to desserts, but you can also use it in pasta sauces. It has a very similar fat content to heavy cream at 36%, which means it handles heat well and isn’t likely to curdle at high temperatures.
Whipping cream made my garlic pasta super creamy and I couldn’t really tell the difference between the one made with heavy cream.
How to substitute: Replace heavy cream in a 1:1 ratio with whipping cream.
Butter + Milk
If you’ve got butter and milk in your fridge, you won’t need to make an extra trip to the grocery store to buy heavy cream for your pasta. Mix these two ingredients together and they’ll provide the same creamy goodness.
You can simply throw the butter and milk in a blender, but I prefer melting the butter first and then adding the milk. I went for 1/4 cup of melted butter and 3/4 cup of milk, but you can also go for a 1:1 ratio if you want. And you can also add a tablespoon of flour to thicken the mixture (this will be useful if you’ve used low-fat milk).
If you don’t have any flour, another thing you can mix with milk to thicken it is cheese. I think parmesan cheese works best, and it’ll add a delicious flavor.
How to substitute: Replace 1 cup heavy cream with 1/4 cup butter + 3/4 cup milk.
Plant-Based Milk + Olive Oil
The vegan version of milk and butter is plant-based milk mixed with olive oil. The olive oil adds richness and fat, while the milk brings the dairy flavor. I think oat milk is the most like regular cow’s milk because it has the creamiest flavor, but use whatever you have to hand.
A 1:1 ratio would be too much olive oil here, so go for 1/4-1/3 olive oil and 3/4-2/3 milk.
Pro tip: use good quality olive oil, cheaper oils can have a weird aftertaste!
How to substitute: Replace 1 cup heavy cream with 1/4 cup olive oil + 3/4 cup plant-based milk.
Looking for a lighter alternative to heavy cream in your pasta? Half-and-half is the way to go.
As the name suggests, it’s a blend of equal parts whole milk and cream. Its fat content is around 18%, so it’s less rich than heavy cream but still offers a satisfyingly creamy mouthfeel. But the lower fat content does have a downside — half and half will curdle at high temperatures, so you’ll need to keep the heat on low when using this substitute.
I used the same amount of half-and-half to achieve a lighter but creamy pasta, but if you want a similar level of richness, add a small amount of melted butter to the sauce.
How to substitute: Replace in a 1:1 ratio for a lighter dish or 3/4 cup half-and-half + 1/4 cup melted butter.
Béchamel is a classic French sauce made with a blend of butter, flour, and milk. It might surprise some, but it does a decent job standing in for heavy cream in pasta dishes because it has a good amount of fat and that dairy flavor we crave.
The catch is it can be tricky to make, especially for beginners, but The Kitchn shares some tips that will help you perfect your béchamel. The most important factor is using the right ratios. I recommend 2 oz of butter and 3 oz of flour for every quart of milk. This will help you achieve a perfectly luscious, smooth béchamel sauce.
How to substitute: Replace heavy cream in a 1:1 ratio with a béchamel sauce.
Creme fraiche is a rich, tangy cream that originated in France. It boasts a high fat content around 30%, giving it a luxurious texture.
But it also comes with a subtle sour taste. I didn’t mind the tangy flavor in my garlic pasta, but if you have a lot of other sour ingredients like tomatoes or lemons it might be too much. If you find your sauce has become too sour, you can add a pinch of sugar to counteract this.
Psst… you can also use sour cream, which tends to be even more tangy than creme friache. Or Greek yogurt (which is high in protein!).
How to substitute: Replace heavy cream in a 1:1 ratio with creme fraiche, sour cream, or Greek yogurt.
If you’re not worried about using a lighter alternative, why not give mascarpone a shot? This Italian cheese is often associated with tiramisu but you can use it for pasta sauces too. The soft cheese melts like a dream and will enrich your pasta sauce just like heavy cream.
Mascarpone has a light sweetness to it, but nothing overpowering. It also tends to be thicker than heavy cream, but you can mix it with a bit of water or milk to loosen it up. This will also make sure it’s not too rich.
How to substitute: Replace 1 cup heavy cream with 3/4 cup mascarpone and as much water as you need.
If you can use mascarpone cheese, then of course you can also use cream cheese. Cream cheese is great for thickening sauces and you can use it in a 1:1 ratio for heavy cream.
It will sometimes have more tang than heavy cream, but nothing too noticeable. And as an added bonus you can get different flavors. I went with a garlic cream cheese for my garlic sauce to enhance the taste and it was yum.
Psst… if you’re trying to be healthy, you can also get low-fat cream cheese.
How to substitute: Replace 1 cup of heavy cream with 1 cup of cream cheese.
If you need a vegan alternative to heavy cream, cashew cream is a game-changer. Simply blending cashews with water results in a creamy, rich substitute that’s surprisingly close to heavy cream.
A trick I picked up from Minimalist Baker is to soak the cashews for 20-30 minutes in hot water before blending them. I know it’s an extra step that takes time, but it neutralizes the flavor of the cashews, so you won’t get any nutty notes.
I used equal parts cashew nuts and water to achieve a rich cashew cream, but you can use as little as ½ cup of nuts for every cup of water for a lighter substitute.
How to substitute: Replace 1 cup heavy cream in a 1:1 ratio with cashew cream.
Another vegan, dairy-free substitute for heavy cream is silken tofu.
Silken tofu is the softest variety of tofu and has a high water content, which gives it a creamy texture. All you need to do to turn the tofu into a heavy cream substitute is cube it up and blitz it in a food processor, adding milk if you want to thin it out. The mixture will have a mild soy flavor, but once you’ve mixed it with other ingredients, you won’t notice it.
Pro tip: you can also whip silken tofu in the same way as heavy cream, so you can use it as a topping for dessert too with a bit of added sugar.
How to substitute: Replace 1 cup heavy cream with 1 cup pureed silken tofu.
Milk + Cornstarch
If you have milk, but no butter to mix it with, you can mix it with cornstarch instead. This combo won’t provide the same richness as heavy cream, but the cornstarch acts as a thickening agent to give the milk a similar texture to heavy cream. For every cup of milk, you’ll want to use 2 tablespoons of cornstarch.
I only recommend using this as a last-resort substitute, or if you want a really low-calorie option because I feely my pasta was missing something.
Psst… you can also use other thinking agents like potato starch or arrowroot powder.
How to substitute: Replace 1 cup heavy cream with 1 cup whole milk + 2 tbsp cornstarch.
Cottage Cheese + Milk
Cottage cheese gets a bad rep in my opinion. It’s relatively low in fat, high in protein, and contains a variety of good-for-you vitamins. Its flavor is also pretty mild, which means it can make a good substitute for heavy cream, although there will be some cheesiness – but this doesn’t matter with pasta.
I know what you’re thinking… I don’t want a lumpy sauce, I want a silky smooth one! And don’t worry, this is totally possible with cottage cheese, you just need to blend it to get a smooth texture. And when you’re using it in place of heavy cream, also add in an equal amount of milk.
How to substitute: Replace 1 cup heavy cream with 1/2 cup cottage cheese + 1/2 cup milk.
Pureed Avocado Or Cauliflower
These two substitutes are moving away from the flavor of heavy cream, but if you don’t mind this they can make deliciously rich and creamy pasta sauces.
Avocados are higher in fat and will give you a super rich (slightly green sauce). While cauliflower is the lower-calorie, lighter option. I would mix both of them with some vegetable stock or milk and puree until you get a consistency like heavy cream.
A little tip for the cauliflower is to roast it before you puree it, this will remove some of the water and make sure the ‘cream’ isn’t too thin. It also gives it a deeper flavor.
How to substitute: Replace 1 cup heavy cream with 1 cup pureed cauliflower or avocado.
Other Substitute Options
The options above are my top substitutes for heavy cream in pasta dishes. But if you haven’t found what you’re looking for, here are some more options:
- Coconut Cream: Coconut cream is another vegan substitute you can try, but it won’t work for all pasta recipes because it brings a coconut flavor that won’t be easy to mask.
- Heavy Cream Powder: This is a dehydrated version of the real thing that’ll last you a long time. You’ll need to mix this with water and let it rest overnight before you can incorporate it into your dishes.
- Evaporated milk: This canned milk product has less water than regular milk, so it has a thicker texture and can make a decent (and low-calorie) replacement in pasta sauces.
Best Substitutes For Heavy Cream In Pasta
- 1 cup Whipping cream
- 1/4 cup Butter + 3/4 cup Milk
- 1 cup Half-and-Half
- 1 cup Bechamel
- 1 cup Creme Fraiche
- ¾ cup Mascarpone Cheese + a splash of water
- 1 cup Cashew Cream
- 1 cup Pureed Silken Tofu
- 1 cup Whole Milk + 2 tbsp Cornstarch
- Cook your meal according to the recipe
- Add your chosen heavy cream substitutes at the appropriate cooking time.
- Mix until thoroughly combined and continue with the recipe.