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10 Creme Fraiche Substitutes You’ve Been Missing

Written by Luisa Davis on . Posted in food

Let’s talk about crème fraiche and substitutes for crème fraiche. How frustrating is it when you need to cook and you find you’re missing one essential ingredient? It can be seriously off-putting and you might even be tempted to scrap the whole thing.

It gets worse if you’re already in the middle of making dinner and you reach into the fridge for something that isn’t there. You’re caught midway between doing without and quickly dashing out to get. Now imagine that you knew there were others ways to go about that ingredient. If you knew what to substitute with, there will be no more failed dinners. Well, you’re in luck. One such substituting issue will be dealt with right now.

Crème fraiche is a French word that means ‘fresh cream’. It’s a cultured dressing heavy cream, thick, rich, and creamy and is used much in the same way as sour cream. It is made of heavy cream, thinner than sour cream, but not as sour. It is most often used as a topping for fruits, desserts and baked goods and can be added to soups and sauces to make delicious side dishes and dips. It has high-fat content but because it tastes so good, just a little bit is usually enough.

In France, crème fraiche is made with unpasteurized cream and has a tart, buttery flavor. It contains 10-45% butterfat and has a pH of approximately 4.5. The French version is soured with bacterial culture, but less sour than the U.S-style sour cream.

Crème fraiche is produced by combining heavy cream and a starter bacterial culture and allowing it to stand at a set temperature until it thickens. Bacteria like Lactococcus  specie give crème fraiche its unique taste that is different from that of sour cream. Did you know that crème fraiche from Normandy is the only cream to be awarded the appellation d’origine controlee (AOC) although several other parts of France also produce crème fraiche? Now you know.

Why the need to substitute?

Crème fraiche is not easily gotten at supermarkets, and even when you happen to find it, it might cost a bit much for a regular grocery list. Because it’s essentially diary, it might also not be good for you. People with lactose or milk intolerance and even vegans are not able to enjoy this savory goodness which is why the knowledge of a substitute is very important.

It’s also important to note here that the choice of your cream fraiche substitute will depend on what you intend to make or do with it.

Crème Fraiche vs Sour Cream

At this point it is important that we clarify the differences between crème fraiche and sour cream. They are not the same thing although they can and are often used interchangeably.

The first difference is that crème fraiche is European in origin (French precisely) and sour cream is American. Under European laws, crème fraiche can only contain cream and the starter bacterial culture while sour cream can contain other ingredients like thickening agents and sugar. This makes sour cream sweeter, thicker and fattier than crème fraiche.

Sour cream contains about 20% butterfat, which is less than that in crème fraiche. Because of the high-fat content of crème fraiche, it does not curdle. This means that you can drop a dollop on the top of a hot soup and it will not lose shape or melt away.

10 Best Crème Fraiche Replacements

Although it is not easy to get, whenever you can, you should try to add crème fraiche to your dairy and recipe uses. The benefits of this are worth considering. Crème fraiche is based on heavy cream and this allows it to easily be made into whipped cream or cultured butter. The Lactococcus used to culture the cream also serves as a preservative so there is no need for artificial preservatives.

What do you need to know before you replace crème fraiche?

The first thing to consider when you’re looking to replace crème fraiche is what you are making. Are you baking or making a cream-based soup? What about the flavors? Crème tart has a mild sweet, tart flavor. The substituting product should have something close to the same flavor. What if you find that crème fraiche is not too healthy for you and you want a healthier option? You would definitely have to use healthier ingredients that sit well with you.

Now we’re going to be looking at some crème fraiche equivalents. Please note that they may not completely substitute for the real thing and they may not be direct equivalents, but they’ll come close.

  1. Sour Cream

This is the most obvious choice to replace crème fraiche. As I said earlier, it is the American idea of what crème fraiche is. It makes an excellent substitute in most recipes if you’re looking for something thick and sweet. Different brands of sour cream have different sugar levels so please watch out for that when you want to use the cream to make savory dishes. It is also not a bad idea to check the sugar levels of the sour cream before you buy it.

It’s important to note that sour cream separates at boiling temperature so as much as you can, avoid heating it up. Do not use it in heating recipes. But if you must use it, keep it down at a simmer, don’t let the recipe with the sour cream in it boil. Sour cream is best used in a salad or on top of fruits or dessert.

There is also the option of mixing sour cream and whipping cream. To replace a cup of crème fraiche, beat a half cup of whipping cream and sour cream together. Mix up well, cover the mixture and set aside to stand for 12 hours in a warm place. But the downside is that this mixture can absolutely not be used for anything heat related – even a simmer.

Since the two are so interchangeable, you can also substitute crème fraiche for sour cream.

  1. Heavy Cream

If you’re looking to substitute the creaminess of the crème fraiche in a soup or sauce, then heavy cream is your best bet. Add it toward the end of your cooking to thicken the meal up but don’t let it boil. It doesn’t hold its shape like crème fraiche does and will easily disintegrate. For an additional sharp tang, just grate a bit of lemon zest to the cream. Heavy cream is thinner than crème fraiche so it’s advisable to use a cup of cream to every two cups of crème fraiche.

  1. Yoghurt

Many people have found yoghurt to be a suitable crème fraiche alternative. This is especially so if used on a salad or soup. Plain yoghurt has a somewhat sharp flavor close to that of crème fraiche though it’s a bit thinner than crème fraiche. In spite of this, you can still substitute equal parts crème fraiche and yoghurt.

The added advantage when it comes to yoghurt is that you can decide to use either low-fat or full-fat yoghurt. Full-fat is closer to crème fraiche than low-far, but it has a higher fat content. Greek yoghurt as a substitute for crème fraiche is also possible, especially for dessert. It’s creamy, a bit sharp and less sweet than plain yoghurt.

Yoghurt has high protein content and lower fat content when compared to crème fraiche, and this means that it easily disintegrates when subjected to heat. The bottom line is, do not boil yoghurt.

  1. Crema Mexicana

Crema Mexicana is Mexican cream cheese. This is one of the best substitutes for crème fraiche because it is as close as can be to the real deal. It has a similar mode of production, it’s made of similar raw materials and because of this it has a similar taste and a thicker consistency to crème fraiche.

Crema Mexicana has a mild, almost sour flavor and a very thick, rich feeling. It’s the tarter, older sibling to sour cream, is easily found and because it costs about half the price of crème fraiche, is also quite economical.

As an added bonus, unlike sour cream, crema Mexicana can withstand heat and hold its shape. This makes it an excellent replacement choice for crème fraiche for use in hot soups and sauces. Just substitute equal parts crème fraiche and crema Mexicana. The downside is that it cannot be used in desserts because it doesn’t have natural sweetness.

There is another variant of crema Mexicana called crema Mexicana agria that is more acidic and thicker than crema Mexicana. It has a salty taste and 15-20% fat content. It is an ideal replacement for use in savory dishes, dressings, sauces and soups but is not to be used in desserts.

  1. Philadelphia Cooking Crème

This is a not-so-popular product on the market that has been reported to be a good crème fraiche replacement. It doesn’t separate at high temperatures so it can be used in soups and sauces.   

  1. Coconut Cream

Full-fat coconut cream has a noticeably different yet refreshing flavor from crème fraiche but nonetheless it tastes marvelous and is an excellent topping cream. If you do not mind the taste and just want cream, then this is a great substitute.

With substitutes for crème fraiche, there’s always something for everybody. If you’re vegan or have lactose or milk allergies, there are some substitutes that will be perfect for you. These are healthy substitutes for crème fraiche.

  1. Soy Sour Cream

For a vegan and lactose-free substitute, you could try a sour cream with a soy base. Soy-based creams that are non-sour are also available. These creams will match the thickness and the creaminess of the crème fraiche, as well as the sweetness without the sourness so this makes them an excellent choice for desserts.

Soy-based sour creams on the other hand have the same consistency and sour tint as does sour cream and it separates in high heat. This makes it ideal for toppings and salads but not for soups and sauces.

  1. Vegan Crème Fraiche

This is something that vegans and even non-vegans can have and enjoy. It’s an altered cream fraiche recipe I stumbled across that not only suits vegans, but is also super easy to make and uses only 4 ingredients!

It doesn’t get any better than this.

To make or substitute a cup of crème fraiche for vegan crème fraiche, you will need a ½ cup of soft silken tofu, 1 ½ tablespoons of almond milk or soy milk, ½ teaspoon of lime juice or lemon juice and ¾ teaspoon of nutritional yeast.

All these can be easily gotten at the vegan corner in your local supermarket. Simply drain your tofu with a paper towel and place in a food processor. Then add the nutritional yeast, lime or lemon juice and almond milk and blend up the ingredients on low speed until it is creamy smooth. Your vegan crème fraiche is ready! If it gets too thick, add more almond or soy milk and blend again. This will keep for up to two weeks when refrigerated.

If you want to use this vegan crème fraiche for a dessert recipe, just add a sweetener of your choice in the mix. Apart from tofu, you can use other cream cheese substitutes.

  1. Mascarpone

This works a miracle when what you want is a substitute for crème fraiche in baking. Crème fraiche is used in baking, and there’s no reason to not bake your favorite recipes just because crème fraiche isn’t available.

Mascarpone cream cheese is thick, has a sweeter taste than crème fraiche and can be used in place of whipped cream for more structure and balance. Its natural sweet taste makes it an easy favorite for desserts and baking and it substitutes well for crème fraiche. A cup of mascarpone for a cup of crème fraiche will do the trick.

Sour cream and strained yoghurt can also substitute for crème fraiche in baking.

  1. Make Your Own Crème Fraiche

There’s nothing like a good DIY. I always love an opportunity to make stuff myself and crème fraiche has given such an opportunity. If your reason for not buying crème fraiche is the price or because you can’t get it in your local supermarket, then make it yourself. You could make your own crème fraiche using your own starter culture (could be made or store bought) or a couple of different ingredients mixed up and thrown together. Just pick whatever works well for you.

  • Buttermilk and pasteurized heavy cream. Mix 2 tablespoons of buttermilk with 2 cups of heavy cream. Store the mixture in a tightly sealed jar and let it stand undisturbed at room temperature for 10-24 hours. This will allow it to thicken properly. Once it is thick, stir it and then refrigerate for 5 hours and your cream fraiche is ready to use. It can last for about 2 weeks in the refrigerator. Be sure to use the pasteurized cream and not the ultra-pasteurized version.
  • Crème fraiche starter culture. For this method, you will need to buy Crème Fraiche C33 starter culture. Heat a quart of pasteurized cream (18-36%) to 86F and add a packet of the starter culture. Mix them up and let sit undisturbed at room temperature for about 20 hours or until it thickens. Pour contents into a thinly spaced cloth sieve like a muslin and drain for 6 or more hours into a jar with an airtight lid. Once fully drained, close the lid and refrigerate for another 6 hours before use.

There are some organic 0% fat crème fraiche available in the market. You could try some of them if the fat content of the regular crème fraiche is preventing you from enjoying it. Also, as a complete alternative to cream, you can use evaporated milk for your cooking and baking needs. It will taste nothing like crème fraiche but will get the job done. Some part of the job anyway.

Final thoughts

Whatever the reason, whatever the occasion, there’s no excuse to not enjoy the rich creamy goodness that is crème fraiche. Try any of these cream fraiche substitutes and never have a failed dinner again. Enjoy!

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Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis is a frelance writer and foodie based in Portland, California. Though raised on her mother's homestyle Italian cooking, she has spent most of the last five years traveling and immersing herself in other countries' cuisines. Her work have been published in various publications, both online and offline.

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