How Do I Choose the Best Sour Cream?

T. Carrier

The dairy product sour cream is a popular and versatile fixture in nearly every variety of meal, from appetizers to desserts. This creamy and tangy food is best when it retains these qualities. Certain processes such as organic farming might enhance the sour cream's quality. In addition, ensuring that the product is fresh can also bolster taste and texture. Other variables in choosing sour creams include dietary considerations, possible flavor additives and deciding between homemade versus commercial varieties.

A bowl of sour cream.
A bowl of sour cream.

Sour cream is created from a base of cream that has been treated with bacteria. This bacteria produces lactic acid, which ferments — or sours — the cream. The process also gives the final product a proper texture as well as a slightly tangy flavor. Many of the higher-quality sour creams use only this basic process, because additives such as vegetable enzymes and stabilizers can negatively affect the taste. A consumer can peruse additive information on the ingredient labels of most packages.

Dependent on how the cream is treated, sour cream can vary in flavor.
Dependent on how the cream is treated, sour cream can vary in flavor.

An ideal sour cream should have a creamy, smooth and easily spreadable texture. This consistency might be more easily achieved if the cream base is rich and of a high quality. Many dairy producers claim that their products benefit from organic farming. In this process, cows graze in pastures that are free from chemical and artificial substances. In theory, this approach leads to a healthier cow, which in turn leads to better dairy products that are high in taste-boosting and thickness-boosting butterfat. Producers of organic sour creams also claim to use active bacterial cultures that help keep one's digestive tract cleansed and better balanced.

For the dieter, low-fat or no-fat light sour creams might be a preferred option. The products typically use some combination of milk and cream, or they might entirely replace the cream with a low-fat milk. This produces less butterfat and therefore fewer fattening calories.

Some companies also offer flavored sour creams. These types contain extra ingredients that give the product a distinct flavor, such as spicy or sweet. Particular flavors range from jalapeno to lemon. Flavored sour cream products might work especially well when the product is used in a snack or dessert.

Any purchased sour creams should be fresh and refrigerated, because they go bad easily. Mold presence indicates a bad batch. The best way for to determine freshness is to check the seals on the package and to make sure that the expiration date on the package has not already passed. This date indicates how long foods will stay fresh, and it usually is stamped on the side or the bottom of the product.

Some people might live in regions where sour cream is not readily available, or they might simply prefer direct control over their sour cream's taste and texture. For these people, homemade sour creams could be desirable. A quick-fix substitute can be achieved by using skim milk and a cottage cheese base in a blender, but these types might taste quite different from traditional sour creams. If the cook has more time, an overnight sour cream can be made using cream, buttermilk and certain canning methods.

Organic dairy cows graze in pastures.
Organic dairy cows graze in pastures.

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