Sour cream, with its deliciously sour and slightly bitter creamy goodness, is a staple in Western culture households, adding a flavorful touch to any dish, savory or sweet. But what exactly is it or what is it made out of?
Well, to make sour cream, one must add certain kinds of bacteria to it, and yes, I said bacteria. It’s not what you think, however, for the bacteria used are various kinds of lactic acid bacteria, which ferment or “sour” the pasteurized cream with which it is added to.
As the cream ferments, the bacteria help make the cream more thick and acidic, not only preserving it, but adding to the decadent flavor profile of sour cream.
There are multiple varieties of sour cream, but the kind found in your local supermarket have around 14% milkfat, making this product seemingly high in saturated fat. Some varieties contain milk, whey solids, buttermilk, starch, salt, and rennet, while others do not, with some containing even fat-free or low-fat milk, making it a better option for people wanting to watch their waistline or who have heart disease (1,2).
Sour cream is used heavily in America, Great Britain, and Mexico, where people add it to everything from chili, tacos, burritos, eggs, cheesecake and other desserts, dressings, queso, and many other popular dishes. While it has many uses and is loved by many, it is a contributing member to the obesity, heart disease, and diabetes epidemics in America and Mexico.
However, many individuals are becoming more mindful and self-aware of what they are putting into their bodies, which is why many people are moving away from regular sour cream and are moving to either lighter sour cream options or are incorporating substitutions for it.
If you just follow a regular diet, you can use Greek yogurt, buttermilk, coconut cream, silken tofu, and cottage cheese. You might need to combine with vinegar and lemon juice to achieve the sour taste.
The best sour cream substitute on a low-carb ketogenic diet is full-fat Greek yogurt, coconut cream and cottage cheese.
1. Plain Greek Yogurt
Plain Greek yogurt is high in protein and is lower in saturated fat than sour cream, making it a great option for people who want to enjoy adding cream to their dishes without adding too much fat to their diet. It is made by heating milk and combining it with certain strains of bacteria, such as L. bulgaricus and S. thermophilus, and allowing it to settle for a few hours (3).
Once finished, the final product has a thick and creamy texture with a powerful taste, almost identical to that of sour cream. It has an acidic, tart, and sour taste, adding depth and a savory touch to any dish. Plain Greek yogurt goes great on top of tacos and is an excellent choice in soups and chili.
Buttermilk is a by-product of butter manufacturing, showing similarities in nutrient composition to skim milk, excluding the high concentration of fat (4,5).
It is usually made from lactic butter, where the cream that is used to make the butter is cultured with various strains of lactic bacteria. Buttermilk is rich in flavor, with a similar taste to sour cream, for it is slightly acidic, tart, and sour.
Since buttermilk is in liquid form and not semi-solid like sour cream, it is a substitute for all dishes that contain sour cream. It is best used in baked goods and desserts, excluding cheesecake.
3. Coconut Milk + Vinegar + Lemon Juice
Coconut milk is a staple ingredient in Asian cooking, primarily utilized in curries, desserts, and beverages. It is made by extracting the milky fluid either manually or mechanically from grated coconut kernel (6).
Due to the natural sweetness of coconut milk, it would not be a replacement for sour cream on its own, but if combined with vinegar and lemon juice, it could be a great substitute. With the addition of vinegar and lemon juice, the sweetness of coconut milk becomes tart and acidic, while maintaining its creamy and smooth consistency.
This formulated mixture would be great if used in baked goods, desserts, and in soups, but due to its liquid consistency, it is not an appropriate substitution as a condiment for tacos or burritos.
If you want a thicker consistency, coconut cream can be a great sour cream replacement. It’s also perfect for those who follow a dairy-free, vegan or vegetarian diets.
4. Silken Tofu + Vinegar + Lemon Juice
Tofu, which is high in protein and is vegan, is an excellent alternative for people who want to adopt a more vegetarian/vegan lifestyle or for people who want to lower their LDL cholesterol.
Silken tofu is tofu that is unpressed and contains its original fluid, making it the highest in water content, and is made by uncurdled and coagulated soy milk (7,8).
In order for the tofu to take on the consistency of sour cream, it must be fully blended, since it tends to have a solid and somewhat porous texture. Therefore, to make silken tofu taste and have a mouthfeel similar to sour cream, you can blend it or add it to a food processor with vinegar and lemon juice, which adds the acidity and tartness of sour cream.
5. Cottage Cheese + Lemon Juice
Cottage cheese, the most misunderstood cheese and the least popular, yet it has the ability to make any dish it’s added to shine. This cheese is made by adding various strains of lactic bacteria to pasteurized milk, causing the milk solids to separate from the milk whey, forming curds (9).
These curds that make of cottage cheese are high in protein and contain the amount of fat found in the type of milk used during the process. Just like with silken tofu, cottage cheese must be blended in order to obtain the same consistency as sour cream.
You can combine cottage cheese with lemon juice to a food processor or blender to create your own substitute for sour cream. It can be used in chili, as a garnish, or can be added to fruit to tame the sweetness.
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