People often think that sour cream and crème fraîche are the same. But there are differences in taste and texture which will determine how you use them in your cooking.
It’s worth noting that 92% of all French people have crème fraîche in their kitchens. So it’s safe to say this is a staple of French cooking! That’s why it’s one of the ingredients on my French Pantry Checklist.
What is crème fraîche?
Creme fraiche is a dairy product made from heavy cream and a starter culture containing several types of bacteria.
How is crème fraîche made?
The French use either raw crème fraîche made from raw milk or pasteurized crème fraîche made from pasteurized milk. Raw crème fraîche has more flavor and aroma but is very fragile: it has to be used quickly and kept in optimal conditions to be consumed safely.
Pasteurized creme fraiche is made by adding lactic ferments to pasteurized cream, and then aging it. The aging process makes it thicker and richer in flavor.
Sour cream has additives to thicken and stabilize it since it only has around 20% butterfat. It needs only 18% butterfat to be considered sour cream by the FDA.
Crème fraîche, however, doesn’t: no thickening additives are necessary due to the higher butterfat content.
Crème fraîche in France is usually sold with 30% or 40% butterfat. That sounds like a lot of fat, but surprisingly it has fewer calories than butter or oil due to its water content.
Can you replace crème fraîche with sour cream?
People often confuse the two and think that sour cream can substitute for crème fraîche in a recipe.
Sour cream is more acidic and you need to take that into consideration as it may alter the taste of your recipe. Also, it will curdle when heated, so you don’t want to use it in hot soups unless you add it at the last minute. Sour cream also has a more liquid texture than creme fraiche.
Creme fraiche has a higher fat content and a milder, creamier flavor. It won’t curdle or add acidity to a recipe. It’s also richer in flavor and less tangy than sour cream. I’ve noticed that the 40% fat creme fraiche in France has a slight lemony note to it.
When to use crème fraîche versus sour cream?
Crème fraîche is used in the following dishes:
- heated sauces
- hot soups
Sour cream is best in:
- cold dishes like dips
- salad dressings
- chilled soups
Crème Fraîche Recipes:
An easy way to enhance a weeknight dish is with a crème fraîche and chicken recipe using a French Dijon mustard to make a delicious sauce.
The Potage Crecy carrot soup is one of my favorite crème fraîche recipes that can be served either hot or cold.
Conclusion: Crème fraîche versus sour cream
Creme fraiche has a higher fat content and no additives. It’s more stable than sour cream which has a lower fat content and may curdle when heated at length.
The tanginess of sour cream is perfect for cold sauces or dips. It’s also best used as a condiment in Mexican cuisine or served with Russian dishes like blinis.
Creme fraiche is mild and won’t add acidity to your recipes. It’s perfect for cooked sauces and hot soups or scrambled eggs. It’s also delicious when sweetened and added to raw fruit dishes like a mixed fruit salad.
Where to buy crème fraîche starter culture online:
If you’d like to try making your own creme fraiche at home, here are 2 starter cultures I recommend which you can find on Amazon:
photos courtesy of Unsplash.com
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