Sour cream, crema and crème fraîche. These three dairy products are used to add lusciousness to baked potatoes, perogies, enchiladas, nachos and mushroom stroganoff. While they are all made the same way – by adding bacteria to cream – they are, in fact, different from each other.
Sour cream can be made by letting cream ferment at a moderate temperature. The lactic acid bacteria that develops during fermentation will thicken and sour the cream, giving it its unique flavour. Traditionally made sour cream contains from 18 to 20 percent milk fat.
In commercially produced sour cream, lactic acid bacteria is added to the cream. It can also contain thickening agents such as gelatin and rennet (which most vegetarians avoid), guar gum and carrageenan. It usually contains 14 percent milk fat.
Light or reduced-fat sour cream contains less butterfat because it’s made from a mixture of milk and cream rather than just cream. Fat-free contains no cream at all and is made primarily from non-fat milk, modified cornstarch and thickeners.
Crema, sometimes called crema espesa or crema fresca is a Mexican dairy product prepared with heavy cream and buttermilk. Salt or lime juice is sometimes added. The fat content in crema is about 18 percent but it can be higher.
Crema is thinner than sour cream and is used as a topping for foods. It can be drizzled onto tacos, roasted corn and slow-cooked pinto beans. In Mexican cuisine, rajas are roasted chili peppers that are traditionally served with crema. Crema is often served to counterbalance the spiciness of dishes prepared with roasted chili peppers, such as chipotle.
Crème fraîche is made by adding a starter culture to heavy cream, and allowing it to stand at an appropriate temperature until thick. The culture is made up of a mix of bacteria. This’s what gives it the taste that distinguishes it from sour cream or crema.
Crème fraîche has a rich, buttery quality to it. That’s due to its high fat content, which is around 30 percent (but can be as high as 45 percent). It’s thick and luscious and doesn’t usually have any added thickeners or stabilizers.
Because of its high fat content, it can be added to hot dishes, like soups and stews. It will melt right in and not curdle. Crème fraîche is used in both hot and cold dishes. Try tossing it with whole wheat spaghetti… délicieux!