Juliana Z. C., Piotr Kotkowski, Daniel West, Vangelis Thomaidis, Therese Chase, Carlos Paes

It's happened to everyone. Dinner is ready, but when you reach into the fridge for the sour cream that you're sure was there, it's gone. Luckily, you can avoid the uproar from those diners who can't eat a baked potato or a taco without sour cream by simply making your own creamy, tasty sour cream substitute, even at the last minute.

Making Greek Yogurt Sour Cream

Some people will just use Greek yogurt as a sour cream replacement, and some diners will accept that without a whimper. But, for others, yogurt – even Greek yogurt – is a poor substitute. Sour cream has a sour bite to it that yogurt doesn't.

It's easy to change that, however. If you're in a time crunch, with dinner on the table, just add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to 1 cup of plain Greek yogurt with live and active cultures, being sure to remove any pulp and, of course, seeds from the juice before adding it to the yogurt. Lemon gives the yogurt the bite it needs to become sour cream, so after a few seconds, mix it thoroughly.

Using Yogurt to Culture Cream

If you have more time, add 1–2 tablespoons of yogurt with live and active cultures to 1 cup of cream, stir well, and let it sit overnight in a warm place. Some cooks say using pasteurized (but not ultra-pasteurized) heavy whipping cream works best. But if you don't happen to keep heavy whipping cream on hand, any type of cream will work.

Checking Live and Active Cultures

To make good quality sour cream from yogurt, it's important that the yogurt you use contains both live and active cultures. It's certified by the National Yogurt Association (NYA) if you see a "Live & Active Cultures Yogurt" seal on the container. While all yogurt starts out with live and active cultures, treating yogurt with heat removes these cultures.

Yogurt is heated to make products that are coated with yogurt – like yogurt-covered pretzels and candy – and when yogurt is used in products like salad dressings. In addition, some manufacturers use very low levels of live and active cultures in their yogurt. Checking for the NYA seal means the yogurt has higher levels of the cultures.

Flavoring Your Sour Cream

Sometimes, you might want a flavored sour cream, such as lime flavored, to top Mexican food. It's better to hold off adding favoring until your sour cream is set. Yes, it adds a step, but this way, you first tend to the sour cream and get it right; then you can turn to the flavoring. It's difficult to know how much flavoring to add before it's of sour cream consistency, so you'd be tasting it and altering it again later anyway.

Making Sour Cream Other Ways

Using yogurt with live and active cultures is one way to make sour cream. Some other ways to make sour cream:

  • Add vinegar. Measure 1 cup of heavy cream and pour into a jar. Add 1/4 cup distilled white vinegar and stir well. Cover with a lid and allow it to rest at room temperature for 24 hours. It will not turn to sour cream if refrigerated. After it has turned to sour cream, refrigerate any leftover mixture.

  • Use buttermilk. Measure 1/4 cup buttermilk and add to the 1 cup heavy cream in a jar. Mix thoroughly, cover and let rest at room temperature for 24 hours; then refrigerate.

About the Author

Barbara Bean-Mellinger

Barbara Bean-Mellinger is a freelance writer who lives in the Washington, D.C. area and writes about food for eHow.com and leaf.tv. She started baking on her own at age nine, creating appetizers at 10, and making family meals by 14. Barbara holds a B.S. from the University of Pittsburgh, where she often cooked elaborate meals and desserts for friends.