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Creme Fraiche, Sour Cream, Mascarpone, & Cream Cheese: What's the Difference?

When you're cooking or baking, it's important to distinguish between similar ingredients that produce different outcomes. Creme fraiche and sour cream look alike and are made similarly, but they provide slightly different flavors and textures to your dishes. Cream cheese and mascarpone are also comparable, so how do you know which is best to use? Below, we explain the differences between all of these creamy ingredients and which ones you can substitute for each other.

What Is the Difference Between Creme Fraiche and Sour Cream?

what is sour cream

Sour cream is cream that has been fermented with a culture of lactic acid bacteria. Creme fraiche is traditionally made from unpasteurized cream, where fermentation bacteria are naturally present. If pasteurization laws forbid this (such as in the United States), creme fraiche is produced with a starter culture of bacteria instead.

Sour cream may contain thickening agents like gelatin or polysaccharides to create a smooth texture, while creme fraiche's fermentation process naturally produces a thicker texture than sour cream. Plus, sour cream has a tangier taste than creme fraiche, which has a rich and creamy taste. This is in part because creme fraiche contains more fat than sour cream, with 30% compared to sour cream's 20% fat content.

Can I Use Sour Cream as a Creme Fraiche Substitute?

Yes, you can use sour cream as a substitute for creme fraiche.

Substitute 1 cup of creme fraiche with 1 cup of sour cream, but be sure to reduce the heat to a simmer or lower because sour cream curdles at high temperatures.

Mascarpone vs. Cream Cheese

mascarpone vs. cream cheese

Mascarpone is categorized as a cream cheese, but it is different than what we know as “cream cheese” in America. Mascarpone is made similarly to American cream cheese, but it uses a base of whole cream rather than milk. Like cream cheese, it is a fresh cheese that is not aged before it is eaten.

Cream cheese contains at least 33% milk fat, and mascarpone may contain 60-75% milk fat. Mascarpone has a buttery flavor that makes it particularly suitable for desserts. It adds richness in addition to a creamy texture, while cream cheese brings a creamy consistency and slightly tangy taste to dishes. For this reason, cream cheese is perfect for both sweet and savory foods.

Can I Use Cream Cheese as a Mascarpone Substitute?

mascarpone substitute

Yes, cream cheese makes a great substitute for mascarpone.

There are two methods to substitute mascarpone:

  • Substitute 1 cup of mascarpone with 1 cup of a cream cheese and whipping cream mixture. To make this mixture, use 1/4 cup of cream for every 8 oz. of cream cheese.
  • Substitute 1 cup of mascarpone with 1 cup of a sour cream and cream cheese mixture. To make this mixture, use 1/2 cup of sour cream and 1/2 cup of cream cheese.

Sour Cream vs. Cream Cheese

While sour cream is made by fermenting cream, cream cheese is made by curdling milk, draining it, and processing it into a smooth, soft cheese. As a result, cream cheese does not have the same sour taste that sour cream has. Cream cheese also contains more fat than sour cream: a minimum of 33% milk fat is required for cream cheese, whereas sour cream contains 20% fat.


With plenty of dairy products on the market, it can be difficult to know which is best to use in your recipes. Creme fraiche, sour cream, cream cheese, and mascarpone may have similar appearances, but their textures and preparation methods give them nuanced advantages and disadvantages when incorporated into your dishes. Overall, each product will bring a rich texture and creamy and tangy taste to your baked goods and entrees.

Posted in: Kitchen & Cooking Tips | Bakeries | By Christine Potts
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