is it really sour?

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My 15 year old daughter just asked me, “Is sour cream really cream that has gone sour?  And if so why do we eat it?”  The first, most important, answer is that it is not sour as in rotten.  Unlike sour milk, that is past it’s prime, sour cream, unless it has gone bad, smells sweet and has a tart, creamy taste.

How do they make it?  The producer starts with cream, which has a high percentage of butterfat, and adds a specific kind of bacteria to the cream.  This beneficial bacteria produces something called lactic acid which curdles the milk protein (called casein).  This curdling process is also responsible for making other “soured” dairy products such as yogurt or kefir.  Sour cream appears in many cultures, there is a similar product from France called creme fraiche, in Mexico it is crema Mexicana and in Germany there is a product called quark that can be compared to sour cream.  These are all slightly different than the American version of sour cream but are produced by a similar method using cream and lactic acid. 

When purchasing sour cream it is important to read the label as many commercially produced sour creams may use thickening agents such as gelatin or rennet to get a consistent product.  If you are a vegetarian unless the label specifically states that these products are from vegetarian sources they are animal products.  Low fat sour cream is made with a combination of cream and milk or lowfat milk in order to reduce the percentage of milk fat. This means that it may need to be further thickened in order to provide a stabile product, again you need to read the label.  The most common thickeners are gelatin (which may not be vegetarian), corn starch or guar gum among others.

Other than putting sour cream on top of nachos or a baked potato what can you do with it?  One of my favorite ways to use it is in baked goods.  The sour cream gives a moist consistency and, for things like scones, very pleasant flavor to the end product.  It can also be used to make homemade salad dressings that are very tasty and satisfying instead of relying on dressings that are mostly made from chemicals and thickeners.

Sour cream is good for making dips and sauces; here is an excellent fruit dip recipe:

8 ounces of cream cheese

16 ounces of sour cream

2 T. of evaporated cane juice crystals

1/2 t. vanilla

Mix all ingredients together, chill for at least one hour in the refrigerator

serve with an assortment of fruit such as sliced apples, slice pears, grapes, chunks of pineapple, strawberries and more.

Another use for sour cream is to put it in soups, either as a topping such as with borcht, a beet soup, or as a ingredient in something like creamy mushroom soup.  

One word of caution, I prefer to use organic dairy products because I personally believe that they are better for you.  If you would like to read more about why I feel that way you can check out the post on dairy at my blog located at grains&more – dairy to learn more.  If you do not choose to purchase organic dairy products I urge you to at least purchase a product that is not made with Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) or Recombinant Bovine Somatotropin (rBST) and to read the label so that you understand what other ingredients may be in your food.


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