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What Happens When You Whip Cream

November 10, 2009

As I was just whipping some cream (which is a shockingly quick process when using an electric beater compared to the last time I whipped cream with a fork and elbow grease), I thought back to the now  infamous story of when I made the mistake of thinking “if I can whip cream with a fork once I can do it twice” and whipped for so long that it became a solid. In my infinite wisdom, I somehow came to the conclusion that this was actually white chocolate and ate it plain for a few days until I recounted the story to my dad who proceeded to inform me that I had actually been eating straight up butter.

I wondered, because I am a dork, what exactly the scientific process was behind turning cream to whipped cream, and what happened differently when I crossed into Butterdom. If you’re similarly nerdy, read on. And if you’re extra nerdy, go to this site which has all you could ever want to know about dairy science.

So, cream has a good bit of fat in it (about 30-40%), and when you whip air into it the fat globules get all in a frenzy and chain up and stick to the surfaces of the air bubbles. Then the fat-covered air bubbles seek out other fat-covered air bubbles and they stick together. Meanwhile, the air, lactose and proteins get stuck between the air/fat bubbles. This new structure stabilizes the air bubbles, creating the stiffness and smooth texture we associate with whipped cream. What differentiates whipped cream from butter is that the globules in whipped cream have a crystal-like structure and they maintain their individual identity and are still capable of forming these clusters. Butter is formed when the fat is churned too much, causing larger and larger globules that can no longer create these little clusters.



I like to think of it like a human pyramid, where each person is a fat globule and they’re all connected to make this pretty structure, and that’s whipped cream. Then the fat kid tries to get to the top of the pyramid and everyone gets angry and can’t support each other anymore and so the whole thing collapses. And that pile of people is butter. Get it?

I should probably be a science teacher.


4 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    January 21, 2012 6:55 pm

    Thanks for being so nerdy! 🙂 You answered my question perfectly. The reason I was wondering was because I am looking for a hand mixer and wondered if a whisk attachment (buy separately for the mixer I was looking at) would do any more than the regular beaters. Knowing what cream needs in order to become whipped cream helped me understand what tools I need (and don’t need) to make it happen. Awesome!

  2. kfoley123 permalink
    September 4, 2012 1:24 am

    love it, thank you!

  3. Jon permalink
    November 23, 2012 2:26 am

    I was entertained by your post… You should be a science teacher.

  4. Andrew permalink
    September 26, 2014 8:33 am

    hahahaha. human pyramid. Fat kid = people butter. I shall use this explanation at every opportunity. Even when no one asks the question! xx

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