What You Should Know About Sour Cream

How fattening is this topping?

A baked potato with sour cream
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Sour cream has become a staple in most kitchens. It is kept on hand to make quick dips, thicken sauces and, of course, to top baked potatoes. Much like yogurt, sour cream also tenderizes and softens baked goods. But do you know what sour cream actually is? Despite its popularity, many fans of the food have no idea how it's made or what it's made of. With this overview of sour cream, find out everything you've wanted to know about this dairy product.

Exactly What Is Sour Cream?

When lactic acid-producing bacteria is added to cream, it produces the slightly tart, thick substance known as sour cream. Food and Drug Administration standards dictate the butterfat content may not be less than 18 percent for products labeled as sour cream.

Commercial sour cream may also include rennet, gelatin, flavoring agents, vegetable enzymes, sodium citrate and salt. Check the label if you suffer from food allergies, or make your own homemade sour cream to avoid coming into contact with an allergen.

Alternatives to Traditional Sour Cream

Lighter varieties of sour cream, made with half-and-half (10.5 percent butterfat) and non-fat milk are readily available in most supermarkets. So, if you're watching your waistline but still want to enjoy this product, opt for a lower fat version or eat a smaller amount of the high fat version. 

Soy sour cream is not a milk product but is interchangeable in most recipes with the real thing, so it's the perfect alternative for vegans.

Dishes Served or Prepared With Sour Cream  

You're selling sour cream short if you solely associate it with the baked potato. That's because sour cream is also used as a garnish for chili, potato crisps, and platters of fruits and vegetables. It's also a common ingredient in baked goods, including a number of sweet dishes, such as cookies, scones and cakes.

But the cream can be found in savory baked dishes like tuna casserole and is used in salad dressing, beef Stroganoff and porridge as well.

Sour cream is commonly used in Mexican cuisine, especially for nachos, burritos and guacamole. In El Salvador, platanos fritos (fried plaintains) are often served with sour cream.

While sour cream is a popular condiment, it doesn't have a wide variety of health benefits. It contains 1 percent vitamin A and calcium but only trace amounts of other vitamins and minerals. However, some kinds of sour cream contain the bacteria and yeasts known as probiotics, which help the digestion process.


If you'd like to know more about using sour cream, consult the following cookbooks and online resources for more information.

  • Baking by Flavor
  • The Buttercup Bake Shop Cookbook
  • How to Be a Domestic Goddess
  • CookWise
  • Additional Reading

Cooking With Sour Cream

With the resources below, beef up your cooking skills by learning the best way to add sour cream to dishes. Plus, learn what to do when you're out of sour cream but are trying to make a dish that includes the dairy product as an ingredient.

•  Sour Cream Tips and Hints

• Sour Cream Equivalents and Substitutions

• Sour Cream Recipes