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At one time or another, you’ll need a viable mayonnaise substitute. Maybe you’ve got a potluck to get to and no time to go to the store. Perhaps you’re cutting back on fat and cholesterol. Depending on the circumstances, knowing how to use yogurt or sour cream when the recipe calls for mayo can come in handy.

Match Your Mayo Substitute to Your Recipe

Yogurt is often your best bet when it comes to a mayo substitute in uncooked dishes. Use about the same amount of yogurt in a pasta salad as you would mayonnaise. Or, brush it onto chicken or fish rather than mayo before adding breading and popping it in the oven,

When creaminess and a mellower flavor are essential parts of the recipe, sour cream might be a better option. Sour cream works well in baked goods and in dips. Even full-fat sour cream is significantly lower in calories than mayo.

Fine-Tuning Your Mayo Replacement

Of course, once you’ve settled on your mayo substitute, the type of either product you select also makes a difference.

Greek yogurt is thicker and firmer than regular yogurt. It should go without saying that you’ll almost always choose an unflavored yogurt when seeking a mayo substitute. But for sweeter dishes, a fruit-flavored yogurt can add intriguing flavor notes.

Greek yogurt is also tarter than regular yogurt. That zing adds something special to a Mediterranean-style pasta salad, but is less welcome when topping a dish like peach cobbler. If you’d like a thicker texture that approximates mayonnaise, but without that distinctive tang, strain regular yogurt through cheesecloth or a mesh colander.

Sour cream also comes in various iterations. If cutting fat and cholesterol is your main objective, choose a low-fat sour cream product. Full-fat sour cream gives you a richness its healthier counterparts can’t always provide, but it’s worthwhile to see how you do with the lower-fat sour cream options.

Choosing the Best of Both Worlds

There may be times when neither yogurt nor sour cream is striking just the right note in your dish. That’s especially true in the types of salads in which mayo’s the traditional ingredient, like chicken, egg or pasta salads, or crunchy side dishes like coleslaw.

Sour cream alone can be too cloying in these fresh dishes, while solo yogurt is runny and tart. But blended together, sour cream mellows out the yogurt’s bite, while yogurt thins out the sour cream. Ideally, you’ll create a mixture that’s creamy, but not overly dense. Making it part-yogurt also helps cut fat and calories.

Not sure which ratio to go with? Start with a mixture of 1/2 yogurt to 1/2 sour cream; then make adjustments to suit your taste and the needs of your recipe.

Broaden Your Horizons

If you’re only thinking about dairy-based alternatives to mayonnaise, you’re limiting yourself! Depending on what you’re making, any of the mayo replacement options below can help in a pinch ‒ or even bring that new flavor dimension you never knew you needed:

  • Hummus. This pureed chickpea and tahini (sesame paste) spread delivers the creaminess that mayo provides, especially to classics like tuna fish sandwiches and savory dips. If you find the tahini overwhelming, choose flavored hummus like red pepper or lemon. Hummus saves on those mayonnaise calories, and it provides extra protein.
  • Avocado. Like hummus, avocado doesn’t necessarily work everywhere you’d use mayonnaise. But once you’ve lightly mashed the peeled chunks ‒ and perhaps added a bit of lemon juice and sea salt ‒ it’s a creamy, tangy addition to sandwiches and dips. Avocado is also chock full of heart-healthy “good fats,” and it even provides some fiber.
  • Nut-based spreads. Peanut butter is usually too distinctive to mix with other proteins. But the more subtle types, including almond and cashew butters, or worth trying when you’re looking for spread options. They add moisture to turkey or ham sandwiches, with less fat and more protein than mayonnaise.
  • Fruit purees. Mayonnaise is the secret ingredient in many sweet desserts, from moist cakes to chocolate chip cookies and brownies. But part or all of it can often be replaced. Use prune puree for a healthier alternative, especially in chocolate dishes. Applesauce is another low-fat mayonnaise substitute, particularly for quick breads and muffins. 

About the Author

Ellen Douglas

With a focus on food, nutrition, cocktails and the latest dining trends, Melissa J. has been a freelance writer for more than 15 years. Her specialties include articles for such publications as SF Chronicle and National Geographic Green Living, as well as blog posts for the hospitality industry. Her previous positions include newspaper staff reporter and communications specialist for a nonprofit agency.