Sour cream is made by fermenting regular cream (or buttermilk or half-and-half) with lactic acid bacteria. The bacterial culture introduced deliberately sours and thickens the cream. Sour cream is generally used as a condiment in Mexican dishes such as nachos or used to top baked potatoes, but can also be used as the main ingredient in breads, appetizers and desserts.
But it has a high-fat content, something that the fat-conscious cook or diner may want to avoid. Here's how to enjoy the flavor of sour cream without all the extra calories.
Plain Yogurt or Buttermilk
Yogurt is an excellent substitute for sour cream in most recipes, but keep in mind it is thinner in texture. Thicken yogurt by draining through a cheesecloth-lined sieve over a bowl in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. Alternately, you could try Greek yogurt, which is a bit thicker, to give you the desired consistency.
Buttermilk is the next-best option to swap in for sour cream, but it can be hard to find. It also is not quite as thick as sour cream, but adding some softened butter can improve the texture.
Sour Cream Recipe Substitutions
Substitute one of the following for each 1 cup of sour cream:
- For baking: 7/8 cup buttermilk or sour milk plus 3 tablespoons butter.
- For baking: 1 cup yogurt plus 1 teaspoon baking soda.
- For baking: 3/4 cup sour milk plus 1/3 cup butter.
- For baking: 3/4 cup buttermilk plus 1/3 cup butter.
- Cooked sauces: 1 cup yogurt plus 1 tablespoon flour plus 2 teaspoons water.
- Cooked sauces: 1 cup evaporated milk plus 1 tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice. Let stand 5 minutes to thicken.
- Dips: 1 cup yogurt (drain through a cheesecloth-lined sieve for 30 minutes in the refrigerator for a thicker texture or use non-fat Greek yogurt one-for-one for a protein boost with less fat).
- Dips: 1 cup cottage cheese plus 1/4 cup yogurt or buttermilk, briefly whirled in a blender.
- Dips: 6 ounces cream cheese plus 3 tablespoons milk, briefly whirled in a blender.
- Lower fat: 1 cup low-fat cottage cheese plus 1 tablespoon lemon juice plus 2 tablespoons skim milk, whipped until smooth in a blender.
- Lower fat: 1 can chilled evaporated milk whipped with 1 teaspoon lemon juice.
Non-Dairy Substitutions for Sour Cream
Some dairy-free sour cream substitutes use cashews, soy or coconut milk. Store-bought dairy-free sour cream can have a lot of processed ingredients that may not hold the same flavor of sour cream you're looking for.
Make your own dairy-free sour cream at home. Here's a dairy-free sour cream recipe that is easy to make and only takes about 5 minutes to prepare in a food processor. This recipe does require some chilling time, however, so you may want to prepare it in advance and refrigerate it.
If however, you prefer to avoid soy (as the above recipe does), 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.