June 23

14 Best Cream Cheese Substitutes

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You probably know it from lathering it on your bagel, making delicious homemade frostings, and creating the most incredible dips. Cream cheese is one of the most loved household staples in the kitchen.  

Although cherished, cream cheese is considered to be high in unhealthy fats and sodium, making it clash with some of our diets. Whatever your reason for not using it, there are many cream cheese replacements that will fill the void superbly.

We've created a list to help you figure out the perfect cream cheese substitute for you. This list references diet restrictions, unique dishes, and similarities in texture & flavor to fill the void as appropriately as possible. There are definitely some healthier options with less unhealthy fats, that still pack a good taste and texture.

Enjoy!


What Exactly is Cream Cheese?

Firstlylet's talk about what exactly cream cheese is so we can find the perfect substitutes. Cream cheese is an American invention, dating back to 1873 when the well known company Philadelphia came out with their first product.

It is considered a fresh (unripened) cheese made from cows milk, and technically must contain at least 33% milk fat. Cream cheese boasts a mildly sweet, tangy, milky flavor profile. It is an extremely versatile ingredient, and can be used in many different recipes, such as dips, baked goods, frostings, and spreads. 

Our On-the-Go Reference Table


Best Baking Replacements 

  • Mascarpone
  • Ricotta Cheese
  • Tofu 
  • Greek Yogurt
  • Goat Cheese 

Best Dressing, Dip & Sauce Replacements 

  • Sour Cream
  • Strained Yogurt
  • Greek Yogurt 
  • Buttermilk 
  • Cottage Cheese 
  • Ricotta Cheese (mixed with yogurt)
  • Gervais Cheese 
  • Plain Kefir (strained)
  • Cashew Cream Cheese
  • Crème Fraîche

Best Frosting Replacements 

  • Strained Yogurt
  • Greek Yogurt 
  • Mascarpone
  • Crème Fraîche
  • Ricotta Cheese (mixed with heavy cream)
  • Coconut Cream Cheese

14 Cream Cheese Substitutes 

1) Strained Yogurt (kerned)


By straining plain yogurt, most of the whey is removed, creating a thicker consistency while keeping the distinctive sour taste. You can make your own by straining plain yogurt (in cheesecloth or a paper coffee filter) for 8-12 hours or overnight. This alternative is low in sodium and your best bet for a low-fat cream cheese. It also has less sugar than unstrained yogurt, and higher protein, calcium, and vitamin B12 content.

You can use yogurts with different percentages of fat, but whole milk yogurt will produce a taste most like cream cheese. With some added honey, maple syrup, or alternate sweetener, you have a perfect alternative cream cheese with a similar texture and taste.

Similarities: Texture and Flavor

Suggested Conversion: 2 cups of yogurt will strain roughly 3/4 cups 

Flavor Notes: sour, tangy 

Suggested Dishes: sweet, savory dishes, sauces, baking & frosting recipes 

2) Greek Yogurt 


Greek yogurt is basically strained yogurt (as mentioned above) with a higher fat percentage. However, by using a store-bought greek yogurt and the same straining process above, you will yield an even thicker, creamier, spreadable yogurt cream "cheese" that is high in protein and healthy probiotics. You can even let your yogurt strain in the fridge for up to 3 days for ultimate thickness! 

By using the same process above, strain your greek yogurt in the fridge, and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week. 

Similarities: texture & flavor 

Suggested Conversion: 2 cups yields 3/4 cups after straining 

Flavor Notes: slightly tangy, sour, creamy

Suggested Dishes: sweet and savory dishes, spreads, frosting 

3) Mascarpone Cheese


For something with similar sweetness and texture, mascarpone cheese is a great alternative to cream cheese. This unique Italian cheese is a bit lighter and creamier than cream cheese, and has lower sodium than most other cheeses, but it has almost twice as much fat as your typical cream cheese.

A small amount of lemon juice can be added to cut some of the richness and make the texture even lighter and fluffier. It's perfect for desserts due to its natural sweetness. The one downfall, mascarpone is typically more expensive, and not as readily available. 

Similarities: taste, texture & appearance 

Suggested Conversion: 1:1

Flavor Notes: milky, rich, buttery, slightly sweet 

Suggested Dishes: baking, desserts & cooking. Can be used in place of cream in nearly any dish. 

4) Crème Fraîche


Crème Fraîche is basically a soured cream containing between 10-45% butterfat. It is high in saturated fat, and is a slightly tangier version of cream cheese. If you can get your hands on this delectable cream, it is an excellent cream cheese substitute for sauces, dips, desserts and frostings.

Keep in mind, this cream packs a lot of body and rich flavors, so a little goes a long way. 

A simple recipe:

  • 1 - 2 tablespoons cultured buttermilk
  • 2 cups heavy cream (pasteurized)


Combine the buttermilk and cream in a saucepan and heat only until warm. Pour into a clean glass jar or container. Partially cover and let stand at room temperature for 8 to 24 hours, until thickened. Stir and refrigerate at least 24 hours before using. Keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. 

Similarities: texture, taste, appearance 

Suggested Conversion: 1:1

Flavor Notes: hazelnuts, tangy, rich 

Suggested Dishes: sauces, dips, frosting, sweet recipes 

5) Cottage Cheese


Cottage cheese, another household staple for many, is a form of fresh cheese that is lower in fat than cream cheese. For desserts and frostings, strain the cottage cheese overnight and blend with an equal amount of heavy cream. You can also puree strained cottage cheese for a great dip or to use in a gravy recipe. For a richer alternative, puree your strained cottage cheese and add some butter. While cottage cheese is high in protein and calcium, it can also be high in sodium. 

Puréed cottage cheese - This is another option for a more creamy, spreadable replacement. Mix your cottage cheese with some milk and blend well.    

Similarities: texture and taste 

Suggested Conversion: 1:1

Flavor Notes: mild, sour, slightly salty & acidic

Suggested Dishes: desserts, frosting, dips, gravy

6) Ricotta Cheese 


Ricotta cheese is a good replacement in terms of taste, but the texture is grainier & drier than cream cheese. Adding some sugar or sweetener will make it even more similar in taste. Ricotta is used fresh and has a lighter taste than many other cheeses.

Because of its naturally crumbly texture, to replace cream cheese with ricotta, it must first be mixed well with plain yogurt to get the right texture for baking and making dips. Ricotta is a great source of protein, calcium, vitamins A & B, zinc, and phosphorus. It is suitable for those with high blood pressure, as it has about ½ the amount of sodium as most other cheeses. The best ricotta to use will be fresh and made with full-fat milk. 

Mixtures to try:

Ricotta cheese and plain yogurt, 1:1 good for baking and making dips and savory dishes.

Ricotta cheese and heavy cream, 1:1 specifically for frostings and cheesecake.

Similarities: taste & appearance 

Suggested Conversion: 1:1

Flavor Notes: bland, milky, slightly sweet  

Suggested Dishes: savory & sweet dishes 

7) Gervais Cheese 


A richly flavored french cheese containing 60-75% milk fat, gervais cheese can be a unique cream cheese replacement. The texture is similar to a very soft cream cheese, and it is perfectly spreadable. The problem is finding this type of cheese, especially if you aren't in Europe. If you can find it, then you have a great replacement for cream cheese. If not, best to move on down the list. 

Similarities: texture & appearance 

Suggested Conversion: 1:1

Flavor Notes: sweet, tangy, rich  

Suggested Dishes: with fruit as a dessert, spreads & dips, sweet recipes 

8) Goat Cheese 


With an excellent and rich flavor, plain soft goat cheese makes a great alternative to cream cheese, due to its similarly smooth texture and tangy flavor. Goat cheese is denser than cream cheese, so not as much needs to be used in a recipe. It can be whipped to become fluffier and more spreadable.

Even those with milk or lactose intolerance usually fair OK when eating goat cheese, as it is easier on the digestive system. Goat cheese will not be your cheapest option when it comes to replacing cream cheese, but it does provide a healthier replacement with half the amount of cholesterol and fat

Similarities: texture & flavor 

Suggested Conversion: 3/4 goat cheese to 1 cream cheese 

Flavor Notes: creamy, sharp, tangy, rich, tart  

Suggested Dishes: spreads, dips, savory recipes, desserts

9) Sour Cream


Still high in saturate fat, it may not be the “healthiest” on the list, but it's definitely one of the most delicious. If you have it on hand, sour cream could come in handy as a great replacement for cream cheese, depending on what you're making. Given its acidic taste, it should not be substituted for cream cheese in frosting recipes, but rather savory recipes. Sour cream contains almost half the fat that cream cheese does. 

Similarities: Appearance 

Suggested Conversion: 1:1

Flavor Notes: acidic, sour 

Suggested Dishes: dips and savory dishes  

10) Plain Kefir (Strained)


To make a great, healthy cream cheese replacement with kefir, you will need to strain it in the fridge for 2-3 days. What's left over will be a super creamy, spreadable product to use in savory spreads and dips. If you want to make it extra creamy, throw it in an immersion blender and mix on high. Kefir is virtually lactose free, high in probiotics, and much easier on the digestive system than normal dairy products. 

Similarities: texture & appearance 

Suggested Conversion: 2 cups kefir strained yields 1 cup of kefir "cream cheese"

Flavor Notes: creamy, sour, rich, tangy 

Suggested Dishes: dips, spreads, savory recipes 

Dairy-Free & Vegan Options

11) Coconut Cream Cheese


This coconut cream "cheese" is surprisingly easy to make at home, and super healthy and beneficial. Naturally sweeter than traditional cream cheese, it's perfect for a replacement in sweet recipes. There are also some great product on the market at certain health food stores. 

Simply take the solids from the top of a well-chilled can of full-fat coconut milk or cream (you can save the liquid for smoothies) and blend it with 1/2 tsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Then it must sit, straining (same method as yogurt) in a cool, dark place, to become cultured (24-36 hours). The longer it sits, the tangier it will be. Then refrigerate the spread for at least 6 hours until firm, and use as needed. 

*Adding some nutritional yeast (1 tsp. at a time) will give it a slightly cheesy flavor, which can be perfect for savory wraps or in pasta sauces. Adding fresh garlic (or powder) can make it even more savory, perfect for a veggie dip or sauce. 

Similarities: texture & appearance 

Suggested Conversion: 1:1

Flavor Notes: sweet, tangy 

Suggested Dishes: sweet dishes, desserts, frosting, savory recipes (not great for baking)

12) Cashew Cream Cheese


There are now many cashew cream "cheese" products available at certain health food stores, but you can also make your own at home. Cashews are full of healthy fats and are good for those with high cholesterol. Not the best alternative when making sweet recipes, but great for savory ones. This spread boasts a great creamy, nutty flavor.

A simple recipe:

  • 2/3 cups cashew butter 
  • 1/3 cup palm shortening
  • 2 tsp. apple cider vinegar 
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp. sea salt 


Make sure all ingredients are at room temperature, and blend well. The more you mix, the fluffier your spread will be. 

Similarities: texture

Suggested Conversion: 1:1

Flavor Notes: nutty, creamy, slightly tangy  

Suggested Dishes: savory dishes, spreads & dips (not great for baking)

13) Almond Cream Cheese 


Almond-based cream "cheese" has become a very popular product for those who are dairy-free or vegan. It's actually really easy to make your own at home, and highly satisfying! Almonds contain a lot of healthy fats, fiber, protein, magnesium, and vitamin E, and are a super healthy substitute for typical cream cheese. 

A simple recipe:

  • 2 cups sliced & skinless almonds
  • 1/8 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 garlic clove (optional)
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 tbs. nutritional yeast


Either soak your almonds overnight in a bowl full of cold water, or cover them with boiling water, set aside, and let sit for at least 30 minutes. Strain your almonds well, and add to a blender or immersion mixer, along with the other ingredients. Blend on high until a creamy spread is made. Keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week. 

Your spread will firm up and the flavors will mellow after refrigeration. 

1 clove of fresh garlic (or powder) can be added for an even more savory spread. 

Similarities: texture & appearance

Suggested Conversion: 1:1

Flavor Notes: tangy, salty, nutty 

Suggested Dishes: spreads, dips & sauces  

Keep in mind, most nut cream cheese recipes use nutritional yeast, which produces a cheesy flavor. They are also thick and creamy, but not as sweet as cream cheese, so better for savory recipes. Vanilla extract or sweetener can be added for a sweeter flavor. 

14) Tofu


Tofu cream "cheese" is made with silky/firm tofu, lemon juice, vinegar, oil, sugar and salt, making it okay for most dietary restrictions; it's gluten free, dairy free, and vegan friendly. Tofu spread is thick and creamy, and can be used in sweet and savory dishes, just like cream cheese.

These days there are many tofu spreads that have the same flavors and texture as typical cream cheese. The amount of products on the market is endless, but a highly recommended brand is the well-known Tofutti. Don't be afraid to make your own at home! 

A simple recipe:

  • 1 cup extra-firm silken tofu
  • 2 tablespoons melted coconut oil (can sub another oil, but it won't be as thick)
  • 2 - 3 tbs. lemon juice or 1 - 2 tbs. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbs. sugar
  • ½ tsp. sea salt


Puree all your ingredients together, and keep in a sealed container in the fridge. 

Similarities: texture & appearance 

Suggested Conversion: 1:1

Flavor Notes: nutty, smooth, salty 

Suggested Dishes: sweet & savory dishes, dips, sauces 


In Conclusion


Cream cheese is delicious and extremely versatile, but maybe you don't have it on hand, or would like a healthier substitute. Whatever your circumstances, there are some pretty remarkable substitutions. No matter ingredients you have on hand, or your diet restrictions, I'm confident you can find a substitution worth enjoying. You might even enjoying experimenting by making some of your own cream cheese at home, using some of the techniques we've mentioned. 

Hope this was helpful. Leave a comment below if you have any questions. Do you know of any other cream cheese substitutes? Let us know.

Cheers,

Michael

Founder of Robust Kitchen



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About the author

Michael spends his days eating, drinking and studying the fascinating world of food. He received his Bachelors Degree in Food Science and Technology at the University of California, Davis and spent much of his time at the school brewery. While school proved to be an invaluable experience, his true passion lies in exposing the hidden crannies of food for the cooking laymen.

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