How Can Half & Half be Fat Free?

I was having my morning coffee today and as I added some fat free half and half, a recurring question nagged at me: how can half and half be fat free? After all, what is half and half? Is it not half milk and half cream? And does not cream have fat? In fact, is not the fat content at the heart of the definition of cream? Hence the conundrum: how can half and half be fat free?

This questioned nags at me every single time I buy half and half. I stand in front of the dairy case staring at the half and half and the “fat free half and half”. My hand first goes to the fat free, then the regular, then back to the fat free. What should I get? The stuff they call “fat free half and half” or the real stuff with half milk and half cream.

First, what is half and half?

Apparently, it depends on where you live. In Australia1, half and half (or fifties) is half lager and half dark ale. In Belgium, it’s half wine and half champagne. Even in some parts of the US, there’s something called an Arnold Palmer: half lemonade and half iced tea. I’m sure all of those half and halves (halfs?) would taste good in my coffee (except , perhaps, Arnold), but it’s the American version of coffee half and half we’re after: half light cream and half whole milk2.

Light cream is milk that contains 10 – 30% butterfat. There are all sorts of “milk”, defined solely by their fat content3:

Clotted cream 55- 60%

Double cream 48%

Heavy cream 36 – 38%

Single cream 20%

Light cream 16 – 29%

Half & Half 10 – 12%

Whole milk about 3.5%

2% milk approximately 2%

1% milk approximately 1%

Skim milk 0 – .5%

So, what exactly is in “fat free half and half”?

After reading the labels (duh!) of several brands of “fat free half and half”, here’s what I found:

Fat free milk, Corn syrup, Cream**, Artificial color, Disodium phosphate, Carrageenan, Guar gum, Vitamin A palmitate.

That brings us back to the original conundrum. If fat free half and half has cream (which by definition has fat), how can this product be fat free? And the label says “Total Fat 0g”. Then I noticed the ** notation for the “Cream” ingredient. That notation stated: ** adds a trivial amount of fat.

There you have it. Fat-free half and half isn’t half and half after all because it’s not half cream and half milk. And fat free half and half isn’t in fact fat free because it has a “trivial amount” of fat. It’s not fat free and it’s not half and half. I wonder if they make fat free cream?

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