What can I substitute for sour cream?

In this brief article, we will answer the question, “What can I substitute for sour cream?” with an in-depth analysis of sour cream, its ingredients, how it is formed, and what are their substitutes along with their nutritional components.

What can I substitute for sour cream?

Sour cream can be substituted with Greek yoghurt, cottage cheese, and buttermilk. These substitutes may be necessary because of the allergic reaction that can be caused by the cow’s milk.

 Despite the fact that milk production decreased in the period 2007-2012 in Romania, the production diversification applied by dairies supported the growth of dairy products output as follows: by 13.54 % for milk, by 3.45 % for sour cream, and  by 13 % for butter (1).

What is Sour Cream?

Sour cream is formed basically from fermented cream along with certain types of acid such as lactic acid and bacteria. Bacterial culture is used naturally or intentionally to make the cream thick and sour.

Sour cream is a fermented dairy product that is defined as the souring of pasteurized cream by lactic acid-producing bacteria. In sour cream, the microorganisms used are Lactococcus lactis ssp. lactis, Lactococcus lactis ssp. cremoris, Cit + Lc. lactis ssp. lactis, and Leuconostoc citrovorum. Different types of sour creams exist that are defined based on fat content. Full-fat sour creams must have at least 18% milk fat and not less than 14.4% milk fat. Reduced-fat sour cream has a minimum fat reduction of 25% . Light or lite sour cream has a minimum of 50% fat reduction. Low-fat sour cream must contain 3 g or less fat per 50 g and 6% or less total fat. Nonfat sour cream must have less than 0.5 g of fat per 50 g of product and less than 1% total fat (2).

Reason for using substitutes 

Following are some of the reasons to use substitutes for milk cream:

Milk allergy 

Cow’s milk can cause allergic reactions in 2 to 3 per cent of children who are under the age of three. Some of these children recover from this allergy as they grow out of it, while some people avoid milk their whole life. 

Lactose intolerance

Lactose is a form of sugar that enables the breakdown of the lactose component of dairy products. A person who is deficient in lactase enzymes is not capable of digesting milk products. So, for them, alternate products or substitutes are recommended.

Health Reasons

Many people avoid dairy products due to several health issues that include hormonal and skin health while some are concerned due to the use of growth hormones and antibiotics in dairy cows. Other reasons may be, according to research, concerns about levels of saturated fat; personal dislike taste; calorie and weight management; and the view that dairy foods were not appropriate for human adult consumption (3).

Low-fat diet

Sour cream which is used regularly is high in fat. Some people also avoid eating sour cream during the journey of weight loss to avoid high consumption of fat.

Substitutes of sour cream

Greek Yogurt

Greek yoghurt is a very good alternative to sour cream. Greek yoghurt is more concentrated than regular yoghurt. Greek yoghurt is strained to remove water content then it becomes a thicker, sour yoghurt that resembles sour cream.

On a nutritional level, Greek yoghurt has fewer calories and lower fat content with a high content of protein as compared to full-fat sour cream.

The high-protein content provides a thick and creamy texture, positioning greek yogurt as a healthy food product that provides consumers with both pleasure and nutritional benefits. Its high-protein content is generally obtained by concentrating fermented milk through centrifugation to increase the yogurt’s protein content from 3.27% up to 10% w/w (4).

Greek yoghurt is also used in toppings, dressing, and dips. Further, it is also used in baking items or another recipe as an alternative to regular sour cream.

Cottage cheese

Cottage cheese has a good history. Its name was planned when people used the leftover butter-making in the production of soft cheese in their small apartments called cottages.

Cottage cheese is considered a curd product. Curd is the solid leftover portion of milk during cheese making. Whey is a liquid part that is removed to gain the consistency of cheese. Cottage cheese is a soft, uncured cheese prepared by mixing cottage cheese dry curd with a creaming mixture. It contains not more than 80% moisture and not less than 4% milk fat by weight of the finished food (5).

Its texture is soft to touch with a creamy texture. Furthermore, It is presented in different size ranges from small to large depending upon the variety of curd sizes and fat percentages.

Content of fat and calories are less while protein content is more as compared to sour cream.

To use cottage cheese in place of sour cream, cottage cheese is mixed with 2 teaspoons of lemon juice and 4 tablespoons of milk to make a good batter.


Buttermilk is a liquid form of butter that is a leftover liquid that is left during the formation of butter from cultured cream.

Buttermilk is the product that remains when fat is removed from milk or cream in the process of churning into butter. Cultured buttermilk is prepared by souring buttermilk, or more commonly skim milk, with a suitable culture that produces a desirable taste and aroma. It is used as a beverage, as an ingredient in baked goods, and in dressings (5).

In this process, milk is kept for a long time on a rest phase to separate the milk and cream. As the cream is accumulated on top of milk which is then separated to make butter.

During the rest period, bacteria such as lactic acid which is naturally occurring fermented sugars in milk which result in buttermilk formation which is a tangy liquid.  The lactic acid bacteria act during fermentation, which contribute basically to develop taste, flavor, and shelf life and are related to health benefits (6).

This traditional method is still known mostly in Pakistan and India. This is not more preferred in western countries.

Commercial buttermilk is then pasteurized in presence of bacteria which is added to the buttermilk after the heating process, this method is just like the sour cream formation method.

Non-dairy alternatives

Some non-dairy products are good substitutes for sour cream which include soy products, cashews, and coconut milk.

Coconut milk

Coconut is a good alternative to sour cream which is a non-dairy product. Coconut milk is not to be confused with coconut water, coconut milk is extracted from the flesh of a coconut.

It is becoming more popular in North America, while it is a staple ingredient in South America and Southeast Asian countries.

Coconut milk is free of lactose and vegan, it is also a good substitute for those who are allergic to milk and have dietary restrictions.

Presence of medium-chain triglycerides makes coconut milk an easily digestible nondairy substitute. Unlike other milk analogs containing long chain fatty acids, coconut contains medium-chain fatty acids that can be easily absorbed and metabolized by the liver to convert into ketone compounds, which are useful in brain functioning and to relieve memory impairment like Alzheimer. Along with medium-chain fatty acids, soluble and insoluble fiber content increases the nutritional value of coconut with various antioxidant properties. The milk also contains a fairly good amount of minerals and vitamins. Coconut milk contains the highest amount of fat and the least amount of protein among the non-dairy milk (7).

Other FAQs about Sour Cream  that you may be interested in.

Can you microwave sour cream?

Does sour cream go bad?


In this brief article, we have answered the question, “What can I substitute for sour cream?” with an in-depth analysis of sour cream, its ingredients, how it is formed, and what are their substitutes along with their nutritional components.


  1. Popescu, Agatha. Research on the trends in milk production and consumption in Romania. Scientific Papers Series Management, Economic Engineering in Agriculture and Rural Development, 2015, 15, 387-392.
  2. Shepard, L., et al. Relating sensory and chemical properties of sour cream to consumer acceptance. J dairy sci, 2013, 96, 5435-5454. 
  3. Yantcheva, Bella, et al. Food avoidance in an Australian adult population sample: the case of dairy products. Public health nutr, 2016, 19, 1616-1623.
  4. Houssard, Catherine, et al. Comparative life cycle assessment of five Greek yogurt production systems: A perspective beyond the plant boundaries. Sustainab, 2020, 12, 9141.
  5. Igoe, Robert S. Dictionary of food ingredients. Springer Science & Business Media, 2011.
  6. Chandan, Ramesh C., Akanksha Gandhi, and Nagendra P. Shah. Yogurt: Historical background, health benefits, and global trade. Yogurt in health and disease prevention. Academic Press, 2017. 3-29.
  7. Paul, Anna Aleena, et al. Milk Analog: Plant based alternatives to conventional milk, production, potential and health concerns. Crit rev food sci nutr, 2020, 60, 3005-3023.