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The Best Supermarket Whipped Toppings
Are supermarket whipped toppings any good?
Published Apr. 1, 2016. Appears in Cook's Illustrated September/October 2011, Cook's Country TV Season 10: Arroz con Pollo and Sour Orange Pie
What You Need To Know
It’s hard to find a slice of cake or pie or a scoop of ice cream that isn’t better with a dollop of whipped cream on top. We like to make our own from heavy cream, sugar, and a little vanilla, but supermarkets are full of premade products daring us to nix the mixer.
To see if any could stand in for homemade, we assembled the seven top-selling national products, priced from $1.59 to $4.99; four of the whipped toppings come in aerosol cans and three in plastic tubs. Some are made with mostly cream; others are most definitely not—using water, corn syrup, and oil in lieu of a dairy base. All contain stabilizers and/or emulsifiers. Twenty-one America’s Test Kitchen staffers blindly sampled each whipped topping plain and atop chocolate cake.
When we tallied and analyzed the results, we found that texture played a big part in our preferences. All three of the tub-style whipped toppings had a textural edge over the aerosol products because they’re whipped at the factory and then frozen, which, with help from the stabilizers and emulsifiers, locks in the air bubbles so the toppings stay smooth and fluffy like real whipped cream. (You must defrost these products before use, which takes at least 4 hours; they can then be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.) Aerosol cans whip their liquid contents on the spot by forcing them through a nozzle with a blast of nitrous oxide, but the quick infusion of air often made for unstable toppings that slumped into weepy white puddles before we could take a bite.
One product stood out from the competition. “Is this real whipped cream?” asked multiple tasters. “FINALLY,” declared another. “Creamy. Milky. Yes.” This product was not, in fact, made with real cream—the first ingredient on the label is skim milk—but it duplicated the soft, billowy peaks and rich, light sweetness of homemade whipped cream. What it does contain is a relatively high amount of fat, 2 grams per 2-tablespoon serving, which is twice as much fat as the lowest-scoring whipped topping.
Some of the aerosol whipped toppings we tried were made with cream, but they had severe textural problems, save one: Land O’ Lakes Whipped Heavy Cream, which was our runner-up. Unlike some toppings, it doesn’t add water, which contributed to its firmer texture and richer flavor (it also had the same 2 grams of fat per serving as our winner). This product was one of only two to specify “heavy cream” on its label, compared with the “cream” on other ingredient lists, so we called the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and they told us that “cream” has to be at least 18 percent fat, while “heavy cream,” which we use for homemade whipped cream,...
Everything We Tested
Tasters praised this “thick,” “silky,” and “luscious” whipped topping for its “excellent, fresh cream flavor” with “just enough sweetness.” While a few noted a weird mouth-coating sensation, it seemed “the most like real whipped cream.”
This product is made with heavy cream, and tasters loved its buttery richness: “Actually tastes like cream!” “Feels like full fat” with “a perfect level of sweetness.” The downside: It looked slightly curdled and chunky from its aerosol nozzle.
Recommended with reservations
Marketed as a “natural” alternative to Cool Whip, this topping uses tapioca syrup instead of high-fructose and regular corn syrups and contains no actual dairy. It was “fluffy” with “the consistency of homemade” but tasted like marshmallow and almonds.
Tasters easily identified this product: “I feel like I’m at a church potluck in Illinois, circa 1998.” “Thick” and “fluffy” with an artificial aftertaste and a cooked, marshmallowy flavor, this “kid fantasy” earned a few points for nostalgia.
This aerosol product had “good creamy flavor” with a nice “balance of rich and sweet,” but it was too airy and loose. It quickly “disintegrated” and “deflated,” becoming “weepy” and “broken”; “you barely know it’s there.”
Reddi-wip uses heavy cream in this supposedly richer aerosol product, but it still only had 1 gram of fat, which wasn’t enough to balance out its supersweet flavor. Tasters also found it weepy and insubstantial.
Our tasters were dialing their dentists after this “supersweet” product; it doesn’t have very much sugar, but the little there was dominated because there wasn’t enough fat to balance it. It also looked “broken” and “wet.”
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The mission of America’s Test Kitchen Reviews is to find the best equipment and ingredients for the home cook through rigorous, hands-on testing.
Hannah is an executive editor for ATK Reviews and cohost of Gear Heads on YouTube.