When recipes call for crème fraîche (shown above), it’s hard not to wonder if you can sub in another fridge staple, like sour cream. After all, crème fraîche not only sounds like a delicacy, but it’s also priced like one, sometimes costing up to eight bucks for a small container, three to four times more than sour cream. The two function similarly: Both are used to add a tangy flavor and creaminess to a dish—whether as a dollop on top or as the base of a sauce—or lend a more tender texture to a baked good. While crème fraîche might be more popular in Europe (good luck finding sour cream in Paris), its versatility makes it worth experimenting with at home. Here’s how crème fraîche and sour cream are different, and how to know when to use one over the other.
They Are Different
Crème fraîche is the more premium of the two (hence its higher price). It has a more velvety, indulgent texture—thanks to a butterfat content of up to 45%, whereas sour cream typically contains 20% fat—and a richer flavor.
But They Are Both Made From Cream
Sour cream is made by adding lactic acid bacteria cultures to cream, which gives it its characteristic sourness, while crème fraîche is made by adding a starter culture to cream.
How to Use Them
Since crème fraîche has a fat content greater than 30%, it won’t curdle when exposed to high heat, making it a good option for thickening a sauce or soup simmering on the stove. “We rely on the more mild flavor of crème fraiche when working with cuisines that require delicate flavors, like French and Italian,” says Plated head Chef Elana Karp. Crème fraîche also works in desserts; instead of freshly whipped cream, a dollop of crème fraîche pairs well with fruit or a slice of cake or pie—as in Plated’s Caramelized Apple Tartlets with Crème Fraîche recipe.
But when you’re trying to mellow the spiciness of a meal, go for sour cream. “It’s tangier,” Chef Elana says, “so sour cream works great in Mexican or American foods.”