Low-fat sour cream and full-fat sour cream might seem similar at first glance, but different varieties bring unique characteristics to the table. Understanding their benefits means maximizing their potential in the kitchen: here’s how to use each one, plus recipe inspirations from Chef Brown.
Getting the most out of sour cream
In cold dishes, use sour cream when you need…
- Creaminess, mild acidity, and a touch of tang – think dips, sauces, and salad dressings.
- A binding agent to hold ingredients together, like in a chicken salad or a spread.
- A rich, creamy texture that is stable. Sour cream will not deflate like whipped cream at room temperature.
- A replacement for mayonnaise with lower fat content. Keep in mind that mayo isn’t acidic, so you might need to adjust your recipe.
In hot dishes, use sour cream when you need…
- Contrast, since its creamy tanginess is great for balancing out heat.
- A finishing touch, like adding a hint of acidity or elevating a thinner sauce with some creaminess. You can kick a dish like butter chicken up a notch by finishing the sauce with sour cream as soon as it comes off the stove.
- A cooling effect, specifically for spicier cuisines like Mexican or Indian. The acidity will brighten up the spices’ flavours as well.
- Texture or viscosity. Let’s say you have a highly seasoned Chimichurri sauce, but you don’t want the oil and vinegar to make your tacos watery: incorporate some sour cream into the sauce before serving.
- A low-fat, high-moisture ingredient for baked goods (with extra richness as an added bonus).
The difference between full-fat and low-fat sour creams
Reduced fat [fat-free, low fat] varieties are great when you want a creamy consistency and acidic dairy flavour while keeping things light. It performs best in cold dishes that call for low fat content and do not require a thicker, fattier mouthfeel.
These varieties can also be used to balance out dishes that are typically high in fats, like a mascarpone or ricotta dip. Sub in some low-fat sour cream to bring the overall fat content down while maintaining the creaminess.
Use light sour cream for: creamy vinaigrettes, light salad toppings, fruits and other cold sauces, dips, and spreads.
Full-fat sour cream [14% and 18%] is best when you need a higher fat content that’s less than 33% whipping cream. More fat means more heat resistance, but this variety should never be boiled. It needs to be carefully incorporated into warm foods: if it gets too hot, it will curdle, so consider 160F to be the maximum compatible temperature.
Full-fat sour cream is particularly well-suited for dips and cold sauces. Since it already has a pronounced flavour, it can highlight other ingredients like herbs, garlic, and spices. It can also be used on its own as a topping for hot or spicy foods, as well as incorporated anywhere you typically use mayonnaise.
Use full-fat sour cream for: baked goods (quick breads, cakes, muffins), creamy sauces, mashed potatoes, vegetable purées, cheesecakes, salad dressings, pasta salads, cold summer soups or dips.
14% cooking sour cream: a product that can take the heat!
This variety has all the characteristics of regular full-fat sour cream, plus better heat resistance. Since this variety is already thick, it also helps you save on prep time: you won’t need to simmer and reduce it to achieve the desired texture.
Cooking sour cream is formulated for dishes that need that tangy dairy flavour, but are hot enough to curdle regular varieties. This cream can be boiled, simmered, and even placed under a broiler or salamander – and it still won’t break apart!
Thanks to its heat resistance, you can use cooking sour cream as a topping for baked potatoes before they are gratinéed in the oven, or as a replacement for béchamel in a rich cheese sauce. This variety provides an amazing dairy flavour and lighter texture, without added thickeners like roux or starch that can make sauces feel heavy.
Use cooking sour cream for: hot dips, desserts (cheesecakes, custards, and puddings), creamy soups and as a filling base for stuffed pastas and lasagnas.
With so many varieties of sour cream available, it’s easy to experiment. Each kind provides the signature creaminess, freshness, and acidity – it’s simply about using the right one for the right application.subscribe to our newsletter, À LA CARTE!