Mexican Crema Vs. Mayonnaise: SPICEography Showdown

Mexican crema and mayonnaise often show up together in recipes for the Mexican street corn referred to as elote. The fact that they show up together will tell you that they are not the same and that each brings unique qualities to the dish. They do share some of the same properties, so you will need to know when to use each. This SPICEgraphy Showdown can help you understand how these two ingredients compare to each other.

How does Mexican crema differ from mayonnaise?

Mexican crema and mayonnaise consist of very different ingredients. Mexican crema is a cultured cream. It is made with dairy cream that has been fermented with bacteria. Mayonnaise is an emulsified blend of oil and vinegar that contains no dairy product and is not fermented, though the vinegar it contains has undergone fermentation. Classic mayonnaise will also include egg yolks and oil.

Because there is not much in common when you compare their ingredients, you will also notice that it is quite easy to tell the two apart. Mexican crema is rich and creamy, with buttery elements to support its tangy flavor. Mayonnaise is more of a thick gel that is smooth and decadent, but without the kind of mouth-coating richness that you get from crema.

Mexican crema and mayonnaise have contrasting nutritional values. Mexican crema is made up of dairy cream that contains calcium and potassium. It also contains a significant amount of cholesterol per serving. Despite being a high-fat food, Mexican crema has less fat than mayonnaise. Mayonnaise has tiny amounts of nutrients that it might get from the egg yolks required in most recipes. It may also get some nutrients from the oil, which makes up most of mayonnaise’s volume.

If your recipe calls for one, can you use the other?

Despite their differences, Mexican crema can do a reasonable job of standing in for mayonnaise in some instances. It has a similar consistency, especially if you use the dense crema as opposed to the liquid kind. Use it as a mayonnaise substitute in salad dressings, including the kind used in potato salads. Some people may find the richness and strong dairy taste of cream off-putting in some mayonnaise applications like sandwiches.

Mayonnaise may be able to stand in for crema in some instances, but not all. The high oil content may make some dishes greasy. For example, you would never use mayonnaise to replace crema in cooked dishes. It may be able to serve as a topping in other instances, such as in tacos or even quesadillas.

When should you use Mexican crema, and when should you use mayonnaise?

Use Mexican crema as a topping for Mexican and Tex-Mex favorites, ranging from enchiladas to chili con carne. It is a popular tool for mitigating the heat of spicy dishes, where it is used like the raita that accompanies some hot Indian dishes. Mexican crema has a high fat content and low protein that prevents curdling, so you can add it to foods as they cook and to dishes with acidic ingredients.

Mayonnaise is best used in dishes that will not be heated, though there are a few exceptions to this. Mayonnaise is traditionally a sandwich spread and the basis for the most common coleslaw dressing. It is also among the main ingredients in some versions of ranch dressing.