Complete Guide to Sour Cream Substitutes
Looking for great sour cream substitutes in your favorite dishes? Sour cream is one of the most popular ingredients in modern recipes, serving as both a topping, a thick, creamy medium for sauces and dips and a baking additive for moisture and fluffiness. Whether it’s topping your favorite nachos or thickening up your crockpot white chicken chili recipe, its creamy, slightly tangy demeanor is a favorite addition.
If you are out of this popular ingredient or looking for a dairy-free substitute due to a vegan diet or lactose intolerance, there are a number of options for getting the taste, texture and other benefits of actual sour cream. There are also a number of dairy alternatives that may be in your fridge that can mimic the texture and flavor of sour cream in a pinch.
Looking for a perfect substitute for sour cream in baking or for sauces? Let’s take a look at 11 sour cream replacements that will give your recipes that creamy tang you’re looking for.
Jump to Section
- What Is Sour Cream?
- Purpose of Sour Cream in Cooking and Baking
- 8 Best Dairy-Based Substitutes for Sour Cream
- 3 Best Dairy-Free Sour Cream Substitutes
What Is Sour Cream?
Sour cream is created by mixing heavy cream with naturally occurring bacteria that produce lactic acid. These bacteria both thicken the cream and give it its trademark sour and tangy taste.
The very first sour cream was created by allowing the cream to age naturally over several days at room temperature and then harvesting the cream that formed at the top. It initially gained popularity as a key ingredient in Eastern and Central European foods, such as a thickener for borscht and other stews. It is also used as a topping for blinis and as an accompaniment to caviar in Russian dishes.
Immigrant populations in America established it as a popular ingredient in American and other cuisines, including as the star of many Mexican dishes as both a topping and a way of balancing spicy flavors.
Purpose of Sour Cream in Cooking and Baking
Sour cream is one of the most versatile ingredients in kitchens. It works excellently as a topping for everything from tacos to baked potatoes. It’s also a great thickener, adding creaminess and a slight tang to soups, stews and sauces. It’s a perfect carrier for salad dressings and dips too.
In baking, the addition of sour cream adds both moisture and helps baked goods to rise due to its amount of lactic acid.
When seeking out sour cream substitutes, finding what works best will depend on a variety of factors including desired consistency, ingredients and nutritional needs. While some replacements are nearly identical to sour cream, their cooking properties and results may vary from the real thing. While the texture may be similar to your sour cream substitute, you may have to add elements to achieve a similar flavor.
If you’re intimidated by the idea of experimenting in the kitchen alone, you could always seek out the help of a professional chef in cooking classes near you. From cooking classes in NYC to cooking classes in Portland, there’s sure to be a chef nearby eager to help you learn. You can also take great online cooking classes wherever you may be located.
8 Best Dairy-Based Substitutes for Sour Cream
1. Greek Yogurt
One of the closest relatives to sour cream, Greek yogurt is created by a similar process of adding bacteria to dairy to form a rich lactic acid product — in this case, whole milk is the base. This similarity makes Greek yogurt an excellent sour cream substitute that has a similar flavor and consistency, hence its prevalence as a tangy base in Greek foods like tzatziki.
To swap out Greek yogurt for sour cream, use a 1:1 ratio of the full-fat variety for best results. Other lower-fat versions work well in non-heated contexts as a topping or dip. When using Greek yogurt in baking, make sure that there are no additives like gums or starches that may affect your finished product.
Plain, non-Greek yogurt can also stand in as a sour cream substitute with a few modifications. While the consistency may be thicker than sour cream, you can use a cheesecloth or strainer to drain the yogurt into a more sour cream-like texture. You will get about ¾ of a cup of strained yogurt for every cup of unstrained yogurt.
While its ingredients vary from other cream-based substances, mayonnaise is a common sour cream substitute due to both its texture and wide availability in most kitchens. It is a perfect 1:1 substitute for baking, where it confers the same amount of moisture as sour cream.
Results may vary, however, due to the ingredient makeup of mayonnaise, which is made from eggs and oil and not lactic acid-rich dairy, so keep that in mind if fluffiness is your goal. It is, however, a perfect sub for sour cream in dips and sauces and can achieve a similar sour flavor with the addition of lemon or white vinegar.
One of the best sour cream substitutes for baking and for its trademark sour and tangy flavor is buttermilk. While it has a thinner texture, a ¾ ratio of buttermilk to sour cream works well for baking as an additive to wet batters like pancakes and muffins. For sauces, dressings and dips, it can also be thickened with the addition of mayonnaise or Greek yogurt to achieve a creamier texture.
4. Cream Cheese
While its texture and flavor vary more from sour cream, this substitute lends itself well in a pinch or where a thicker texture is desired, such as in dips or toppings. It is also great for heated sauces since cream cheese does not curdle quite so readily as sour cream, buttermilk and yogurt.
To make cream cheese closer in texture and consistency to sour cream, add 6 ounces of cream cheese to 2 tablespoons of buttermilk.
5. Crème Fraîche
A popular ingredient in French cooking, crème fraîche, or fresh cream, is another great option for heating since it will not curdle as quickly as other substitutes. This makes it a perfect sour cream substitute for making sauces and soups, where its thinner consistency will not necessarily be noticeable.
6. Mexican Crema
Used much like sour cream as a topping and ingredient in dishes like tacos, burritos and nachos, this thinner consistency substance makes another great sour cream substitute that is similar in flavor profile. While used most commonly as a topping, it is also good as a thinner texture sour cream alternative with the same great tanginess in soups and dressings.
7. Cottage Cheese
Gaining recent popularity on social media platforms like Tik Tok and Instagram, cottage cheese is having a moment in everything from low-fat smoothie prep to ice cream alternatives. It’s also perfect as a sour cream substitute with quite a bit less fat than the original. To get a similar consistency and taste to sour cream, add ¼ cup milk and 2 teaspoons of lemon juice to 1 cup of small curd cottage cheese.
8. DIY Sour Cream
If you find yourself with an empty or unusable container of sour cream, you can always make some from scratch using 1 cup of heavy cream combined with a teaspoon of lemon juice or white vinegar. The process will mimic the creation of sour cream in texture, though many people feel like the taste is not quite the same.
Since it does not contain the same amounts of lactic acid as sour cream, it's best avoided in baking but great for use in dips and dressings or to thicken soups and sauces.
3 Best Dairy-Free Sour Cream Substitutes
9. Coconut Cream
If you are lactose intolerant or following a vegan diet, coconut cream makes a great option as a dairy-free sour cream substitute. Coconut cream can be harvested off the top layer of a can of full-fat coconut milk, making a great creamy vegan sour cream substitute that can be mixed with lemon juice or apple cider vinegar to get the sourness and tang of sour cream. It’s best used for colder recipes, including dips, toppings and dressings, but can also add moisture to baked goods.
10. Cashew Cream
One of the most common dairy ingredient alternatives in vegan diets, cashew cream is a combination of ground cashews and water used for baking, smoothies and dips. Often made in a blender at home, it’s a substance that is easily adjustable during creation. Limiting the amount of water you use can create a thicker mixture that is a perfect sour cream substitute. By adding vinegar, sea salt and lemon, you can achieve a similar flavor profile to sour cream, making it a great dairy-free sour cream substitute.
11. Dairy-Free Sour Cream
Readily available in supermarkets, this sour cream substitute is similar in flavor and texture to the full-dairy original, making it perfect for dips, sauces and dressings. Because it is usually created from either cashew or coconut cream, the results may be different when heated or used in baking. While it will create the moisture of full-dairy sour cream, the results will not be quite as light and airy as baked goods made with sour cream.
Sour cream is a classic and much-used ingredient perfect for a variety of uses, from sauces and toppings to soups and baking. If you are looking for a sour cream substitute, there are a number of great options that will help you achieve the consistency and flavor you desire in whatever you are preparing.
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