Cream Cheese Vs. Sour Cream: SPICEography Showdown

Cream cheese and sour cream are dairy products that look a lot alike and that you might consider interchangeable. They do have some major differences that you should keep in mind when choosing one or the other for a dish. We look at how cream cheese and sour cream compare in the SPICEography Showdown below.

How does cream cheese differ from sour cream?

Cream cheese and sour cream are made from different dairy raw materials that are processed using different methods. Cream cheese is made from curdled milk like other cheeses, but with the addition of cream. Lactic acid is added to the milk and cream for curdling. The whey is drained off, and the curds are processed into a soft cheese. Cream cheese has not been fermented like sour cream, so it is not sour. Sour cream consists of cream that has been fermented with mesophilic lactic acid bacteria that contribute to the acidic flavor.

Cream cheese and sour cream contain different amounts of fat. Cream cheese is required to have 33 percent milk fat; sour cream must have only 20 percent, though the light varieties may go as low as 14.4 percent.

Cream cheese and sour cream are different nutritionally speaking. For starters, cream cheese has almost twice the number of calories per serving compared to sour cream. It also has more than double sour cream’s protein content. While both are good sources of vitamin A, cream cheese has much more of it. Sour cream has considerably less cholesterol than cream cheese and more calcium, though both are rich in the mineral.

Cream cheese and sour cream have different consistencies. Cream cheese is considerably thicker than sour cream. Cream cheese is dense and clay-like; sour cream is relatively soft and closer to the consistency of Greek yogurt.

Cream cheese and sour cream have different flavors; cream cheese is mildly cheesy and salty with a strong creamy background note. Sour cream is tart and acidic, with a lightly creamy background note.

Can you use cream cheese as a substitute for sour cream (and vice versa?)

Cream cheese can work as a sour cream substitute since it is rich and creamy, but not without a little help. On its own, it won’t be ideal because of its different consistency. To get something more like sour cream, bring the cream cheese to room temperature, then try mixing it with milk or buttermilk. Because cream cheese won’t give you the same kind of sourness that you would get from sour cream, so you can try adding a very small amount of lemon juice to make it a closer match.

Sour cream may work as a cream cheese substitute in a few situations but won’t be ideal in most. While some people use it as a spread for bagels or toast, it does not have the complex savory flavor that you would get from the cream cheese. It is also not rich or dense enough.

When should you use cream cheese, and when should you use sour cream?

Cream cheese is best used as a spread for bagels and in cream cheese frosting. It can be a good addition to some pasta sauces and dips. Sour cream is a traditional main ingredient in various salad dressing recipes. You will also see it used in desserts like cakes and donuts. It is an excellent topping for baked potatoes and a condiment for soups like borscht.