How to Make Sour Cream at Home with Just Two Ingredients

What if you could learn how to make sour cream at home, instead of relying on store bought plastic tubs? Let me let you in on a little secret: This homemade sour cream substitute couldn’t be easier and it requires only two ingredients. 

Trying to make more of your own condiments? Be sure to try this easy peasy homemade mustard!

homemade sour cream in a green bowl.

We love to make and eat Mexican dishes here, and those require (yes, require) a dollop of sour cream. The trouble is, every dollop of goodness comes with a price: disposable packaging. Sure, we reuse those containers, but what if we could eliminate them entirely? Thus my deep dive into how to make a substitute for our sour cream habit. Turns out? It’s incredibly easy!


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How to make sour cream 

This sour cream substitute is made by combining heavy (or whipping) cream with an acid. This mixture, allowed to sit at room temperature overnight, will thicken and become perfect as an ingredient in your favorite dip or add it to this spicy mayo recipe for extra creaminess.

lemon, glass jar with cream, and a ceramic measuring spoon

Ingredients

If you look at the side of some store bought sour cream containers, you’ll see ingredients like grade A whey, modified food starch, sodium phosphate, sodium citrate, guar gum, carrageenan, calcium sulfate, potassium sorbate, and locust bean gum. That’s a lot of extra stuff in your favorite dairy topping.

Traditional sour cream is fermented at room temperature with a starter culture. This means keeping a starter culture on hand, though, and that’s kind of a specialty item. I’d really rather work with what’s readily available to me. So I was happy to discover that you can make a darned good sour cream substitute at home with just two ingredients.

Heavy cream — The main ingredient for homemade sour cream is heavy whipping cream with a fat content of more than 30%. If you’ve got access to fresh cream, use that. Most of us, though, don’t have that option readily available. We’ll choose the heavy cream that comes in a waxed cardboard carton. (Don’t use fluffy whipped cream.) It’s best if you can avoid the ultra-pasteurized heavy cream, but if that’s all that’s available to you, it will work. A one-pint container will make about two cups.

Lemon juice Use bottled lemon juice or juice from a fresh lemon. If you do not have lemon juice on hand, you can substitute vinegar. There’s a negligible difference in taste. I used apple cider vinegar; you can also use your favorite distilled vinegar.

ceramic measuring spoon with lemon juice over a jar of cream

Mixing and Resting

You’ll simply stir the lemon juice into the heavy cream, cover loosely, and set out at room temperature until thickened (overnight or up to 24 hours). Stored in the refrigerator, this will keep for up to two weeks.

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The fact that this recipe uses ingredients commonly found in many kitchens makes it a great substitute and a good way to replace sour cream in a pinch.

white cream in a glass jar with a yellow cloth cover

How Does it Taste?

When we’ve been using our favorite brand for years upon years, any change in flavor can seem “not right.” Which translates to “not what we’re used to.” (Anyone remember mom trying to make the switch from name-brand cereal to a generic version to save money?)

This homemade sour cream is creamier, has a richer flavor, and isn’t quite as tangy. That’s an easy fix though — just stir in a teaspoonful of lemon juice if you prefer a tangier version. The recipe results in a finished product that’s similar to sour cream and almost a bit yogurt-like. This will work perfectly in our homemade buttermilk ranch dressing, favorite dips, dolloped on soup, or served with our favorite refried beans.

I recommend that you try my creme fraiche recipe, too. In a side-by-side comparison of this recipe and the creme fraiche, the creme fraiche wins for being an almost exact replica of our favorite store bought sour cream. It, too, only requires two ingredients, but you may not always have one of them on hand. In the end, it’s going to depend on individual taste buds to decide which you prefer.

And as far as waste goes, this recipe is a game changer.

Waste reduction

Buying heavy cream in a cardboard container does still generate some waste. But it allows us to avoid accumulating a stack of #5 plastic containers that come with buying regular sour cream. (These are no longer recyclable in my area.)

The waxed cardboard containers can be added to a compost pile if they don’t have a plastic spout. The cardboard will break down in the pile, leaving behind a thin film of plastic that can be picked out and thrown away. It’s not ideal, but it’s a lot less waste than a whole sour cream container. (Of course, some of you will have access to heavy cream in glass containers — or raw milk — which is perfectly awesome.)

jars of white liquid with yellow fabric on top.

★ Did you make this homemade sour cream recipe? Don’t forget to give it a star rating below! ★

homemade sour cream in a green bowl.

Homemade Sour Cream

Yield: 2 cups
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Resting time: 18 hours
Total Time: 18 hours 5 minutes

Making sour cream at home is easy with just two common ingredients.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups heavy cream, or whipping cream
  • 4 teaspoons lemon juice

Instructions

  1. Combine cream and lemon juice in a jar. Screw on lid and shake lightly until combined.
  2. Remove lid and use a rubber band to secure a thin piece of cloth or a napkin over the jar. This allows the mixture to breathe, while also keeping out bugs.
  3. Set jar at room temperature for several hours or overnight until thickened. Stir and serve.
  4. Refrigerate leftover sour cream for up to two weeks.

Notes

As soon as the ingredients are combine, you may be able to see the mixture thicken a bit as the lemon juice reacts with the high fat cream.

In low temperatures, it may take up to 24 hours to thicken. You can set the jar on a heating pad on low to hasten the process.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 16 Serving Size: 1 grams
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 103Total Fat: 11gSaturated Fat: 7gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 41mgSodium: 11mgCarbohydrates: 1gSugar: 1gProtein: 1g

Did you make this recipe?

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Originally published May 2019; this post has been updated.

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About the author: Kris Bordessa is an award-winning National Geographic author and a certified Master Food Preserver. If you want to send Kris a quick message, you can get in touch here.

27 comments… add one
  • Dom Sep 11, 2022 @ 5:29

    I made this recipe yesterday, and after 24 hours at room temp it turned out tasting like a thinner heavy cream.. Any idea what I did wrong, or how to get that ‘sour’ taste to the cream..?

    • AttainableSustainable Sep 13, 2022 @ 3:22

      My best guess is the room was too cold, try stirring in a teaspoon of lemon juice for a tangier flavor.

  • Chi Aug 25, 2022 @ 17:38

    I’ve always used powdered citric acid which I find more neutral in taste. Around 3/4 tsp is needed for 16 oz of heavy cream and, if need be, add teeny amounts like a 1/16 or 1/32 of a tsp more (I have measuring spoons that tiny!) of the citric acid to attain your desired consistency.

    As for the #5 plastic containers, I reuse use them for food storage, arts and crafts, small hardware items, etc. Just be sure to label them. Put some holes in the bottom and you have a nice little flower pot to start plants in. I’ve also used the waxed cartons for planting seedlings. Just cut to the desired size and add holes to the bottom.

    It’s fun and practical to make your own whenever you can. If you have kids, this is a good time for them to participate and learn!

    Thanks!!!

    • AttainableSustainable Aug 30, 2022 @ 5:05

      You’re welcome! 🙂

  • nostromo Aug 1, 2022 @ 15:33

    Hi, if using Half & Half, after a full 24 hour set up, how much Milk Powder would you use for this two cup recipe? Thank you 🙂

    • AttainableSustainable Aug 9, 2022 @ 3:31

      I have never made it that way so can’t say for sure, sorry!

  • Robert Jul 3, 2022 @ 8:27

    I did this recipe side by side with another calling for milk, vinegar, and cream. This once actually set up over night and the other did not set up at all. This recipe worked and the other did not.

    • AttainableSustainable Jul 5, 2022 @ 3:45

      I’m so glad it worked well for you! 🙂

  • Janet Oct 1, 2021 @ 4:08

    I made this and it tasted like the cream I used. No change in flavor

    • Kris Bordessa Oct 13, 2021 @ 14:58

      You could leave it at room temp for a day or two to sour further.

  • Whisperin Pints Jun 26, 2021 @ 12:24

    WOW! I poured 1 cup ultra-pasteurized heavy whipping cream into a coffee cup and stirred in 2 tsp fresh lemon juice. It immediately began to set up as I stirred, and within 5 minutes it was as thick as sour cream.
    I had to force myself to put it in the refrigerator until the baked potato was ready because the flavor is SO much BETTER than what I am used to that I couldn’t stop sampling it. 5 Stars!
    Thank you, Kris.

    • Kris Bordessa Jun 27, 2021 @ 9:24

      Oh, I’m so glad!

  • Lara Jun 8, 2020 @ 21:51

    Hi dear thanks for the recipe,at what stage can I add the milk powder please?

    • Kris Bordessa Jul 18, 2020 @ 14:21

      Once it’s done.

  • will Mar 30, 2020 @ 8:27

    can you use white vinegar instead of lemon?

    • Kris Bordessa Mar 30, 2020 @ 8:58

      I have not *tried this, but common sense says it would, since vinegar is also an acid.

  • Neil Feb 20, 2020 @ 3:36

    Hi Kris,

    My wife and I ARE trying to have a more self reliant lifestyle. Due to health issues I have eat a keto diet. I love yogurt but it has too many carbs for me and my pancreas. I was looking to make sour cream with active cultures as a substitute. Would active cultures develop in the sour cream with this recipe? Or would I have to add them somehow as another ingredient? What do you suggest?

    Thanks so much for this recipe and your mission. I WILL buy your book right now! 🙂

    Neil

  • Ann Jan 4, 2020 @ 10:07

    The computer is changing it !! C r e m e !! Try this way

  • Ann Jan 4, 2020 @ 10:04

    Did you on purpose torture us saying the crime fraiche was better and then not tell us how to make it? Even used your search and was answered it did not exist…

  • Carol L Jul 5, 2019 @ 15:50

    I might add in some gelatin rather than the milk powder: it is made in a way that isn’t totally healthy and has something in it from the process that hinders our body’s absorption. I know that is vague, but I have read several places that milk powder isn’t really healthy. Gelatin, on the other hand is very good for you.
    This is similar to making ricotta cheese only it is heated.
    Nice recipe.
    I have also made “sour cream” in a pinch just taking yogurt and hanging it in a colander with cheesecloth overnight to get all the water out. It doesn’t really taste like sour cream, but I bet if I added some lemon juice or buttermilk and mixed it in, it just might!

    • Iluminameluna May 8, 2022 @ 20:59

      The “water” you’re draining from your yogurt isn’t, it’s the whey, which is the protein from the milk solids. You could save it to add to your soups, bread if you bake from scratch, to make smoothies with the yogurt you could add the whey back in, and when I’d visit my country grandma (I had a city grandma too) she’d feed her pig the whey she’d get from making fresh cheese in the morning. It’s extremely nutritious and folks pay a BUNCH of $$ to get it in powdered form.
      Just a suggestion.

      • AttainableSustainable May 10, 2022 @ 7:45

        All good suggestions!

  • Lynne Jun 23, 2019 @ 5:27

    Great idea! Both the #5 containers and the dairy containers are recyclable where I am, but I’m always game to reduce my plastic consumption. I will be trying this!

  • Suzanne Jun 22, 2019 @ 11:46

    If you can find raw heavy cream and buttermilk for the sour cream and creme fraiche, you will have a much healthier product too. It’s hard to find.

    How would you make homemade mascarpone?

    • Kris Bordessa Jun 22, 2019 @ 12:27

      Yes, even better if you can find raw milk!

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