You might have seen sour cream, Smetana in Russian, accompanying traditional Russian cuisine. It is also very often served with Mexican food. In this article, we will explore everything about sour cream and all the ways it is used and then come to a conclusion about the question: Is sour cream a condiment?
Sour cream, also called soured cream or cultured cream, is a white-coloured dairy product that you might have often seen with soups and sauces. It has a rich tangy flavour and a smooth, thick and creamy texture. Sour cream has an acidic and creamy aroma. It is a versatile ingredient and is used in a variety of dishes.
1. What is a Condiment?
To begin with, the question if sour cream is a condiment, we first need to figure out what exactly fits in the definition of a condiment. A condiment is an ingredient that is added to a dish to add a specific flavour to it or enhance the flavour of the dish.
Typically, condiments are added in a small amount, added after the cooking, and are served separately from the dish because they are supposed to complement the dish and serve the purpose of heeding people’s taste preferences. They are also used to bring visual and textural appeal to a dish’s appearance.
2. All about Sour Cream
2.1. Origins of Sour Cream
Sour cream’s origins are not clear but it is believed that it originated in Eastern Europe. Leaving fresh milk for fermentation is one of the traditional farming practices which can be tracked to Eastern Europe. More specifically, sour cream is said to be invented in Russia.
Interestingly, the Russians might have been influenced by ‘kumis’, the alcoholic drink invented by the Mongols. Mongols used mare’s milk and fermented the milk using bacteria to make this drink called ‘Kumi’.
Mongols later invaded several countries as they expanded their empires, and the kumis and their knowledge spread with them. Russians, later, did something similar except with cow’s milk. This eventually reached the West in the mid-1900s.
2.2. How Is Sour Cream Made?
Sour cream is obtained after fermenting high-pasteurized cream that contains 18–20% fat content.
The process of making sour cream can be dissected in the following parts:
2.2.1. Choosing Cream
The cream used for making sour cream is usually from cow’s milk but it may have variants varying from goat’s milk to sheep’s milk. But dairy cream is supposed to be fresh and have a particular amount of fat in it.
Before proceeding with fermentation, it is important to make the cream more acidic which would give it the tangy taste that this ingredient is sought after. To make the cream acidic, the pH of the cream is lowered by adding lactic acid bacteria. The bacteria convert lactose to lactic acid.
Once the bacteria is added, the cream is left for fermentation at a certain temperature for several hours. The ideal temperature for fermentation is 75°F/24°C. It would require leaving the cream for about a day at room temperature for it to ferment. The lactic acid bacteria multiply during this time. The lactic acid produced causes proteins in the cream to denature and coagulate. It gives the cream a thicker consistency.
2.2.4. Cooling and Storage
The fermentation process ends once we reach the desired thickness, sourness and consistency, and the fermented cream undergoes the process of cooling. That happens by refrigerating the cream and storing it there.
2.3. Types of Sour Cream
Types of sour creams differ from each other based on the amount of fat present in them. There are three types of sour creams:
2.3.1. Regular or Traditional Sour Cream
Regular or traditional sour cream is made of about 15 to 18 per cent of milk fat. It is made of light cream. Commercially, products like gelatin and guar gum are used for this.
2.3.2. Reduced-Fat Sour Cream
Reduced-fat sour cream is made with low-fat cream. It typically has 25 per cent less fat than regular sour cream. Markets have reduced fat sour cream that is reduced fat up to 40 per cent.
2.3.3. Non-Fat Sour Cream
Non-fat sour cream only contains 0.5 grams of milk fat per serving. Corn starch and carrageenan are used as thickening agents that are used to stabilize the cream.
2.4. Benefits of Sour Cream
Sour cream when consumed with major dishes is not consumed in a significant amount, it won’t contribute a lot towards health. But we must know how sour cream is beneficial to the body. We will explore the health benefits of soured cream in brief.
It is a dairy product, which makes it a rich source of calcium and phosphorus. Not only that, sour cream has high vitamin B12 levels too. Vitamin A, minerals like zinc, copper, and magnesium are also present in sour cream. The large number of amino acids that it offers is also very beneficial.
But most of the significant benefits of sour cream lie in its probiotics. Probiotics are good bacteria that live in our stomachs. They support the process of digestion, and gut health and boost immunity. Consuming probiotic-rich foods like sour cream may reduce upper respiratory infections and help with irritable bowel syndrome.
In case of concerns related to fat intake, other forms of sour cream may be considered for lower calorie intake.
3. Where is Sour Cream Used?
Sour cream is used in a variety of dishes and different ways. We will explore a few words where it is used and look at how it is used.
3.1. Tacos and Burritos
Sour cream is quite often seen topping tacos and burritos. The burrito sauce is made of sour cream, mayonnaise, chiles, and other spices. In America, tacos are often accompanied by sour cream, this is usually to combat the spiciness of the dish with the rich tangy flavour of the sour cream.
3.2. Baked Potatoes
The tender baked potatoes once done are split open to create a crevice which is filled with a dollop of sour cream. The sour cream seeps into the potatoes and adds a striking, memorable element to the natural taste of the baked potatoes.
Nachos with sour cream is a classic combination. Sour cream is either served separately and you can dip the nachos in it if you prefer that or sour cream is drizzled on the nachos. Since nachos are often packed with spicy and hot toppings like salsa, hot sauce and jalapeños, sour cream is a perfect combination to balance the flavour.
Sour cream is an essential part of the recipe for stroganoff. The stroganoff sauce often has sour cream to complement the warm, earthy flavour of this dish of sauteed beef, onions and mushrooms. The creaminess of the sauce brings a velvety, unique taste to this dish.
Sour cream is used to garnish the soups to provide them with thickness and creamy texture. However, sour cream can serve as a base for creamy soups, such as potato soup, mushroom soup, or tomato soup.
Sour cream is used in versatile ways with pierogies. It is both a dipping sauce and a topping. It is quite similar to the way it is used with nachos. Traditionally, pierogies are eaten with melted butter, sour cream, or fried onions on top of it. The sweet, savoury filling of pierogies goes well with the creamy, tangy taste.
3.7. Mexican Enchiladas
The Mexican Enchiladas is a popular dish which has a corn tortilla rolled around a filling. It is served with a sauce. The sour cream is usually part of this cream. It brings a visual appeal and the very ability of its to complement hot, spicy food.
3.8. Cakes and Desserts
Sour creams do not just go well with spicy food but also desserts, that is just how versatile it is. Sour cream is used in cakes to add moisture to them so that they do not become dry. It brings a subtly different taste when added to the sweetness of the cakes. It is a great binding agent between the elements of desserts as well.
Combined with elements like powdered sugar and vanilla extract, its tangy contrast brings life to the desserts. Therefore, it is often used in cheesecakes and coffee cakes.
3.9. Swedish Pancakes
Unlike all the dishes above, sour cream isn’t used as merely a condiment in Swedish Pancakes. It is used in the batter for pancakes itself. Among the key ingredients like flour, eggs, sugar, and baking agents, there’s sour cream that brings moisture to the batter and makes it tender. Its creamy texture also magnifies the richness of the pancakes.
4. Conclusion: Is Sour Cream A Condiment?
Sour cream is indeed a popular condiment. In all the dishes we’ve explored, sour cream is very often used as a dressing or a dip alongside the main dish. Its distinct, signature tangy flavour, creamy texture, thick consistency and visual appeal make it perfect to go with not just spicy dishes but also sweet desserts. Although sour cream is used as a key ingredient in dishes too it is majorly a condiment. You might as well want to buy sour cream from your nearby grocery stores and try it with many recipes of your own.
And if you think sour cream isn’t for you, you may want to try out bad cream substitutes. Coconut cream, Greek yoghurt, cream cheese, mayonnaise, buttermilk, kefir, or cottage cheese can be a good substitute for it.