The taste of sour cream is hard to beat. A common component in traditional Eastern European and Russian cuisine, sour cream is also an essential ingredient in a variety of dishes across the world, from filling up cheese-topped baked potatoes to adorning soups and stews. Sour cream, as you might expect from the name, has a distinctive sour flavor that cuts through some of the creaminess from the dairy content, thanks to the bacteria that helps to develop it. Don’t let the presence of these harmless bacteria put you off, though. They build the cream’s structure and produce lactic acid, which gives sour cream its unique taste.
But even the most prepared chef can be caught unawares now and again. And what happens when you’ve run out of sour cream, and that dish you need it for is moments away from being served? Luckily, while sour cream has its own flavor profile, there are loads of substitutes you can use that can emulate its taste and texture, and some of them you may already have in your refrigerator. Let’s take a look at the best sour cream alternatives out there.
1. Greek yogurt
If you’re fresh out of sour cream, Greek yogurt could be the next best choice. Both dairy products have a rich, thick consistency and a slightly sour taste that make them great substitutes for each other in a range of dishes (via MasterClass). Greek yogurt is particularly useful as a substitute for sour cream in mashed potatoes, where the lower fat content can make the dish feel a little lighter, without losing the tangy flavor that sour cream provides. It’s also a great choice in meals where sour cream is called for as a topping, like tacos or chili.
Bear in mind, though, that the two foods have some key differences. Greek yogurt is lower in fat than sour cream, and while this may be useful for some people, you can also lose some of the richness that the cream adds to food. Low-fat or non-fat Greek yogurt can also be tricky to cook with at higher heats, as the lack of fat can cause it to separate and congeal, explains Our Everyday Life. Nonetheless, Greek yogurt also has some nutritional advantages over sour cream, with a higher protein and probiotic content, giving your gut some healthy bacteria.
2. Coconut milk
Finding a substitute for sour cream can be difficult if you’re trying to avoid dairy, as most of them are, well … made with dairy. However, there are some excellent non-dairy sour cream alternatives out there, and coconut milk is one of them.
Made with coconut flesh, coconut milk is normally used in soups and curries to add a creamy texture that’s totally vegan, but it can be adapted to replace sour cream too. To do this, put a can of coconut milk in the fridge overnight. This will cause the cream in the can to rise to the top and solidify, explains A Couple Cooks. Spoon this cream into a bowl, and mix it with a little acid (lemon juice or apple cider vinegar works well) and a touch of salt. And voilà! You have a vegan sour cream substitute that can go with any meal you like.
If your recipe calls for sour cream to be mixed in (like beef stroganoff), you can add the thinner coconut milk without refrigerating, with a little spritz of lemon juice. As a bonus, coconut milk can be stored in your pantry for months if kept in its original can, making it a great substitute to stock up on.
When looking for a sour cream alternative, you’ll need to find a product that has a similar combination of acid and cream. And buttermilk has just that. Traditionally created as a byproduct of butter, buttermilk has since become a desirable food item itself, and is now cultured specifically for use in kitchens, explains Country Living. And like sour cream, it has a trademark tang that can emulate the former ingredient’s contribution to recipes.
As buttermilk is slightly thinner than sour cream, it’s best used in dishes that don’t need to be super thick, with foods like ranch dressing or various dips benefitting from the substitution. Buttermilk can also be used in baking recipes that call for sour cream, like cakes or biscuits. You may also need to watch your proportions slightly when using buttermilk instead of sour cream, as using the same amount may thin out your meal too much. For every cup of sour cream called for, use slightly less buttermilk, adding more after tasting and assessing the food’s consistency.
So, you’ve run out of sour cream, and your fridge is looking pretty bare. No yogurt, no crème fraîche, nothing. What do you do? We’d recommend you check your pantry for a jar of mayo. While you may not think of mayonnaise as your go-to sour cream substitute, the two foods have some similarities that make them interchangeable in certain dishes, says Leaf. Their similar flavor profiles and consistencies mean that mayonnaise can be used in dips and dressings that call for sour cream. Mayonnaise can also be used in mashed potatoes recipes that call for sour cream. Like the cream, mayonnaise can add thickness and creaminess to your potatoes, while helping to bind things together and keep the mashed potatoes stable.
There are some situations where it’s not quite a straight swap between the two ingredients, however. Sour cream is naturally lower in fat than regular mayonnaise, so using the same amount of mayo in its place may make your dish overly rich. Try adding slightly less mayo than you would sour cream at first, and see how it tastes, adjusting your seasonings from there.
5. Cottage cheese
Cottage cheese is a seriously underrated snack, with the high-protein cheese not only tasting great but providing excellent vitamin and mineral content (via Healthline). And if that’s not enough, it’s also a fantastic sour cream substitute, and can also be used to replace other milk products, like yogurt or crème fraîche, explains Real California Milk. As cottage cheese is generally a little lumpier than sour cream, you might find it useful to blitz it in a food processor to make it smoother, and a little extra sourness can be added with a squeeze of lemon juice. Putting in a touch of milk when you blend may also help to thin the mixture out a little.
So, what can you use cottage cheese for in place of sour cream? As it turns out, quite a few things. Cottage cheese goes well in cake frosting and mashed potatoes, and can also make a great addition to coleslaw dressing, to amp up the salad’s protein levels. Remember, though, that while adding milk may bring additional fat to this sour cream substitute, cottage cheese has a naturally low-fat composition, so adding it to food where the sour cream would be heated may cause it to split.
6. Mexican crema
If you need a sour cream substitute, it makes sense to go with the closest thing, and it doesn’t get much closer than Mexican crema. In fact, the two are so similar that they’re often referred to interchangeably, says Spiceography. The two foods, however, are slightly different. Mexican crema has a slightly milder taste than sour cream and doesn’t quite have the same level of sourness, instead being slightly more salty and buttery. It’s also a little bit thinner than sour cream and has a gently sweet edge to its taste. Sour cream, on the other hand, is a touch lower in fat than Mexican crema, so it has a lighter flavor.
Despite these differences, Mexican crema can be used in place of sour cream in several applications. It’s particularly useful as an alternative in meals that call for sour cream to temper spice or reduce heat levels, like chilis or tacos. Mexican crema’s elevated fat content also makes it useful to use in recipes that have a high acid content, as it’ll be less likely to split or curdle. Because it’s thinner, though, it may be less effective as a substitute with food where sour cream is dolloped on top, like baked potatoes.
7. Heavy cream and lemon juice or vinegar
Sour cream has an idiosyncratic taste that sets it apart from other dairy products. But if you only have a carton of regular heavy cream in your fridge, don’t fret: It can still act as a worthwhile sour cream substitute, with just one small change. Adding an acidic element to a heavy cream, like lemon juice or vinegar, makes it a sour cream alternative, according to Does It Go Bad.
Importantly, though, this substitute can only be used in certain situations, primarily because this mixture will be thinner than sour cream. Because of this, it’s best used in recipes that call for sour cream primarily as a flavoring and not for its consistency, like cakes or muffins — just make sure you account for the thinner nature of the heavy cream mixture by adding more of the other ingredients.
If you do require the thickness of sour cream, you can also take a little time to whip up your heavy cream, with a hand mixer, blender, or even a handheld whisk (hey, it’s a good arm workout!), and then add lemon juice afterward. Remember, though, that this substitute doesn’t work the other way around. If your recipe calls for heavy cream only, using sour cream could introduce tartness that ruins the taste of the food.
8. Crème fraîche
At first glance, sour cream and crème fraîche look (and taste) pretty similar. Both foods are thick, creamy, milk-based products that have a tart taste, and as a result, crème fraîche works as a great alternative to sour cream. Where this sour cream substitute shines is in its thickness, making it a natural choice for recipes that call for sour cream as a topping. It’s also particularly useful for dishes like sauces or stews, which incorporate sour cream directly to thicken or flavor them, as crème fraîche’s slightly higher fat content means it’s less prone to splitting at higher heat.
It’s useful to bear in mind, though, that while the two foods are alike, they’re not exactly the same. Crème fraîche has a slightly milder taste than sour cream, and the latter’s acidity doesn’t just contribute to flavor, but to texture too, with the lower pH level changing the consistency of flour-based foods and helping them retain moisture. Additionally, using crème fraîche might make some foods a little too thick, so you may want to account for this by thinning it slightly with milk or water.
9. Cashew cream
If you’re catering to vegan guests, or have switched to a plant-based diet yourself, it can be hard to emulate the creamy consistency that dairy products bring to a meal. But the solution is simpler than you think. You can make your very own sour cream substitute from a bag of cashews and some water, states Cook’s Illustrated. This is all thanks to the inherently starchy nature of cashews, as well as their high fat content, which all come together with the added liquid to make a cream-like substance when blended.
To make this sour cream substitute, you’ll need to think ahead. Your cashews will take some time to soften before they blend up effectively, so give them a good few hours to soak in water. Remember that using roasted cashews may alter the eventual flavor of the cashew cream, so if you want something a little more versatile, use raw nuts. Adding a little bit of acid may help you emulate the taste of sour cream more precisely, so try adding a spritz of lemon juice to the mixture. Just remember, too, that heating cashew cream can make it thicker, unlike sour cream or other creams, which can get thinner when heated.
For a sour cream substitute that your gut will thank you for, kefir is your go-to choice. This milk product, which is similar in flavor and texture to yogurt, has been around for generations. Its taste is produced via a fermentation process that not only creates a sour flavor but a protein-packed dairy product that’s abundant in vitamins and minerals. In fact, a 2016 study published in the medical journal Nutrition and Cancer suggests that kefir could have a positive impact on your immune system and even prevent cancer.
Kefir’s sourness makes it a great swap for sour cream, explains Lifeway. While it is thinner than sour cream, if you’re using it in baking recipes, you can generally sub it in as a straight swap. For liquid-based foods, it could be useful to use slightly less kefir. It’s also important to assess how sour the kefir you’re using is, as they can be quite tart. Straining kefir through a fine cloth can make it thicker, and by doing this, you may also be able to make a sour cream substitute that can be used as a topping.
11. Silken tofu
Replacing dairy products with non-dairy alternatives seems to get more popular with each passing day. But the good news is, you don’t have to compromise when you’re going dairy-free. There is a range of foods out there that can effectively emulate the quality and flavor of dairy, and when it comes to sour cream, using silken tofu is a smart move.
Although most of us are familiar with firm tofu, silken tofu has higher water content and a smooth, creamy texture that lends itself to replicating a variety of dairy items. Both products are made by processing soybeans and are chock-full of nutrients, including powerful antioxidants that can help to reduce the risk of developing chronic conditions, states BBC Good Food. And making sour cream out of it is a breeze. All you have to do is blend some silken tofu with a small amount of lemon juice, some vegan milk, and a pinch of salt, says "Vegan Soups and Hearty Stews for All Seasons" author Nava Atlas via SFGate. Then, pop it into any food that calls for sour cream, from dips to desserts.
12. Cream cheese
We don’t know about you, folks, but we seriously love cream cheese. And we love it even more knowing that we can use it as a substitute for sour cream. Both foods are dairy products that are seriously thick and give a creamy feel and flavor to dishes, thanks to their high fat levels (via Foodsguy). If you don’t have sour cream, cream cheese can be especially good as a substitute in dips and dressings, as well as when baking or mixed into frostings.
There’s no denying, however, that sour cream and cream cheese have their differences, the main one being that one of them is, well, a cheese, and is made with milk as well as cream. This results in some clear differences in flavor, with sour cream having a bit more acerbity than cream cheese, which is generally milder. Cream cheese can also be a touch saltier than sour cream, so if you’re using it as a substitute, make sure that you’re reducing salt elsewhere. Using cream cheese instead of sour cream may also add more calories to your meal, due to higher protein and fat content.