Sour cream is a popular fermented dairy product that’s consumed in a variety of ways.
It is often used as a condiment atop dishes like soups and baked potatoes, but it can also be used as an ingredient in baked goods like cakes, cookies and biscuits.
It is made by combining cream, which is the high-fat layer skimmed off the top of whole milk, with lactic acid bacteria. These bacteria consume the sugar in the cream, also known as lactose, and release lactic acid as a waste product.
The lactic acid causes the cream to become more acidic, resulting in a tangy, sour taste.
While sour cream is a popular food for many, some people can’t or don’t want to use it due to preferences, intolerances or allergies.
This article lists the 7 best substitutes for sour cream, including how to use them.
Reasons You May Need a Substitute
You may need to substitute sour cream for a variety of reasons, including:
- Milk allergy: Cow’s milk is a common allergen. Between 2–3% of children under the age of three are allergic to milk. Although statistics show that around 80% of kids outgrow this allergy, some people must avoid milk for life ().
- Lactose intolerance: Lactose is a sugar found in milk products. People who are lactose intolerant can’t break it down due to a deficiency of lactase, the enzyme needed to break down lactose (, ).
- Vegan diet: Some choose to exclude animal products from their diets. For example, those on a vegan diet eat strictly plant-based foods for many reasons, including health, animal welfare and environmental concerns.
- Health reasons: Many people avoid milk and milk products for a number of health reasons, including skin and hormonal health, while others are concerned about the use of antibiotics and growth hormones in dairy cows (, ).
- Low-fat diets: Regular sour cream is high in fat. In fact, 91% of the calories in regular sour cream come from fat. Although this nutrient is extremely important, many people choose to cut fat when attempting to shed extra pounds ().
- Taste or missing ingredient: Some people simply don’t care for sour cream’s tangy taste. Or perhaps a substitute is needed because no sour cream is available to bake a favorite cake or top a freshly made pot of chili.
Some people can’t or won’t eat this popular condiment for many reasons.
Fortunately, plenty of dairy and non-dairy alternatives make excellent replacements for it.
1–4: Dairy-Based Substitutes
There are several good dairy options for replacing sour cream, including Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, crème fraîche and buttermilk.
1. Greek Yogurt
Greek yogurt makes an excellent stand-in for sour cream.
While regular yogurt contains a higher percentage of liquid, or whey, Greek yogurt has been strained to remove a large portion of its whey. The result is a thicker, tangier version of yogurt that is very similar to sour cream.
What’s more, Greek yogurt is lower in calories and fat and higher in protein than full-fat sour cream.
One ounce (28 grams) of regular Greek yogurt contains 37 calories, 3 grams of fat and 2 grams of protein. The same amount of full-fat sour cream contains 54 calories, 6 grams of fat and 1 gram of protein (, ).
Greek yogurt can be used as a substitute in dips, dressings and toppings.
Additionally, equal parts of full-fat Greek yogurt can be used in place of regular sour cream in any recipe, including baked goods.
Summary: Greek yogurt is a strained yogurt that has a thick texture similar to sour cream. However, it is lower in calories and fat and can be used as a replacement for sour cream in many recipes.
2. Cottage Cheese
This cheese has a rich history. In fact, the name cottage cheese is thought to have been coined in the 18th century when American settlers used milk leftovers from butter-making to create a soft cheese in their small homes called cottages.
Cottage cheese is a cheese curd product. Curds are the solid parts of milk that are leftover from the cheesemaking process, while whey is the liquid portion.
It is mild with a soft and creamy texture. Furthermore, it is offered in a variety of fat percentages and curd sizes, ranging from small to large.
What's more, cottage cheese is much lower in calories and fat and higher in protein than sour cream.
Half a cup (112 grams) contains 110 calories, 5 grams of fat and 12.5 grams of protein. For reference, half a cup of sour cream contains 222 calories, 22 grams of fat and just 2.5 grams of protein (, ).
This cheese makes an excellent lower-fat, higher-protein substitute.
In fact, one cup of cottage cheese can be blended with 4 tablespoons of milk and 2 teaspoons of lemon juice to replace sour cream in any recipe.
Summary: Cottage cheese is a soft, mild cheese that is lower in calories and fat and significantly higher in protein than sour cream. It can be combined with milk and lemon juice to be used in place of sour cream in recipes.
3. Crème Fraîche
Crème fraîche literally means fresh cream. This dairy product is very similar to sour cream and made by adding a bacterial culture to heavy cream.
While similar to sour cream, crème fraîche has a thicker, cheese-like consistency and its flavor is less tangy.
Unlike cottage cheese and Greek yogurt, it contains a higher amount of fat and calories than sour cream. Thus, it may not be the best choice for those counting calories.
A one-ounce (28-gram) serving packs 100 calories and 11 grams of fat, which is nearly double the amount in sour cream (, ).
Although crème fraîche is a calorie-dense food, its high fat content makes it an ideal ingredient in sauces and soups, as you can boil it without worrying about separation.
Crème fraîche can be used as an easy one-to-one substitute for sour cream, but keep in mind that its milder flavor may come across in the taste of the food.
Summary: Crème fraîche is very similar to sour cream but higher in fat and calories. It can be used as a one-to-one replacement, yet its mild flavor may change the taste of recipes.
Traditionally, the term buttermilk referred to the liquid leftover from the process of making butter from cultured cream.
This process involved leaving milk out to rest for a period of time. It allowed the cream and milk to separate, leaving the thick cream top used in butter making.
During the resting period, naturally occurring lactic acid bacteria fermented the milk sugars, resulting in a tangy liquid called buttermilk.
Though it’s still common in India and Pakistan, it’s used less often in the West.
Like sour cream, commercial buttermilk is pasteurized, with the bacteria added in after the heating process.
Though its tangy taste is similar to that of sour cream, it is a liquid and can only be used as a replacement for sour cream in baked goods or dressings.
Summary: Buttermilk is a tangy liquid that can be used as a replacement for sour cream in baked goods or dressings.
5–7: Non-Dairy Alternatives
In addition to dairy substitutes for sour cream, there are several non-dairy alternatives you can use. These vegan-friendly options include coconut milk, cashews and soy products.
5. Coconut Milk
Coconut milk is an excellent non-dairy alternative to sour cream.
Not to be confused with coconut water, coconut milk comes from the meat of freshly grated coconut.
It is a staple ingredient in Southeast Asian, South American and Caribbean cuisines and has become increasingly popular in North America.
Coconut milk is lactose-free and vegan, making it a great option for people with milk allergies or dietary restrictions ().
Interestingly, it makes an exceptional substitute for sour cream.
The cream on top of full-fat coconut milk can be skimmed off and blended with apple cider vinegar, lemon juice and sea salt to be used as a plant-based sour cream substitute to top your favorite dishes.
Full-fat coconut milk can also make an excellent sour cream replacement in baked goods. Just add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice for every cup of coconut milk to mimic the sour taste.
Summary: Coconut milk is a vegan-friendly sour cream substitute that can be easily used in many recipes.
While it might come as a surprise, cashews make a great substitute for sour cream.
Cashews are buttery, sweet nuts that are relatively high in fat. Their high fat content is what makes them an excellent dairy-free alternative to sour cream.
One ounce (28 grams) provides 155 calories and 12 grams of fat. Cashews are a great source of protein as well, at 5 grams per ounce ().
A rich and tangy vegan sour cream can be made by blending soaked cashews with vinegar, lemon juice and sea salt.
This dairy-free sour cream substitute makes a great addition to soups and side dishes, though it may not be ideal for baking.
Summary: Cashews are a high-fat nut that can be soaked and blended with vinegar, lemon juice and salt for a vegan version of sour cream.
There are many commercial soy-based sour cream substitutes on the market that are appropriate for vegans and those with an allergy to milk products.
Most soy-based sour cream alternatives have a similar amount of calories and fat as the real thing.
For example, a typical 1-ounce serving of soy-based sour cream has 57 calories and 5 grams of fat, while the same amount of sour cream contains 54 calories and 6 grams of fat (, ).
What’s more, these products can be used as a one-to-one replacement for sour cream in recipes and baking, making them a convenient option for those who don’t consume dairy.
However, they typically contain a number of ingredients, including added sugars and preservatives, which some people may want to avoid for health reasons.
Fortunately, you can easily make a soy-based version of sour cream at home. Simply blend silken tofu with apple cider vinegar, lemon juice and salt.
Summary: Commercial or homemade soy-based sour creams are suitable for vegans and those with an allergy to milk. They can be used in place of sour cream in recipes.
The Bottom Line
Sour cream is a popular ingredient. However, some people need a tasty alternative due to allergies, preferences or simply because they need a quick replacement for a recipe.
Luckily, there are a wide variety of suitable dairy and non-dairy stand-ins for sour cream.
Some sour cream replacements are best used for toppings and dressings, while others make an excellent addition to baked goods.
If you are looking for a substitute for sour cream that won’t compromise the flavor of your favorite dish, choosing an option from this list is the way to go.