What to Know About Sour Cream

Medically Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on June 28, 2022
4 min read

Sour cream is made by adding lactic acid bacteria (probiotics) to regular pasteurized cream and leaving it to ferment for one day. The lactic acid bacteria increases the thickness of the cream and adds its characteristic tangy flavor. You can use sour cream as an ingredient to add an acidic flavor to sweet and savory meals.

There are different types of sour cream. One type of sour cream that's a bit different from American-made sour cream is crème fraiche. Crème fraiche is a French variant of sour cream that uses unpasteurized cream, which naturally has the bacteria to ferment and thicken it. It has a higher fat content and is nuttier and less tangy compared to the type usually made in the U.S.

Sour cream should not be confused with yogurt. Unlike sour cream, yogurt is made using milk instead of cream. Yogurt also contains a lower amount of fat, and it helps promote the health of "good" gut bacteria.

Most commercially available sour cream is made using artificial bacteria to thicken it. But if you'd like to make it yourself, you can use a simple process to make sour cream at home.

The ingredients you'll need include:

  • Whole milk. You'll need milk with high fat content for the best curds.
  • Cream. This should be heavy cream (whipping cream) to give it a thick consistency. 
  • Lemon juice or vinegar. Both lemon and vinegar can provide the acidity needed for fermentation.

Once you have the ingredients, follow the steps below:

  • Pour 1/4 cup of whole milk into the jar, and make sure it's at room temperature.
  • Add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice or vinegar, close the lid, and shake gently.
  • Add 1 cup of heavy cream into the jar, close the lid, and shake gently.
  • Remove the lid, cover with a cheesecloth, and tighten it using a rubber bud. The cheesecloth will make sure the cream breathes to ferment.
  • Keep it at room temperature for 24 hours. After 24 hours, it's ready to use, and it can stay refrigerated for up to two weeks.

You can also use sour cream as a:

  • Topping for nachos, potatoes, or chicken soup
  • Ingredient for dips, vegetable salads, or deviled eggs
  • Sauce (add at the end since heat can cause it to curdle)
  • Ingredient for baking

Sour cream has been used widely for its health benefits for many years. While it has numerous health benefits, try not to use sour cream as a primary source of nutrition. The main health benefits of sour cream come from probiotics. Probiotics are healthy live bacteria that live in the human gut. 

Probiotics help people with lactose intolerance break down lactose in the small intestine before it reaches the colon (large intestine).

The probiotics in the cream can also help manage irritable bowel syndrome. They also control the growth of Helicobacter pylori bacteria (bacteria that colonize the stomach, causing ulcers). Probiotics have also been shown to have an impact on several gastrointestinal disorders. 

Finally, probiotics help improve the overall immunity of your body against several medical conditions. Studies have shown that people who consume food rich in probiotics have reduced upper respiratory infections and flulike symptoms.

Regular sour cream is fairly high in fat and calories. Here are some of the nutrients in a 100 g serving:

  • Total calories, 198
  • Total fat, 19.4 grams
  • Saturated fat, 10.1 grams
  • Cholesterol, 59 milligrams
  • Sodium, 31 milligrams
  • Carbohydrates, 4.63 grams
  • Protein, 2.44 grams
  • Calcium, 101 milligrams
  • Potassium, 125 milligrams

Sometimes you may need a substitute for sour cream for reasons like:

  • Fat content. When trying to lose weight, most people will try to avoid sour cream, despite the essential nutrients it provides. Sour cream has a high fat content, contributing up to 90% of its calories.
  • Lactose intolerance. Some people are lactose intolerant. This means they lack the enzyme (lactase) that helps digest lactose. Milk products, including sour cream, contain lactose. 
  • Vegan diet. Some people choose to follow a strict vegan diet that only allows plant-based food.

Other reasons include milk allergies, personal preferences, missing ingredients, and health. Here are some of the best substitutes for sour cream:

  • Cream. If you're out of sour cream, add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar to 1 cup of cream. The result will be sour cream.
  • Milk (or powdered milk). Put milk in a jar or bowl, add 1 teaspoon of lemon juice or vinegar, and stir until you get your desired consistency. Adjust lemon juice depending on the amount of milk you're using. The result contains less fat but is similar to sour cream.
  • Buttermilk. Buttermilk is one of the best substitutes for sour cream, but it's more watery. To make buttermilk thicker, you can try adding some butter.
  • Cashew. Cashew is an excellent substitute for people with lactose intolerance or on a vegan diet. To make sour cream from cashew nuts, put cashews in a blender (consider soaking the cashew nuts for four days first). Add lemon juice, water, salt, and mustard. Blend the mix, adding water bit by bit to avoid making it too thin. 
  • Soy. Soy yogurt is also an excellent substitute for people on vegan diets. Soy has the same calorie and fat content as sour cream. You can make sour cream using soy yogurt. Put soy yogurt in a bowl, add lemon juice or vinegar, and mix.
  • Cottage cheese. Also known as curds, cottage cheese is high in protein and low in calories and fats, making it an ideal substitute for sour cream. To make sour cream using cottage cream, blend 1 cup of cottage cream, 1/4 cup of low-fat yogurt, and 1 teaspoon of lemon juice.