Whether it's slathered on a burrito, whipped into a cake, topped on a baked potato, or piled on top of a stack of nachos, sour cream is a versatile ingredient. In my house, it's one of the staples within my refrigerator. It always comes in handy if I need to add a creamy element to my dinner or make a quick batch of sour cream cookies.

This kitchen staple fills an entire grocery shelf and has a special place in many of our hearts. Yet, despite our affinity for the ingredient, few fully understand what it is. This seemingly simple dairy product comes with many questions. What is sour cream? Let me explain.

What is Sour Cream?

To make sour cream, it starts with none other than—you guessed it—cream. Bacteria is added to the cream to create the thick substance we are used to. The lactic acid-producing bacteria increases the amount of lactose, causing it to thicken.  This process is called souring, hence the name "sour cream." Many commercially-made sour creams use additives. Gelatin is often added to make the sour cream thicker. Salt and flavor additives create a more pleasant taste.

How to Make Homemade Sour Cream

For the full experience of sour cream, you can make your own with only two ingredients. It's super simple, but does require some time to ferment. The process is quite effortless thanks to the magic of buttermilk. Buttermilk, or the remaining liquid after cream has been churned to butter, has "naturally-occurring bacteria [that] ferment the dairy, converting milk sugars into lactic acid." When those enzymes come in contact with the heavy cream, they cause the souring process to occur.

Nowadays, milk is pasteurized, and it loses these buttermilk-making bacteria in the process. Dairy companies add made-man versions of the bacteria to milk and stabilizers to protect the product's integrity. In short, companies have to remake the once natural bacteria within the milk to create buttermilk.

It may sound a bit complicated, but all you have to do is buy a carton of buttermilk and some cream for a homemade sour cream to top off any meal.

Homemade Sour Cream

  • Prep Time:5 mins
  • Cook Time:1 day
  • Total Time:1 day 5 mins
  • Servings:10
  • Easy


  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
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  • Step 1

    Combine the cream and buttermilk together in a jar. Shake the jar with the lid on. Keep the sour cream covered and let the mixture sit at room temperature for 24 hours to allow the souring process to do its magic.

  • Step 2

    Once the sour cream has fermented, serve or refrigerate it.

    Marisa Palace

I was a bit hesitant when it came to leaving the cream mixture out on my counter for a day. Fear not, because I can assure there was no weird stank going on in my kitchen. Compared to store-bought sour creams, it was a bit looser at first. Once I refrigerated it, its texture returned to normal. As for its taste, I'm not a sour cream connoisseur, but I wouldn't have known the difference between the two.

Though the sour cream was delicious, be aware that it's quite caloric. Most store-bought sour cream has 20-30 calories per tablespoon. If you're looking for a low-calorie sour cream alternative, Greek yogurt is the perfect substitution for topping many meals.

#SpoonTip: Be careful when you use sour cream substitutions when baking because you might ruin the ratios.

The next time you scoop a dollop of sour cream onto your baked potato, remember all of the hard work those bacteria did to help make your meal even more enjoyable. Savor that flavor!