Sour cream is one of the most common dairy ingredients you’re likely to find in your kitchen. A staple of dips and sauces, common in Mexican and Tex-Mex cooking, and often used to add moisture and umami at the same time, this humble ingredient is a lot more versatile than you might expect.
But, if you’re out of sour cream, open the container to discover some mold or a separated cream, you might find yourself scrambling for an effective alternative. Here are some of the best sour cream substitutes you can use.
Plus, you probably already have at least one of these sour cream substitutes in your kitchen!
What Is Sour Cream
One of the most important things you need to know about sour cream is what it is and what it isn't. A lot of the time people think that sour cream is an entirely natural product from some cows, especially ones that don't produce a lot of high-quality milk.
The truth is that sour cream has very little to do with the quality of the milk from the cow.
Instead, this is cream that is intentionally fermented with specific bacteria that produce lactic acid. That’s what creates the sour flavor and thicker texture in the cream.
Fermented foods can actually be really valuable in your diet, working as a prebiotic and a probiotic both. But you won’t necessarily want to try making your own sour cream at home just because you ran out of the cream from the store.
Instead, you’ll want to approximate the flavor and texture of sour cream, but without trying to get the right bacterial culture to grow.
For one thing, you don’t want to accidentally encourage the wrong bacteria. For another, the fermentation process takes time, and you probably won’t have that much time if you’re reaching for a last-minute substitute.
Fortunately, there are plenty of options.
Sour Cream Substitutes
As with any ingredient substitute, it's important to remember that the flavor of your substitute is going to impact the flavor of your finished dish. The closer you can get to the flavor of sour cream the less you're likely to notice the difference, but the further you are from the flavor, the more you might notice.
We’ll try to guide you on which substitutes produce what kind of flavor.
Coconut milk is a surprisingly easy substitute to make. You don't really have to add anything to make coconut milk work, though a very small amount of vinegar and salt can help give it a more sour and umami flavor rather than its natural sweetness.
However, it does tend to be a little thinner and a lot sweeter than other sour cream substitutes. So, coconut milk works best as a substitute for sour cream in sweeter recipes.
Cashews, Vinegar, Lemon Juice, and Salt
You might be surprised to see cashews on this list, but their high-fat content makes them a great vegan replacement for sour cream, with a little extra prep and work to make them work.
All you need to do is soak the cashews in water with a little added vinegar, lemon juice, and salt to taste. After the nuts have soaked for a couple of hours, blend the whole mix together until it's smooth and creamy. You can add more cashews to make it thicker or add a little more water or vinegar to thin out the resulting paste.
This is very similar to making cashew milk, you just need less liquid. The result will probably be a little on the sweet side, but it is a good addition.
Make Your Own – Heavy Cream and Lemon Juice
You can also make a quick sour cream substitute at home, all you need is heavy cream and a little bit of lemon juice. This is a 1:1 replacement, so measure out as much heavy cream as your recipe needs sour cream. Then mix in a small amount of lemon juice and let it sit for at least 5 minutes. Taste, and add more lemon juice if needed.
Both the taste and the texture of the cream will change with this method. It won't be exactly like store-bought sour cream, but it will be close enough that most people won't know the difference.
Greek yogurt is another 1:1 replacement and one of the better ones for most people's needs. The taste and texture of Greek yogurt is already similar to sour cream, so you don't really need to make any adjustments.
Plus, Greek yogurt is higher in protein, also serves as a probiotic food, and tastes just as good. A lot of people have just switched entirely from sour cream to Greek yogurt instead.
This replacement also works particularly well in our creamy cucumber salad recipe!
Plain Cream Cheese
Like Greek yogurt, cream cheese is a fantastic substitute for sour cream. It is a little sweeter and heavier, so you might want to thin cream cheese out with Greek yogurt or cream to make it a little looser. The added protein also tends to create a heavier texture in baked goods and dips, and a creamier texture in other cooking.
However, from a taste perspective, some people actively prefer cream cheese over sour cream.
If you’re having problems thinning out the cheese, you can microwave it briefly to make it a little softer and easier to mix.
Buttermilk is a good taste substitute for sour cream, but not as good as a texture replacement. If you’re adding buttermilk to a dough or batter you might want to use slightly less buttermilk than you would use sour cream, since it has a higher moisture percentage.
You can also heat the buttermilk slowly and evaporate some of the moisture out if you don’t want to reduce the amount you use.
Buttermilk also has a strong sour flavor, similar to sour cream, so it’s a good option for dishes that depend on that sour cream tang.
Buttermilk and cottage cheese are both good substitutes for sour cream in our sour cream donut recipe, so if you’re craving a lighter healthier version of a donut, this is a great way to go!
Mayonnaise isn’t a dairy product, but the taste and texture are relatively similar to sour cream. It tends to be a little sweeter than sour cream, but it’s also got a similar tang. You might want to taste your mayo before using it as a substitute since some brands have a lot of added sugar. If you have one of those, you might want to reduce the amount of other sweeteners in your meal.
However, if you make your own mayo, or use an unsweetened brand, you won’t need to change the recipe much.
Kefir offers a similar dairy tang, uses some of the same bacterial fermentation as sour cream, and, like Greek yogurt, is also a good probiotic.
However, you should only use unflavored unsweetened kefir unless you’re making a sweet dip or a dessert bake. Also, kefir tends to be a lot thinner than sour cream, so you will probably need a little less of this substitute than the recipe calls for.
Crème Fraiche, despite the name, is actually a kind of cheese, but its flavor and texture are a fantastic replacement for sour cream.
Not to mention that crème fraiche is also associated with fine dining and elevated cooking, so using it can help make a meal feel more special. It’s a great addition for potluck meals, or when you’re entertaining.
Crème fraiche does tend to have a sweeter less tangy finish, a little closer to heavy cream than sour cream, so you might need to use some vinegar or lemon juice to add that tangy flavor.
Mexican crema is actually a more authentic option for Mexican cooking and has a taste and texture somewhere between heavy cream and sour cream. It also tends to taste just a little saltier and tangier than normal heavy cream, making Mexican crema one of the best sour cream substitutes on this list.
The only problem is that Mexican crema is still a little harder to find in grocery stores than sour cream, which means you’re a little less likely to have access to this ingredient for your cooking.
Cottage cheese is an excellent substitute for sour cream, with a little extra umami and weight to help make it even more delicious in your cooking.
You can use a blender or an immersion blender to mix the curds with the whey of the cheese, giving you a smooth texture similar to Greek yogurt.
When it comes to dips and baking, like our 21 healthy game-day snacks, cottage cheese might be the best possible replacement.
Silken Tofu and Vinegar, Lemon Juice, and Salt
Lastly, for a good vegan sour cream replacement, blending together an equal amount of silken tofu with vinegar, lemon juice, and a touch of salt, will give you almost all the same flavor with a boost of protein to top it off.
If you’re looking for vegan sour cream replacements, it really doesn’t get easier or better than this.
There you go, plenty of sour cream alternatives, including a couple of vegan options to make it easier to get the flavors you love no matter your dietary preferences!