Sour cream is one of those ingredients that can be found in both sweet and savory recipes as well as cooked dishes and baked goods. It is a typical topping for baked potatoes and generally used as a condiment with Mexican dishes such as nachos, but can also be the main ingredient in breads, appetizers, and desserts. It adds richness, moistness, and even lightens up a recipe. But, sour cream has a high-fat content, something that the fat-conscious cook or diner may want to avoid. And, as it is made of cream, it is not safe for a dairy-free diet or those who are vegan.
Luckily, there are other ingredients you can use to substitute for sour cream, from plain yogurt to evaporated milk to cottage cheese.
Yogurt is an excellent substitute for sour cream in most recipes, but keep in mind it is thinner in texture. You can thicken yogurt by draining it through a cheesecloth-lined sieve over a bowl in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. Alternatively, you can use Greek yogurt, which is a bit thicker, to achieve the desired consistency.
To substitute 1 cup of sour cream in a baking recipe, use 1 cup yogurt plus 1 teaspoon baking soda. If you are making a dip, it is an even swap—just make sure you use Greek yogurt or the yogurt is drained. For a cooked sauce, use a combination of 1 cup yogurt, 1 tablespoon flour, and 2 teaspoons water for 1 cup of sour cream.
Buttermilk or Sour Milk
Buttermilk and sour milk are the next-best options to swap for sour cream, but they are not quite as thick; adding some softened butter can improve the texture. If you are baking, use 3/4 cup buttermilk or sour milk plus 1/3 cup of softened unsalted butter.
Cottage Cheese and Cream Cheese
Although the textures of cottage cheese and cream cheese are quite different from sour cream, their tastes are somewhat similar. Thus, it is best to blend either ingredient—along with some liquid—to achieve a similar consistency and "rid" the cottage cheese of the curds.
If you are making a dip, use a blender or food processor to combine 1 cup cottage cheese with 1/4 cup yogurt or buttermilk. If you are simply looking for a lower-fat alternative to sour cream, mix 1 cup low-fat cottage cheese with 1 tablespoon lemon juice and 2 tablespoons skim milk, and whip until smooth in a blender.
To use cream cheese instead of sour cream in a dip, add 6 ounces cream cheese plus 3 tablespoons milk to a blender and briefly whirl to process to the right consistency.
This unsweetened, condensed milk has had about 60 percent of the water removed, resulting in milk with a thick consistency. Make sure you are using unsweetened milk and not sweetened condensed milk, which has added sugar. For cooked sauces, combine 1 cup evaporated milk with 1 tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice. Let the mixture stand 5 minutes to thicken. If you are looking for a lower fat option to sour cream, mix 1 can of chilled evaporated milk whipped with 1 teaspoon lemon juice.
It will be difficult to replicate the taste and texture of sour cream while using an ingredient that is dairy-free, but if you have an allergy or are on a vegan diet, there are a few foods you can substitute when necessary. You may be able to find store-bought dairy-free sour cream, but it can have a lot of processed ingredients and may not hold the same flavor of sour cream.
You can actually make your own dairy-free sour cream at home. It only takes about 5 minutes to prepare in a food processor but does require some chilling time, however, so you may want to prepare it in advance and refrigerate it.
If you prefer to avoid soy, you can use cashews to make a vegan sour cream. Soak the cashews overnight to soften, then puree in the blender with lemon juice and nutritional yeast to taste. Cashew cheese also can be used as a ricotta substitute.