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Alternatives to cream cheese? Counting fat calories.

Hi --

I realize that cream cheese comes in reduced fat and non-fat versions, but it's my understanding that those products use not-very-healthy ingredients to achieve the creamy texture. It's also my impression -- though I'm not entirely positive -- that Neufchatel is a naturally lower-fat product, though it still seems pretty fatty.

So my question is whether anyone has any ideas about healthy, creamy cheese spreads, either store-bought or home-made. For example, could one put cottage cheese through a food processor and expect to end up with something spreadable and palatable?

Thanks.

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  1. Sounds like you're looking for a substitute for cream cheese as a spread on bread/crackers. If so, I have used yogurt in the past when I just haven't had cream cheese around. Works well with smoked salmon and bread :)

    1. Although it's milder than cream cheese, you may want to give marscarpone a look. Bel Gioso is healthier in the fat dept, I believe, than your regular Philly Cream Cheese.

      You can drain a plain yogurt overnight to create a more cream-cheese-like consistency, too.

      1. Try making yogurt cheese:

        http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/al...

        Also, look for reduced fat cream cheese that is labeled Neufchatel. It's its own kind of cheese (there is French which is very different and then American which is the block), similar to cream cheese so not overly processed like some of the fat free cream cheeses.

        5 Replies
        1. re: chowser

          Original poster here again -- Pinehurst, I wish mascarpone was healthier in the fat department. Unfortunately, one ounce of it has 120 calories from fat, as compared to 81 in the same amount of original Philly cream cheese. Neufchatel, mentioned in my query, has 60, so it's the leader of that pack.

          And yes, bobabear, I am looking for something that by itself, or mixed with other ingredients, will end up on bread or crackers. I have made yogurt cheese in the past, though I've pretty much abandoned regular yogurt for Greek style, which I don't think could be thickened any further. It may be my best option. Maybe I'll try blending it with non-fat cottage cheese and see what I end up with.

          1. re: Deborah R.

            You can thicken Greek yogurt by putting it on a strainer lined with cheesecloth overnight. I do that before making Greek yogurt frozen yogurt in my ice cream machine! Works well and is low fat :)

            1. re: bobabear

              And, Greek yogurt is regular yogurt that has been drained so you're just further draining it. Or, at least it should be but some companies thicken it in other ways.

              1. re: chowser

                Or you could use Skyr Icelandic yogurt which is made from fat-free milk and thicker than Greek yogurt.

            2. re: Deborah R.

              Neufchatel is pretty good but I think people put way too much
              cc on their bagels and crackers. A very thin spread still tastes good.

              OP, if you have not heard of Benedictine, a Kentucky specialty, you might try it. It's basically cream cheese mixed with shredded cucumber and some type of onion, plus seasonings. I don't peel or seed the cuke and use a lot of veg compared to the amount called for in recipes. I also add red bell pepper, and like Trader Joe's 21 Seasoning Salute
              in it. Probably 1 part cream cheese to 3 parts veg. People thin Benedictine with sour cream or yogurt to make a dip but I wanted a spread for crackers and toast points.

          2. I always use Neufchatel in recipes that call for cream cheese.

            If you're just looking for something to eat with crackers, I use the Laughing Cow wedges. These might fall under the "using unhealthy ingredients to get the creamy texture" umbrella, but I thought I'd throw it out there. (I'm fond of the garlic and herb variety.)

            1. Someone just informed me that a local mega grocery store is carrying a Greek yogurt version of cream cheese, it is on my list for this week so I will let you know what I think. It was touted as half the fat and twice the protein, but I didn't get the brand name.

              6 Replies
              1. re: coll

                It tastes awful, ruined a low carb cheesecake in which it was only 1/3 of the cheese.

                1. re: mcf

                  Thanks for the heads up, I will save it for bagels and such then. Unless you mean REALLY awful? I do expect it to be tangy....

                  1. re: coll

                    Your tastebuds may differ, but for us, there's a very unpleasant sort if bitterness, and it permeates. I can't say tanginess is what sticks in my memory. Just BADness.

                    1. re: mcf

                      Interesting. I was going to go to Stop and Shop just for that later on, but if I don't get there I won't cry now!

                      1. re: coll

                        I got mine at Fairway, maybe it's a different brand? Franklin Foods: http://www.franklinfoods.com/greek-cr...

                        I bought the bars. First time, I used only this product to make a cheesecake that was a waste, we hated it, then used it for less than 1/3 (wanted the protein) with regular cream cheese for the rest. It really wrecked the cheesecake. I managed to save it with an added strongly lemon flavored sour cream top layer that I hadn't planned to use, actually re-baked it for 10 minutes for that. It is bad taste, bad texture, for my money.

                        1. re: mcf

                          If it's that brand, I'll beware. I just realized I need 3 oz cream cheese for a San Diego style shrimp burrito I'm making this weekend, maybe I should just get Philly as usual. It's a new recipe for me and I don't want to blame the source, rather than wacky ingredients.

              2. Maybe some good quality ricotta cheese? I find this to be good as a spread.

                I only use the full fat kind.

                1. I know some folks don't like the taste of these, but I've actually enjoyed Tofutti's "Better Than Cream Cheese" non-dairy spreads - 60 cal and 5 g of fat per 2 tbsp. The garlic and herb blend is especially good with whole wheat bagels, but the plain kind is fine as well. Certainly worth a try if you're looking for an alternative to regular cream cheese (which I still love to indulge in on occasion)!

                    1. re: ohmyyum

                      Oops. First glance I thought that link said "Frankenfoods",
                      which I thought must be synthetic food.

                    2. Try mashed taro mixed with a bit of milk.

                          1. re: escondido123

                            Definitely goat cheese. Similiar texture (not quite as smooth) and has that tang without being too tangy. If you can get it fresh from the dairy it's much creamier. Yummm.

                              1. re: escondido123

                                Or goat feta. It's tangy and delicious if you can find a good producer. I like that on bread with a slice of ripe tomato and some cracked pepper.
                                JeremyEG
                                HomeCookLocavore.com

                                1. re: JeremyEG

                                  When my place has real Greek feta, it is so creamy and spreadable compared to the Hungarian I usually buy. Three times the cost but I like to splurge once in awhile.

                              2. Nonfat greek yogurt is the most similar but with fewer ingredients and less processing. Be sure to use fage or chobani, there are often weird thickeners and stabalizers added to generic brands.
                                I make a spinach garlic dip using it often

                                1. I really like creme fraiche. But, I use a lot less than I would cream cheese.

                                  1. The nonfat cream cheese spread is quite good, especially the strawberry one, for satisfying those NEED something creamy/cheesy yearnings. What, precisely (link from a dietician...?), do you think might be "not so healthy" in the ingredients list for those, when eaten in reasonable snack-sized quantities?

                                    There's a lot of unscientific rumor-mongering that makes the rounds. I'd not seen any re: reduced fat cheese.

                                    1. To me, these substitutes are like the faux meat products for vegans. They just don't do the trick.

                                      Eat a small amount of cream cheese and enjoy it. Or don't eat it at all. For me, those are the choices.

                                      Yes, Neufchatel is lower in fat - about 33% lower than regular cream cheese. Two tbsp has 80 cal, 50 from fat (6 g).

                                      Two tbsp low-fat cottage cheese has 36 cal, a 2 g fat.

                                      I don't know how much cream cheese you eat, but is a reduction of 4 g of fat really that big a deal in an otherwise healthy diet?

                                      My mother once made a cheesecake but omitted the butter from the graham cracker crust because she wanted to reduce the fat.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: Just Visiting

                                        I have to agree with Just Visiting, and I say this as someone who avidly counted calories, lost 30 pounds, and has kept that weight off by being mindful of portion sizes...so I get the whole shaving off a few calories here and there.

                                        However, 2 tablespoons of cream cheese is 80 calories. You can eat the full fat stuff by buying the "whipped" version, which lowers the calorie count by simply introducing more air into the product...now we are down to 60 calories for 2 tablespoons. That isn't bad at all in the grand scheme of things, especially for something you truly enjoy, rather than being able to eat 3 times the amount of some poor-man's faux cream cheese concoction.

                                        If there is one thing I learned by calorie counting, it was enjoy the real deal and eat it in moderate portions. Beating the hell out of fat free cottage cheese in a blender or other such attempts would not work for me as a cream cheese substitute. If I want cream cheese, I want cream cheese.

                                        1. re: mels

                                          If you're only eating two tablespoons, the difference is negligible. Here is my issue with it:

                                          If you are used to over eating and just starting your journey, saying "I'll only eat the recommended serving" is likely to bust. If you are used to eating a whole container of cream cheese in a sitting and try to do two tablespoons, there is a good chance you're going to cave and eat more than you planned. While the difference in calories is barely noticeable for one serving, total it up for a whole container and you just made a big mistake.

                                          Obviously enjoying the good stuff in the right quantities is your goal. But if you're just starting to train yourself, starting with a lower-calorie alternative and eating an amount somewhat but not drastically less than you're used to is easier. And, in my opinion, more likely to succeed. If you feel like you can't eat enough to be happy, you're more likely to give up. Once you're able to control how much you're eating, you can then start switching back to the good stuff.

                                          I'm speaking for myself, obviously, and everyone diets differently. I can't say what the OP's goals are, but that's how I've had to do it.

                                          1. re: mels

                                            Whipped version - great idea! You get the right flavor but fewer calories and less fat.

                                            You can't just lose weight. You have to keep it off, and that means learning real-life strategies that you can do pretty much forever. Most people can do the lose-it strategies because those are time-limited but eventually you have to return to real-life so you need to figure out how to cope with the things that forced you on that journey in the first place.

                                            I am absolutely lousy at moderation. I have to simply avoid this kind of stuff on a daily basis and only have it on rare occasions when I can control it. So, for instance, only the BEST of (food item). That means pastrami maybe twice a year, only at Katz's, and then I enjoy the heck out of it. Cheesecake - fortunately for me, I live in a town that has no good cheesecake. So I have it only once or twice a year, and then I go for the real deal and enjoy the heck out of it. For my birthday, we are ordering all kinds of fish from Russ & Daughters and you bet I will eat and enjoy REAL cream cheese. But it will be the only time this year!

                                            I've had cream cheese on the brain for the past week or so because that box from Russ & Daughter will be arriving in two weeks!

                                        2. Which ingredient(s) in reduced fat cream cheese is/are unhealthy?

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: ferret

                                            None. Notice she said that it is her understanding, which means she didn't do any research on her own. Hard to understand, given how easy and rapid it is to do...

                                            These are the ingredients in Philadelphia Brand reduced fat:

                                            Ingredients
                                            Pasteurized Nonfat Milk and Milkfat, Whey Protein Concentrate, Cheese Culture, Salt, Guar Gum, Carob Bean Gum, Sorbic Acid as a Preservative (Ingredient Not in Regular Cream Cheese), Vitamin A Palmitate.

                                            I am guessing she means the guar gum, and probably because she is unfamiliar with this product, which is actually just the ground endosperm of guar beans. Or maybe the sorbic acid? Also a natural compound, first isolated from berries, but I am sure that it is now sythesized.

                                            1. re: Just Visiting

                                              Makes little sense to say "it's probably unhealthy" without actually trying to find out.

                                          2. Maybe try fromage blanc.....

                                            1. Depending on how I'm going to use it, I either use fat free cream cheese or I drain plain fat free yogurt in the refrigerator over night. Well, if you want it really really thick, a day and a half should do it! For my taste buds, I find that the less ingredients a fat free yogurt has, the better it will taste. I've tried several of the plain "Greek" yogurs that are on the market and I have to say not a single one of them tastes anything close to the yogurt I ate daily when I lived in Greece! The U.S. product taste "floury" to me. Not a good thing, but then that doesn't make my way the right way. It's just the way I like it. Opinions will vary!

                                              Oh, and draining yogurt will work MUCH better than cottage cheese!

                                              1. I've done some research since I put up the post, and have learned quite a bit. First, in theory, Neufchatel is made just with milk (I'm talking about the American type; the French is another animal entirely), unlike cream cheese, which has both milk and cream. However, the Neufchatel in my refrigerator lists cream as an ingredient -- along with gums and unspecified "stabilizers." I don't know that they are unhealthy, but I'd prefer not to be eating them.

                                                So one thing I'm going to try to do is find a milk-only Neufchatel without stabilizers. I suspect such a product exists in a health food store.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: Deborah R.

                                                  There is nothing inherently beneficial about avoiding ingredients which have unfamiliar scientific names. Cut out ascorbic acid from your diet and you eliminate your vitamin C. Emulsifiers like xanthan gum are made by fermenting sugar.

                                                  But if you really want to live an additive free lifestyle, nothing beats homemade. And when I am reaching for a substitute for cream cheese, it's usually homemade labneh. There are storebought brands, many of which don't use stabilizers, but some lowfat varieties may use pectin or powdered milk.

                                                2. Why are you defining healthy as low-fat? You do realise that some of the most important vitamins are fat-soluble, don't you?

                                                  Most important of all is whether the cream cheese was made from milk from pastured cows or not. Animal products made from pastured animals are incredibly healthy -- loaded with good fats and fat-soluble vitamins and CLA.

                                                    1. re: Peg

                                                      IMO, this is the single best suggestion, most like a real, natural, fresh tasting cream cheese without added gunk.

                                                      1. re: mcf

                                                        It's similar but i found it's thinner than cream cheese and more tangy. I'd recommend again Skyr yogurt for this purpose.

                                                        1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                          I guess it's up to the OP; I hate fat free yogurt, but find quark to be much closer to cream cheese than anything else mentioned without added junk. And it can be drained, too. Both Skyr and quark can be found free of added stabilizers or other stuff, though.

                                                          1. re: mcf

                                                            Very true, and I love them both. Siggi's is a great brand of Skyr if it's available to OP but tastes to me more like sour cream-ish in texture.

                                                        2. re: Peg

                                                          A typical German spread for a nice, dark & crusty bread is the so-called "Frühlingsquark", which means spring quark. My guess is it's named for the healthy amount of chopped spring onions/scallions that are added to full-fat (oops, but you can use lower fat, too, of course) quark along with s&p and a little paprika.

                                                          It goes *really* well with new potatoes or steamed veggies, too.

                                                        3. Folks, we've removed a bunch of back and forth about whether this was or wasn't an okay question for Chowhound and whether the answers were or weren't okay, and would ask people to focus on discussing food, rather than discussing the discussion. When discussing food, it would be great if you could focus on actually answering the original poster's question about alternatives to cream cheese. Thanks!

                                                          1. http://www.labelwatch.com/prod_result...

                                                            What type of CC do you use? Whether full or reduced fat, organic or not every ingredient list on that site mentions a gum of some sort.

                                                            With that said, some people mix full fat cream cheese with non-fat cream cheese. So this should give you CC that is 50% less fat, compared to typical low fat CC which is 33% less. I know some people complain about the taste of less or no fat CC so I think mixing it with full fat should lessen that.