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Creme Fraiche v. Sour Cream v. Mexican Crema

Can someone explain to me the difference between the three? I've looked at recipes for all of them and they're pretty much the same. The flavors of the commercial ones I've tried are a bit different but the online recipes suggest there's little to no difference.

Thoughts?

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  1. There's really no significant difference, you're right. There may be quality differences between different producers but one is not necessarily better than the other.

    Sour cream tends to be the thickest of the 3 with creme fraiche coming in second and Mexican crema being the runniest. There are all kinds of cultured creams though and if you find a Mexican grocery you're likely to see crema Salvadoreña (from El Salvador) which is my favorite for Tex-Mex dishes at home.

    4 Replies
    1. re: HaagenDazs

      Well, now I'm thoroughly confused. I just came back from my first trip to California (from Florida) and my friend took me to a large Mexican supermarket. She bought some Crema Fresca Casera, but I noted that the same brand had Crema Agria (sour). After coming home, I went to a couple of local chain markets and they had Nicaraguan, Honduran and Salvadorian cremas, they were packaged in a plastic bag, so I could tell they were a yellowish color. The El Mexicano brand crema casera that she bought was in a plastic canister and was very, very white. I went on this board looking to see if creme fraiche could be substituted for crema fresca casera . . . . .

      1. re: metalgrannie

        sure, in a pinch...(actually wouldn't be bad, maybe just a tad more bite) really more or less the same thing after all

        1. re: metalgrannie

          Mexican crema is not really sour cream. Creme Fraiche can be used, and is often recommended, as a substitute for crema.

          If you read the labels of all the varieties of crema available in Mexican markets in CA you will discover that most of them are actually sour cream of some variant. The Crema Casera from El Mexicano is not sour cream. It is the closes you'll come to crema in the U.S. It's thinner than it's crema counterparts and the flavor is less sour, more cream-like with a very slightly sweet flavor to it. If you compare the ingredient label on the Crema Casera to the other cremas the difference is clear. Crema in Mexico is closer to the Crema Casera than to the Crema Agria. If you're looking to finish a dish with crema as called for in Mexican recipes Crema Casera is what you want.

      2. agreed that they are pretty interchangeable. i do find creme fraiche to be more heat-stable than sour cream, so for stroganoff and things like that, i reach for cf.

        3 Replies
        1. re: chez cherie

          My experience echoes yours; sour cream is less heat-stable but I find creme fraiche and crema to be interchangeable. I'll use either crema or cf when I make chipotle cream chicken (mix chipotles with crema or cf, coat thin sliced chicken breasts and broil, flip over, add more of the mixture, and broil again, serve over rice and top with chopped cilantro). Sour cream, on the other hand, tends to separate under the broiler and while the taste is very similar, it doesn't look as good...

          1. re: Niki in Dayton

            While all of the various Latin-American crema varieties are readily available here in SoCal, and commercial crème fraiche as well, I've gone back to making my own crème fraiche for cooking for two reasons: I like it better, and it saves money. I can always use regular sour cream, so I get some of that plus a pint or half-pint of regular heavy cream, and beat some of the former into the latter to a ratio of 1:4, i.e. 1/4 cup sour cream to a half-pint of sweet (this is not a critical ratio, so you can eyeball it if you want). Beat that up in a bowl, cover with a clean dish towel, and put it somewhere warmish for a few hours. Some times it thickens more than others, probably due to atmospheric conditions, but it's always good and it cooks down beautifully without curdling.

            1. re: Will Owen

              Thanks for the recipe! This is what I was looking for.

        2. Not to complicate things, but what about fromage blanc? I think that is more comparable in density to sour cream than creme fraiche which seems generally lighter to me.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Steve

            or the humble quark with its sharp tang.

            1. re: Steve

              Huge difference here in France between creme fraiche, which here is very lightly sour but curdles quite quickly in heat so used after cooking off stove; and fromage blanc, which is very very young cheese, can be cow, goat, or sheep, usually raw and smooth cottage cheesy here. If you let your creme fraiche age a while you get sour cream, but still raw and thick and wonderful. One of the products l miss most in states.

            2. I find Mexican crema to be sweeter than sour cream. Homemade crema is much better than store bought in my experience.

              4 Replies
              1. re: PAO

                @PAO: Would you mind sharing your recipe for home-made crema? I'd like to try making it. Thank you.

                1. re: metalgrannie

                  I'n not PAO, but this is how I make mine:

                  I just mix 1 cup heavy whipping cream with 1/4 sour cream and +/- 2 tsp confectioners sugar (to taste) in a glass air tight container and leave it in a warm place to sit for 24-36 hours, stirring only once.

                  It's wonderful. You can double that if you want more.

                  kh

                  1. re: khintx

                    Thx. Now what is the purpose of having it sit out for 24-48 hours?

                    1. re: LaLaLovely76

                      So the bacteria can have a nice warm pool party in the cream.

                      More reading here:
                      http://www.seriouseats.com/2010/08/ho...

              2. To me, the consistancy goes from sour cream, the runniest, to Mexican crema, to creme fraiche. As far as the taste is concerned, sour cream has more tang than the other two and very little difference between crema and creme fraiche. I like to use all three in cooking and it depends what it is, Like someone said, the sour cream breaks up more in heat and if I am going to make something like beef stroganoff, I use creme fraiche and crema when making enchilada sauce.

                1. I've always HATED sour cream, but when I moved to Mexico and did a homestay while apartment-hunting my "Mexican mom" would put crema on EVERYTHING and I loooved it. It's not gross (IMO) and runny like sour cream, and the taste is much more neutral. Now I've left Mexico, and as the grocery stores here don't even sell creme fraiche, much less crema, I'm cream-less and sad (no, I won't make it myself!).

                  1. I think you can tell from the replies that there is a pattern here. As a home cheese, yogurt, buttermilk, creme fraiche, and the like maker myself, I'll try to point it out.

                    When cream or milk/cream combinations are cultured (fermented) several things influence the outcome in taste, texture, and consistency. The culture used (bacteria), the temperature, the type and quality of the milk, and the fermentation time are probably the big ones.

                    So, in the other comments here the pattern that emerges is this: When cultured milk products are fresh, they are "sweet." As they age, they become more sour. "Fresca" and "Agria." Commercial products may stop fermentation at pre-determined levels of acidity. Home cooks rarely do.

                    Instead of using commercial sour cream or buttermilk to start crema or creme fraiche at home, look online for better, live cultures at cheese making sites. Try Mesophile Aroma-B or Aroma-B-K. The cultures still alive in commercial products are not the best option for high quality.