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True sour cream is a dairy product made primarily of cream. It is very rich, high in fat, and quite adored by many. A similar product is the French creme fraiche, and in Mexico, the creamy dairy product that tops many Mexican dishes is called crema Mexicana.
Adding bacteria derived from lactic acid makes sour cream sour. This is similar to yogurt, but yogurt tends to use other bacteria to ferment milk. The bacteria essentially culture the cream, causing it to become thick and sour. Untreated cream is quite sweet, but sour cream has that added zip which makes it so desirable to many.
However, since many are watching their waistlines, sour cream in its original form is sometimes not desirable. It contains from 15-20% fat, which can add a significant calorie amount to products in which it is used. To counter this extra fat, some versions are now either light or non-fat.
Light sour cream is made with part cream and part milk. It often requires stabilizers in order to provide the desired thickness. Nonfat varieties are made with nonfat milk and normally need a significant amount of stabilizers like carrageenan and guar gum in order to replicate the traditional thickness. Both products are less creamy, though they may be just as sour. They can make excellent substitutes if one is watching one’s waistline.
Another possible substitution, which may be good for the digestion as well as the diet, is yogurt. Even whole milk yogurt contains less fat than sour cream and often serves well as a replacement in recipes. Further, unlike sour cream, most plain yogurts still have a high amount of active cultures. In particular, people who seem to have trouble eating beans may find that a dollop of yogurt on a bean dish may help reduce gas.
Sour cream is often served as is, in toppings. It might top baked potatoes, or Mexican foods. Sour cream is a principal ingredient in certain “cream” dressings like Ranch dressing, and in dips for potato chips. It is also used heavily in baked goods, and may form part of the liquids for foods like pancakes, waffles, cakes, biscuits, scones, or muffins.
It can also be used to thicken a sauce. Hungarian Goulash would not have its characteristic tangy flavor without sour cream. This dairy product is sometimes added to recipes for cheesecake, and is combined with cream cheese in order to provide a zesty and rich cheesecake offering.