Thursday, May 23, 2024

The best substitutes for sour cream

Running out of ingredients, pretty much on a daily basis is a pain we all deal with all the time. One of the most forgotten ingredients on the shopping list is sour cream, moreso because it is not available at every grocery store here in Mumbai., Since it is not easily available and has an instant expiry date once opened, opting for substitutes is something many of us tend to do.

Another reason for opting for substitutes could be dietary restrictions, intolerances, or allergies. 

There is some good news, many dairy-based and non-dairy alternatives are readily available to make your dishes just as delicious. Sour cream is used in dishes ranging from sweet to savoury in a variety of ways. Most often as a condiment atop dishes like soups, veggies or baked potatoes, and also in baked goods like cakes, cookies, and biscuits.

Let’s start with the basics- What is sour cream? 

Sour cream is a fermented dairy product made by combining cream, which is the high fat layer skimmed off the top of whole milk, with lactic acid bacteria. The bacteria eats up the sugar (lactose) in the cream and releases lactic acid as the waste product which gives the cream a tangy and sour taste. Hence the name, sour cream. 

Now that we know a little bit about sour cream, 

let’s take a look at some sour cream substitutes and how to use them.

Dairy-based substitutes —

A lot of sour cream substitutes are dairy based but are great options nonetheless. 

  1. Greek yogurt: Greek yogurt or even plain yogurt makes a fabulous stand-in for sour cream. 

Greek yogurt is a tangier version of plain yogurt so it’s definitely the better option. 

Yogurt is not as thick as greek yogurt so if you are planning on using plain yogurt my advice would be to stain out most of its whey. Yogurt is the best substitute for sour cream. An added bonus is that greek yogurt is lower in calories and fat and higher in protein than full-fat sour cream. Equal parts of full-fat Greek yogurt can be used in place of regular sour cream in any recipe, including baked goods.Greek yogurt can be used as a substitute for sour cream in dips, dressings,  toppings and also great on baked potatoes, just make sure it’s not flavoured.

  1. Cottage cheese: aka Paneer, is soft, high in protein and creamy making is a worthy substitute for sour cream. To replace sour cream with cottage cheese, mix 1 cup of cottage cheese with ¼ cup of milk and 2 teaspoons of lemon juice for a similar sour creamy consistency and flavour.
  2. Crème fraîche: Crème fraîche literally means fresh cream. It is so similar to sour cream, except slightly thicker and less tangy. It is higher in fat and calories than sour cream, it can be used as an easy one-to-one substitute. It is an ideal ingredient in sauces, soups and being milder in flavour it doesnt change the flavour of the dish. Did you know that crème fraîche is basically a French sour cream, except it isn’t sour? 
  3. Buttermilk: Now that we’ve visited France with Crème fraîche let’s come straight to the Motherland. Lassi, chaas or buttermilk is widely popular in India. Buttermilk is creamy and acidic like sour cream but it is still a liquid so it can only be used as a replacement for sour cream in baked goods or dressings. 
  4. Cream Cheese: Another stand up replacement for sour cream is cream cheese. Slightly thicker than sour cream it will need to be whipped and loosened up a bit before using it in recipes. For every 1 cup of sour cream called for in a recipe, use 6 ounces cream cheese thinned with a tablespoon or two of milk, buttermilk or water. 
  5. Kefir: This fermented drink is made from milk and easily available in grocery stores. It tastes like if buttermilk and yogurt had a baby. It’s prized for its probiotics and is often used in smoothies. Kefir can be used evenly in place of sour cream in pancake batters, dips, or dressings. Like buttermilk, it is thin and watery, so it’s no good for dolloping like whipped cream.  Buttermilk, it is thin and watery, so it’s no good for dolloping.

Non-dairy alternatives —

For lactose intolerants and vegans fret not, there are several non-dairy alternatives for sour cream. 

  • Coconut milk: Coconut milk or coconut cream is an exceptional non-dairy alternative to sour cream. Coconut milk is lactose-free and vegan, making it vegan friendly and a great option for people with milk allergies or dietary restrictions. The cream on top of full-fat coconut milk can be skimmed off or ready canned coconut cream, blended with apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, and sea salt to be used as a plant-based sour cream substitute. 
  • Cashews: Surprise! Surprise! Cashews are a great sour cream alternative as well. Buttery and high in fat, when blended with vinegar and lemon juice it makes for a wonderful plant based sour cream substitute. If you want to eliminate dairy, cashews are a fantastic alternative but it is a time consuming method but for the extra effort. It is a one-to-one replacement for sour cream in any dish. 
  • Soy or Tofu: If you want your food to be vegan friendly, look no further, tofu is here to save the day.  It’s packed with protein, and it’s a low-calorie option as well. You can make this soy-based version of sour cream at home by simply blending silken tofu with apple cider vinegar, lemon juice and salt. Voila! Your soy sour cream is ready. 
  • Mayonnaise: Here’s an ingredient you definitely have in your refrigerator. You can use it as a cup-for-cup replacement for sour cream with a splash of apple cider vinegar to give the sour cream zing. 

Do It Yourself Sour Cream —

Yes! Believe it or not, you can make your own sour cream at home. All you need is three ingredients. It definitely is not the easiest option but it isn’t impossible either. 

Whisk together 1 cup heavy cream with 1 teaspoon of lemon juice or white distilled vinegar.

Let that sit for ten minutes, and then mix in 1/4 cup whole milk. Cover the mixture and let it sit at room temperature for one to two days depending on temperature conditions. After a day or two, stick it in the refrigerator to cool before enjoying it. 

NOTE: What you’re making will often dictate which substitute will work best. 

The bottom line —

Dont lose out on this key ingredient to add flavour to many a dish, substitute sour cream with multiple choices of dairy and non-dairy. Hopefully these alternatives will do the trick. 

Vinita Alvares Fernandes
Vinita Alvares Fernandes is an Economics graduate, a writer and a Trinity College certified public speaker and communicator

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