There may be no worse feeling in the kitchen than that moment when you are halfway into cooking a recipe only to discover you are missing a key ingredient. For me, that often means sour cream. I’ll assume that the tub of the good stuff in the fridge is full, only to discover there’s just a couple sad tablespoons in a big empty container. Or (even worse), sometimes the contents of that container are terrifyingly green and furry.
Luckily, there are many substitutions you can use, depending on how you are using sour cream in your recipe. And these options cover you when you want to make something vegan or dairy-free.
There are guidelines. In most cases – and anytime the use is hot or baked – you will need the full-fat version of any sour cream substitute. Sour cream is just that, cream-based, and the fat is essential to how it works in recipes for desserts like sour cream cheesecake, gelato. So, while you can sub in reduced or fat-free versions of substitutions for recipes to make dips or frosting, if you need to cook or bake with it, full fat is the only way to go. Here's what to use, and when to use it.
Swap in Greek-style yogurt, labneh or skyr
These extra-thick fermented dairy products are terrific swaps for sour cream in pretty much any application. They bring a similar tart, punchy flavor, plus an almost identical texture and creamy richness to the party for dips and dollops. And in baking, they have enough acidity to interact with leaveners and still add that tenderness that sour cream provides sour cream poundcake and sour cream chocolate cake.
Go less tangy with crème fraîche
An elegant but slightly less-tangy swap for sour cream is crème fraîche. It has a thick texture similar to sour cream, but the flavor is a bit milder. Crème fraîche works well in sauces, casseroles, and cakes, but may require an added squeeze of lemon to work as a substitute in dips.
Make a thinner sauce with buttermilk
If what you are looking for is the tang, especially when baking cakes, you can sub in an equal amount of buttermilk by volume. That said, buttermilk has a much thinner consistency, and is not thick enough to sub in for dips. It works well for a dressing for coleslaw or other greens.
Go rich and creamy with cottage cheese, mascarpone or ricotta
If you are making dips or garnishes, full-fat cottage cheese, mascarpone or ricotta cheeses, preferably creamier styles, are a simple substitution. If you are using cottage cheese or ricotta, whip it in a food processor until the consistency is smooth before using.
Whip up a plant-based sour cream
If you need a sour cream substitute because of dietary restrictions, you can buy one of the many plant-based sour creams on the market. To make your own, blend either soaked cashews or silken tofu with lemon juice, vinegar, and salt to get that creamy texture and tart flavor.
Photo by Daniel Lloyd Blunk-Fernández on Unsplash
Make sour cream at home
Want to DIY your own sour cream? If you can plan a day or so ahead of when you need it, sour cream is actually pretty easy to make. And, you can control how tangy it gets. Whisk a cup of heavy cream in a large jar or container with a teaspoon of either lemon juice or distilled white vinegar. Let the mixture sit for 10 minutes, then stir in 2 ounces of whole milk until well-blended. Cover the container with a piece of cheesecloth, and tie it with twine or secure it with a rubber band to keep bugs out. Let it sit in a cool, dark place in your kitchen for 24 to 48 hours, then chill before using.