A spoonful of creme fraiche, the nutty, luscious cultured cream that accompanies many French dishes, lifts any recipe from delicious to divine. As a specialty item, crème fraîche can be hard to find. If your local store doesn't carry it, or you forgot to pick it up, you may be looking for a convenient substitute.
We're here to help.
Below we've outlined 5 crème fraîche substitutes for sauces, thickeners, savory dishes, desserts, or baked goods.
Our On-the-Go Reference Table
For Sauce or Gravy
- Cream Cheese
For a Savory
- Sour Cream
- Soft, Fresh Cheeses
Desserts of Fruit
- Crema Mexicana
- Greek Yogurt
- Any of the Above
What is Crème Fraîche?
Traditional crème fraîche originates from the fermentation of unpasteurized cream, with a fat content of about 30%, through the action of its native lactic acid bacteria. In the United States, dairy products must be pasteurized, so American crème fraîche is made by adding exogenous fermentative bacteria back to cream after pasteurization.
In both cases, the result is that the cream thickens and acquires a buttery, slightly tart flavor. It is mild enough for use alongside sweet fruit, but it may also thicken savory sauces or emulsify salad dressings.
5 Crème Fraîche
1) Sour Cream
Sour cream’s fat content is only around 20%, and it often contains stabilizers like gelatin to thicken its texture. Its flavor is more pronounced and less nutty than creme fraiche.
2) Crema Mexicana
At about 10% fat, Crema Mexicana is thinner than creme fraiche but very much resembles it in flavor. The two ingredients are used in many of the same cooking applications.
Similarities: Often described as mild and sweet-tasting, crema Mexicana is the closest substitute in terms of taste.
Suggested Conversion: Start with a 1:1 ratio, but you may find yourself needing a little extra crema Mexicana.
Flavor Notes: Crema Mexicana is commonly reported to taste sweet, making it a perfect accompaniment to fruit, desserts, and even coffees. Its texture is excellent for drizzling.
Suggested Dishes: Fruit topping, caramels, rich chocolate, specialty coffees, soups
3) Greek Yogurt
Any plain yogurt will mimic the gentle tartness of creme fraiche, but Greek yogurt, which has been thickened by draining some of the whey out, is more similar in terms of its texture.
Similarities: Although yogurt is slightly more acidic, both Greek yogurt and creme fraiche share a mousse-like spoonability and a mild buttery essence.
Suggested Conversion: Use a 1:1 substitution.
Flavor Notes: Greek yogurt is so similar to creme fraiche that you can substitute it in both sweet and savory applications. However, like sour cream, yogurt is high in protein, meaning that it is not heat-stable and curdles easily. Never allow it to boil or simmer.
Suggested Dishes: Baking, fruit topping, dressings, sauces.
4) Cream Cheese
A very thick, spreadable cheese that melts into liquids, cream cheese is barely sweet with a cultured tang.
Similarities: Although cream cheese is thicker and more difficult to stir, its high fat content protects it against curdling at high temperatures. So, like creme fraiche, it functions well as a thickening agent.
Suggested Conversion: Substitute in a 1:1 ratio.
Flavor Notes: Both creme fraiche and cream cheese are mellow in character with the tartness characteristic of cultured dairy. Cream cheese is less nutty.
Suggested Dishes: Cream sauces, cakes and other baked goods, casseroles.
5) Soft, Fresh Cheeses (ricotta, mascarpone, quark, queso fresco)
While all of these soft, fresh cheeses are different, they are all barely tart, fairly mild, and buttery. They vary in their thickness but tend to be slightly thicker than creme fraiche. Mascarpone is a great substitute for sweet dishes.
Keep in mind, it is not a good idea to use frozen fresh cheeses like cream cheese and ricotta for cold recipes. The change in texture due to freezing will make it more grainy and less smooth (heated recipes should work fine).
Similarities: All of these cheeses are similar to creme fraiche in flavor, and would be suitable in any baking application or as a topping or dessert complement. However, they will not dissolve well into liquids; do not attempt to use these fresh cheese as sauce thickeners.
Suggested Conversion: Use in a 1:1 ratio
Flavor Notes: Mild, lactic, milky
Suggested Dishes: Baking, fruit topping, casseroles, blended dips
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you substitute Greek yogurt for creme fraiche?
In most cases, this substitution will work perfectly. Be careful substituting yogurt in a gravy or sauce; because its protein content is higher, it may curdle if boiled.
Can I Use Milk Instead of creme fraiche?
As a last resort, this might work under certain conditions (for example, in a baked product, if you were to also add some extra flour). However, it is always better to look for a substitute with a similar texture to the original product. Milk is much less viscous, with a far lower fat content and a much higher water content than creme fraiche. It is unlikely to provide results equivalent to the substitutes suggested on this list.
Is creme fraiche the same as greek yogurt?
No. Although both are fermented dairy products, and the bacterial cultures are similar, Greek yogurt is made from milk, while creme fraiche is made from cream. Creme fraiche has more fat and less protein than Greek yogurt, and yogurt is more acidic than creme fraiche.
What is a Substitute for creme fraiche in baking?
Any of the substitutes on the list above are appropriate choices for baking.
What is a Healthy Substitute for creme fraiche?
If you are concerned about fat content, plain yogurt is a lower-fat replacement for creme fraiche that will confer a similar tart and buttery flavor. At 10% fat, crema Mexicana would also be a good choice.
What is a Dairy-Free creme fraiche substitute?
As a dessert topping or dip, full-fat coconut cream (whipped or well-stirred) is an excellent alternative, although it imparts its own particular flavor to the dish. As an ingredient in a savory dish, soy sour cream or silken tofu might be better choices. Depending on the recipe and desired texture, it may work best to blend some combination of these substitutes together.
Creme fraiche is a genuinely unique ingredient, and its versatility goes unmatched among fermented dairy products. However, the world of cultured dairy is wide. With the help of the list above, you can certainly find a substitute to fill your need.
If you have any questions or comments, don't hesitate to leave a note below.