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I was taught that cream is "Sahne" (f) in Scandinavian school German lessons, however, when visiting Switzerland, it appeared to be called "Rahm" (m).

I tried asking about this, and the person didn't seem to understand "Sahne", but that could be my German being rusty.

Is it a North/South/regional difference or is it subtly different creams, different fat content etc.? Thank you.

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Your hunch re. regionalism is correct.

In most parts of Germany, cream is Sahne, Swiss German uses Rahm, so does Swabia1 and South Bavaria2, Austria calls it Obers.

Now as you probably expected, this is too simple. (Sweet) Cream comes in two varieties: liquid and whipped. And the linguistic Rahm-Sahne-border is not the same for both preparations, at last in SW-Germany. Born and raised with a Swabian dialect, the liquid cream for me is Rahm, if it's whipped, it turns into Sahne - without any qualifier like "Schlag-". Northern Germany distinguishes between Sahne (-> liquid) and Schlagsahne (-> whipped). Likewise for Switzerland (Schlagrahm) and Austria (Schlagobers).

And once you realized that Sahne and Rahm are the same stuff, it becomes clear that a Rahmsoße and a Sahnesoße both indicate a preparation refined with cream. Easy, right?


1 I tried to find details about the distribution in the Atlas der deutschen Alltagssprache, unfortunately without success. Input from other comunity members is very welcome.

2 Altbayern, i.e. Upper Bavaria, Lower Bavaria and the Oberpfalz.

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    To me, Schlagsahne is sweet cream even when not whipped (as opposed to saure Sahne). – chirlu May 17 '16 at 19:07
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    In Dutch, room is both single cream and double cream (for whipping), but rarely whipped cream, while slagroom is both double cream (cream for whipping) and whipped cream, but not single cleam. So the terms overlap, and neither includes the other. – reinierpost May 17 '16 at 22:18
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    @reinierpost Yes, in English it's so bewildering that if my wife sends me shopping and writes down "cream", I'm going to be on the phone asking which one, while quietly sobbing in front of the shelf. ;) – user21173 May 18 '16 at 0:59
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    And just to make it even more complex, one can also order cake or coffee "mit Schlag", i.e. whipped cream - at least in the south. This at least solves the problem of whether to call it "Sahne", "Rahm" or "Obers" ;) – Gerhard May 26 '16 at 9:49
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    @Stephie In contrast to the North-South divide for Sahne and Rahm, to word in East Frisian Low German is Rohm (e.g. used for the famous tea East Frisian tea ceremony). – Faded Giant May 26 '16 at 10:37
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Answers might differ for different Regions in Germany. In my locality (SW Germany), Sahne is a linguistic import from Hochdeutsch. Traditionally, Rahm was used for both the fluid in the dairy farm that swims on top of the fresh milk and the fluid in the kitchen used to cook from and/or whip. The linguistic newcomer Sahne has, apparently, extruded Rahm from any "kitchen" use (and we use the same term for both single and double cream in the kitchen).

With my friends on the dairy farm, the same thing is still Rahm.

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