The Difference Between Sour Cream and Créme Fraîche—and Whether or Not You Can Swap Them (2024)

If you're a dairy lover, you’re probably familiar with sour cream, the indispensable sidekick for baked potatoes and multiple dips, salad dressings, and sauces. Then there is crème fraîche. This rich, creamy dairy product is increasingly available in grocery stores and is sometimes described as the French cousin of sour cream. To learn how crème fraîche and sour cream are similar and what makes them different, we spoke to a dairy expert, who also explained how mascarpone fits into the mix.

Gina Martano, R&D manager at Vermont Creamery, a pioneer in the artisan cheese world and one of the biggest producers of creme fraîche in the U.S.

The Difference Between Sour Cream and Créme Fraîche—and Whether or Not You Can Swap Them (1)

What Is Crème Fraîche?

Crème fraîche is a rich cultured cream that acts as a thickener in soups, a topping on pasta, and as the base of creamy dressings and dips. A delicious dollop of tangy cream is the perfect counterpoint to sweet desserts, too.

It's made by adding starter cultures to a high-fat cream and aging the mixture for several hours. During aging, the cultures eat up the lactose in the cream; the cultures help the cream to develop body and create a nutty flavor and aroma. At Vermont Creamery, one of the largest producers of crème fraîche stateside, crème fraîche is cultured for over 15 hours. The length of culturing results in a stable product. "Crème fraîche is high acidity and high fat, which makes it great for cooking," says Gina Martano, R&D manager at Vermont Creamery. "Not only does it add a tangy flavor and a silky texture to your dish, but it doesn’t curdle when heated or added to acidic sauces."

What Is Sour Cream?

Sour cream is a lightly cultured cream that is required to contain at least 18 percent fat content, per standards set by the Food and Drug Administration. Sour cream ages for about six hours, which creates its characteristic tangy notes but it doesn't have the same depth of flavor found in crème fraîche.

The Difference Between Crème Fraîche and Sour Cream

Both crème fraîche and sour cream are cultured dairy products that start with heavy cream but they aren't interchangeable. How they are made is different, and their taste is also different. The flavor of crème fraîche is slightly less tangy and richer than that of sour cream, and its texture is thicker.


Both crème fraîche and sour cream can be cooked over high heat without the risk of curdling or separating—unlike yogurt.

Substituting Crème Fraîche and Sour Cream

You can substitute the former for the latter, but not the other way around. Crème fraîche can be used in recipes that call for sour cream, it will give the dish a richer flavor. However, you'll lose flavor and creaminess if you substitute sour cream for crème fraîche in a recipe.

Mascarpone Explained

Mascarpone is a sweet Italian cream cheese that is versatile and delicious. At a quick glance, it seems similar to sour cream and crème fraîche, but it's a departure from its cultured lookalikes. While sour cream and crème fraîche are thick, tangy cultured dairy products, mascarpone is not cultured. It has about 48 percent fat content and is creamier than crème fraîche or sour cream.

To make mascarpone: "You take high-fat cream and add acid and heat," says Martano, noting that the mixture is cooked at a high temperature."The result is creamy with a slight caramel taste," she says. Mascarpone is generally used for sweet applications, it works in a wide range of treats, including tiramisu, rolled cakes, and as the filling for our Butter-Waffle Cookies.

To Swap or Not

While crème fraîche and sour cream serve a similar purpose, which is to add fat and a slightly tangy flavor to recipes, mascarpone cheese and yogurt are completely different products and should not be used as substitutes for either cream-based staple. Each one is delicious on its own or as a complement to scores of sweet and savory dishes.

The Difference Between Sour Cream and Créme Fraîche—and Whether or Not You Can Swap Them (2024)


The Difference Between Sour Cream and Créme Fraîche—and Whether or Not You Can Swap Them? ›

If you can't find crème fraîche at your local grocery store, sour cream can be used as a 1:1 substitute, and vice versa. Just keep in mind that sour cream is a bit more sour in flavor and less rich than crème fraîche. "Crème fraîche can substitute in any recipe that calls for sour cream," suggests Druart.

Can crème fraîche and sour cream be used interchangeably? ›

In general, crème fraîche and sour cream can be used interchangeably in most recipes, but crème fraîche will not curdle if boiled and can be whipped.

What's the difference between sour cream and fraiche? ›

Sour cream may contain thickening agents like gelatin or polysaccharides to create a smooth texture, while creme fraiche's fermentation process naturally produces a thicker texture than sour cream. Plus, sour cream has a tangier taste than creme fraiche, which has a rich and creamy taste.

How do I substitute crème fraîche? ›

Easy Substitutes For Crème Fraîche

Sour cream (which has less fat) is the best and easiest substitute, but it's not as rich or tangy as crème fraîche. Full-fat plain Greek yogurt is another substitute, but it doesn't have the same smooth texture or mild flavor.

Can you replace sour cream with fresh cream? ›

If you run out, you can make a sour cream substitute with no cooking and very little effort. All you need is three ingredients (milk, distilled white vinegar, and heavy cream) and 24-48 hours to let it ferment and thicken.

Is crème fraîche just sour cream? ›

Sour cream is made by adding lactic acid culture to cream and sometimes milk to thicken and sour it. In France, crème fraîche was traditionally made from unpasteurized cream that naturally contained the right bacteria to thicken it.

What is crème fraîche called in the USA? ›

Crème fraîche is essentially the European equivalent of sour cream. It's used widely throughout Europe but less commonly in the United States and Canada. Crème fraîche is a dairy product much like sour cream but it has a higher fat content.

Can you buy crème fraîche in the grocery store? ›

Though crème fraiche is a staple in Europe, it's not so common in the United States. You can find it in some grocery stores and specialty shops, but many American home cooks choose to make their own (more on that later) or use sour cream as an easy-to-find substitute.

How to make sour cream taste like crème fraîche? ›

In almost all cold dishes, there is little difference in taste. If you wanted to make sour cream taste even more like crème fraîche, you could add a little bit of butter to it, or mayonnaise (in a savoury dish).

What is a good substitute for sour cream? ›

Yogurt is your best substitute for sour cream. Whether you're baking or making a dip or sauce, yogurt is a 1:1 sub. That means if your recipe calls for 1 cup of sour cream, you can replace it with 1 cup of yogurt. Full-fat Greek or natural yogurts work best, but low-fat or even nonfat can be used, too.

Do crème fraîche and sour cream taste the same? ›

The flavor of crème fraîche is slightly less tangy than sour cream but the texture tends to be thicker, and the taste overall is richer because it gets about 90% of its calories from fat. Unsurprisingly, crème fraîche is French for "fresh cream." Crème fraîche is phonetically pronounced "krem fresh" in English.

Why is it a good idea to use yogurt instead of sour cream? ›

Make a straight substitution — If you want to create healthier baked goods or just want a simple substitution, use an equal amount of yogurt in place of the sour cream. Whole milk yogurt works best and brings a big reduction in fat, plus more protein and calcium.

Is it OK to use old sour cream? ›

Opened or unopened sour cream – as long as it has been refrigerated at a temperature below 40 degrees Fahrenheit – is good for up to three weeks past the sell-by date. The USDA gives a 21 day window for food safety, assuming the sour cream has been continuously refrigerated.

How close is crème fraîche to sour cream? ›

How they are made is different, and their taste is also different. The flavor of crème fraîche is slightly less tangy and richer than that of sour cream, and its texture is thicker.

What is the point of crème fraîche? ›

What Is Creme Fraiche Used For? Because of its high fat content, creme fraiche does not curdle when boiled, which makes it ideal to use as a thickener in sauces and soups. Creme is also used as a finishing touch for sauces and soups, or spooned over fruit or warm desserts such as cobblers.

How long can you keep crème fraîche once opened? ›

Crème fraîche is a fragile product. From the moment a pouch or pack is opened, the product is no longer protected. This is why it states on the packaging the product should be consumed quickly, usually within 3 or 4 days after opening, whilst the product retains its flavour and nutritional quality.

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