Sour Cream Substitutes: Dairy and Non-Dairy Alternatives


This is a scenario many people face. You set your goal for the day to make the perfect sour cream cake. But then you realize you don’t have any sour cream in the kitchen. You’ve used every last bit of the container, and you forgot to buy some. What you’re facing now is a three-choice scenario. Your first choice is to ditch the idea completely. Your second choice is to run to the supermarket and buy some sour cream. And your third choice is to improvise and use a sour cream substitute.

Today, I want to talk about the third option. Before we start, I want to say that there are at least two reasons why people try to find a sour cream substitute. The first one is for practical purposes when you don’t have sour cream. The second is a bit more complicated. Lactose-intolerant people have to find a substitute for sour cream since it is rich in milk.

Sour cream is a staple dairy product not only in America but around the world as well. Made by fermenting regular cream, sour cream also contains lactic acid bacteria. Many Mexican dishes use sour cream as a condiment. Around the world, sour cream is a basic ingredient in desserts, appetizers, and bread. But since it is high in fat, this dairy product is becoming more and more expendable. Therefore, today we’ll talk about some dairy and non-dairy substitutes you can use.

All the sour cream substitute options

I want to give you the options you have in a nutshell. Depending on the recipe you’re making, and on your specific needs, substitutes vary. For example, yogurt is an excellent substitute in many recipes, but not in desserts. What you have to keep in mind is that yogurt is thinner in texture than sour cream.

Here are some of the options you have:

  • For baked goods, substitute 1 cup of sour cream with 7/8 cup of buttermilk and 3 tablespoons of butter.
  • Another baking sour cream substitute is 1 cup of yogurt with the addition of 1 teaspoon of baking soda.
  • You can use ¾ cup of buttermilk (or sour milk) and 1/3 cup of butter for every 1 cup of sour cream.
  • When it comes to sauces, 1 cup of yogurt, mixed with 2 teaspoons of water and 1 tablespoon of flour, is great substitute for sour cream.
  • Another cooked sauce substitute is 1 cup of evaporated milk with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar. If you use this substitute, remember to let it thicken for five minutes.
  • I mentioned sour cream is a staple in dips, but it can be easily substituted. One option is to use 1 cup of yogurt; drain the yogurt through a cheesecloth-lined sieve for at least 30 minutes in the fridge for a thicker texture. Or use Greek yogurt, which doesn’t require draining.
  • For almost any recipe that needs sour cream, just use crème fraiche. This is the French version of sour cream, although not as sour. Whisk a spoon in the saucepan after you’ve turned off the heat to prepare the cream.
  • Unflavored, unsweetened kefir is another perfect 1 for 1 substitute for sour cream. You can even use it for your morning pancakes.
  • Another dip substitute is 1 cup of cottage cheese combined with a ¼ cup of buttermilk or yogurt. Blend it for a while before using.
  • Last, but not least, you can substitute sour cream in your dips with 6 ounces of cream cheese and 3 tablespoons of milk. Blend for a while before adding it to the recipe.

Non-dairy sour cream substitutes

There are several ways to substitute sour cream with a non-dairy product. I would like to give you the two simplest ones.

The first one is to buy plain soy yogurt. Soy yogurt is very low in fat and calories, making it the perfect healthier substitute. And you substitute it in a 1:1 ratio. Now, for your tacos, keep in mind that soy yogurt will not be as thick and creamy as sour cream. But soy yogurt works perfectly for salad dressings and dips.

The second option is tofu. You need pureed silken tofu and a blender or food processor. Just throw the tofu in the blender, and blend until you get a thick and creamy consistency.

Of course, you can always try to find dairy-free sour cream. You just have to remember that store-bought dairy-free sour cream might have processed ingredients that will not deliver the same flavor as sour cream.

Last, but not least, I’ll share three recipes for homemade dairy-free sour cream. The first one takes 28 hours to make, but you will have sour cream reserves for a whole month. The second one is with cashews and the third is for people who don’t fancy nuts.

Why substitute sour cream?

As I mentioned at the beginning, there are two reasons why people are trying to find the next best sour cream substitute. To understand why, we need to look at sour cream, which is a dairy product obtained by fermenting regular cream. During the fermentation process, different kinds of lactic acid bacteria are added.

There are two ways of preparing sour cream. The traditional way is by letting the cream that was skimmed off the top of the milk ferment, a process that’s executed at a moderate temperature. During the fermentation process, the bacteria that develops thickens the cream. This makes the cream acidic, which is a natural means of preservation. Traditional sour cream contains between 18% and 20% butterfat.

Commercial versions contain 14% milk fat. But they can also contain additional agents used for thickening, like gelatin, guar gum, rennet, and other acids that companies add to sour the product.

Sour cream is not fully fermented. Like many dairy products, sour cream needs to be refrigerated unopened and after use. There is an expiration date.

Now, we are getting to the main reason people try to find a sour cream substitute: lactose intolerance. A dietary intolerance, lactose intolerance is characterized by one’s inability to digest lactose sugar. The condition is caused by a deficiency in lactase, an enzyme that our body uses to digest that sugar. Lactose sugar is the main component in milk. You can either try to supplement your body with the lactase enzyme or avoid lactose-containing foods. Most people opt for the latter, which is why they look for a substitute for sour cream.

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