Ingredient Intelligence

The Real Difference Between Sour Cream and Crème Fraîche

updated Jul 11, 2022
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Credit: Faith Durand

Sour cream and crème fraîche are both used to add richness and tangy flavor to recipes. But are they really just the same thing? And is it worth paying the premium for crème fraîche?

The Differences Between Sour Cream & Crème Fraîche

Both of these thick cream-based products are used in sweet and savory dishes, like mixed berry trifle or smoked salmon potato cakes. And while they share certain attributes, there are differences to be had.

  • Sour cream
    • About 20 percent fat.
    • May include ingredients like gelatin, rennin, and vegetable enzymes to stabilize it and make it thicker.
  • Crème fraîche
    • About 30 percent fat.
    • Does not contain any added thickeners.
    • Is thicker, has a richer flavor, and is less tangy than sour cream.

How Sour Cream and Crème Fraîche Are Made

Sour cream is made by adding lactic acid culture to cream and sometimes milk to thicken and sour it.

In France, crème fraîche was traditionally made from unpasteurized cream that naturally contained the right bacteria to thicken it.

Because cream in the United States is pasteurized, crème fraîche is now made by adding fermenting agents with the necessary bacteria to the cream.

Which One Should I Use?

Choosing between the two all depends on how you plan to use it. Because sour cream has less fat but more protein, simmering or boiling it will result in curdling, so use crème fraîche in sauces or soups instead (unless you just stir sour cream into something once it’s cooked and off the heat).

If using in a salad or as a topping, they’re pretty much interchangeable and the choice is yours — some people like the tanginess of sour cream, while others like the richness of crème fraîche.

Since crème fraîche is a specialty grocery item and costs more than sour cream, think about what you’re making so you make the right choice at the market!

Tips and Recipes for Sour Cream and Crème Fraîche