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Top Cream Cheese Substitute


There’s nothing worse than reaching for your tub of cream cheese or box of cream cheese only to notice it’s past the expiration date. So, what do you do in these circumstances? Below you’ll find a cream cheese substitute list you can use whenever necessary.

three different packages of cream cheese

What is cream cheese?

Cream cheese is a spread that you can use in baking, cooking, or as a topper on a bagel. While there has been debate over whether cream cheese is a cheese, the FDA notes it as a soft and uncured cheese.

To qualify as cream cheese, it must have at least 33% fat content. This requirement is only for the US as Britain and other locations have different requirements. This cheese is creamy, thick, and decadent. It is often used as a spread because of these qualities.

Many people believe that cream cheese originated in Philadelphia – hence the name Philadelphia cream cheese. It was created, instead, in New York. The history of this soft cheese is quite interesting. It was inspired by Neufchatel cheese, a crumblier French cheese that has a similar flavor.

William Lawrence created cream cheese in the 1800s to be similar to Neufchatel, but with a fresh taste and even more creamy texture. At this time, Philadelphia was known for being a large cheese producer. To make cream cheese more marketable, Philadelphia was added to the name.

In 1928, Kraft merged with the company that was selling Lawrence’s cream cheese, and from there, the cheese took off in popularity. Philadelphia was kept in the name since it brought in customers – thus tricking consumers into thinking it was made in Philly.

Types of Cream Cheese

There are many kinds of cream cheese currently available. The main difference between each is the flavor or flavors that are incorporated. You can head to your local bagel shop and find at least five different flavors. It’s common to see both savory and sweet flavors like strawberry, vegetable, and honey pecan.

Of course, there are a few additional variations, including whipped cream cheese which has more air, making the final consistency fluffy and light. Other varieties include reduced-fat options and even non-dairy alternatives.

Best Cream Cheese Substitute

Mascarpone Cheese

Mascarpone is a tasty Italian soft cheese that works exceptionally well as a substitute for cream cheese. It has a similar consistency. Where you’ll find a difference between these two kinds of cheese is the taste. Mascarpone also has a mild flavor with a creamy texture.

Pros
Although mascarpone is most associated with sweet dishes like tiramisu, it can also be used in savory dishes. It works perfectly as a spread for toast or a bagel and in dips or rich rice dishes. This cheese does have a butterier taste, so meals will taste more decadent when mascarpone is used.

Cons
Mascarpone does not have the slight sourness that cream cheese is known for. While the texture is similar, mascarpone is not quite as thick as cream cheese. This alternative will affect the consistency of some meals.

Cooking Tip:

Use mascarpone in a 1:1 ratio when swapping for cream cheese.

Cottage Cheese

Cottage cheese combines cheese curds and liquid, making this a unique cream cheese alternative. It provides a chunky texture that is much different than that of cream cheese. While it does have a similar mild taste, the consistency is quite different for this swap.

Pros
You’ll find cottage cheese has a flavor profile similar to cream cheese in that it has a mild flavor. To create a more similar flavor, you can add some fresh lemon juice into the cottage cheese. This will allow you to add a tangy taste as cream cheese has.

Cons
The consistency is much different than cream cheese. You’ll need to blend the cottage cheese to get a more similar texture, though it will still be thinner. Due to the consistency, the uses are limited to dips and gravies.

Cooking Tip:

Use in a 1:1 ratio as a swap for cream cheese.

Sour Cream

Sour cream is one of the top swaps to use as a cream cheese replacement. It has a thick, creamy texture similar to what cream cheese offers. A similar process creates sour cream like yogurt. The cream is used as a base, which bacteria is added to create the well-known food item.

As you may have guessed from the name, sour cream has a sourer flavor than cream cheese. Due to this, you’ll want to avoid sweet recipes and instead use sour cream in savory dishes like soups and sauces. It will present a similar texture along with a dairy flavor that mimics the taste of cream cheese.

Pros
Sour cream is easy to find – head to any grocery store, and you’ll see it in the dairy section near the milk cartons. It also works well in savory recipes as a replacement for cream cheese. Using sour cream provides a similar taste and consistency in any recipe.

Cons
While sour cream works well in savory recipes, it is not a good choice for sweet dishes. For example, you can not make a cream cheese frosting with sour cream. The flavor will be different for the final dish due to the higher acidity found in sour cream.

Cooking Tip:

To use as a swap, add a 1:1 ratio of sour cream to your recipe.

Greek Yogurt

Yogurt is also an excellent solution to use instead of cream cheese. In particular, Greek yogurt works well because of its thicker consistency and creamy texture. Purchasing unflavored Greek yogurt allows for the most recipe options since it has a mild flavor.

Greek yogurt works well for both savory and sweet dishes. You can use this substitution in soups, dips, and even in frosting. It does have a tangy taste, so there will be a slight flavor difference in your dishes.

If you’re creating something that requires a thicker consistency, strain Greek yogurt through a cheesecloth to match the cream cheese consistency closely. Strained Greek yogurt will make for thick dips and frosting. Once strained, you can even use Greek yogurt as a spread on a bagel or toast.

Pros
Greek yogurt is versatile and can replace cream cheese in nearly every recipe. It’s also very easy to find in local grocery stores with at minimum a few different brand options available for purchase. You can use yogurt in both savory and sweet meals.

Cons
Straining the Greek yogurt will add additional time and steps to your recipe, meaning you’ll need to plan for this swap. You’ll notice the tanginess more in some recipes when using Greek yogurt. Keep this in mind when choosing which recipes to use this swap.

Cooking Tip:

In all recipes, you can use a 1:1 ratio of Greek yogurt as a substitution.

Kefir

For those who haven’t heard of kefir, it’s a yogurt-like drink that has a slightly sour taste. It’s created by fermenting milk with bacteria and yeast. As you would typically drink this substitution, kefir has a much runnier and thinner consistency than you’d find in cream cheese.

Kefir works well in sauces and dips, though it’s not a perfect swap in other recipes due to its consistency. You can also use a thickener like chia seeds to make dips more similar to cream cheese. Unfortunately, kefir can not be used in cooked recipes.

Pros
You can use kefir in a pinch for some savory recipes that typically have a thinner consistency. It has a similar creamy flavor and also can be found in most grocery stores.

Cons
Kefir can not be used in many recipes that normally call for cream cheese. It does not work well in sweet recipes or dishes that call for a thicker consistency. You’ll also find kefir has a sourer taste than cream cheese, making the flavor of dips and sauces different.

Cooking Tip:

Use kefir in a 1:1 ratio when subbing for cream cheese.

Farmer’s Cheese

Farmer’s cheese is a deliciously mild, fresh cheese that can be incorporated into savory dishes like dips and filling for stuffed chicken or sweets. When purchasing farmer’s cheese at the store, it has a crumbly texture. The creamy taste provided is similar to cream cheese, and unlike the last few options, it does not have a tangy or sour taste.

Using this cheese will require some doctoring to offer a similar texture in dishes. To create a creamy, thick consistency, you can blend and mix a small amount of heavy cream into the cheese.

Pros
When using farmer’s cheese, you’ll find it works well for some savory and sweet recipes. It has a similar taste to cream cheese, so it will not be overpowering in any dishes. Farmer’s cheese can easily be found at the grocery store or made at home with milk.

Cons
Farmer’s cheese does not work well in every recipe. It’s not a good replacement for frosting or certain desserts like cheesecake. This cheese also requires a few extra steps to get it close to a cream cheese consistency.

Cooking Tip:

You can use a 1:1 ratio after combing farmer’s cheese and heavy whipping cream.

Cashew Cream Cheese

For those looking to swap out the cream cheese for a non-dairy alternative, quite a few cream cheese substitutes will work well. Cashew cream cheese (or another nut-based option) has a similar consistency to standard cream cheese and a similar flavor.

Pros
This vegan cream cheese is quite a tasty swap that can be used as a spread, baked goods, or dips. It’s a great swap due to its similar tangy flavor and consistency.

Cons
Due to the higher cost of nuts, nut-based cream cheeses can have a higher price than regular cream cheese. They’re also not available at all stores like standard cream cheese is.

Cooking Tip:

You can also use cashew cream cheese as a swap in a 1:1 ratio.

Tofu

Tofu is another cream cheese alternative that works well for vegans. It provides a similar consistency (once blended) and a mild flavor. This swap does not have the same tangy flavor as cream cheese, though.

Tofu is made from pressed soy milk and is sold in the shape of a rectangle. Nigari is used to thicken tofu so that it holds its shape when cooking. This ingredient is a seawater extraction that helps the tofu coagulate.

Pros
Tofu works well in both savory and sweet dishes. Depending on the consistency you are looking for, you can find both firm and soft versions at the store. These tofu options allow you to choose what works best for the recipe. This vegan alternative is quite readily available in most grocery stores.

Cons
This alternative will also need to be blended up before use, adding an extra step. Since tofu does not have the same sour flavor, lemon or lime juice and salt will need to be added before cooking with it.

Cooking Tip:

Once you mix the tofu with the lemon juice, use it in a 1:1 ratio in your recipes.

FAQs

Can I use milk instead of cream cheese?

Yes and no. This answer depends on the recipe you’re planning on using the milk in. If you’re baking or cooking a recipe that usually includes cream cheese, use it to substitute cream cheese. Though, you’ll want to have shredded cheese for savory dishes.

Can I substitute butter for cream cheese?

Again, this is a yes and no. Depending on which recipe you’re using it for, it can be a good alternative. For spreads like on a bagel or toast, use butter as a replacement. It also works well in desserts. Avoid using butter as a swap in recipes like soups or dips where the consistency is thicker.

What does cream cheese taste like?

Cream cheese has a mild flavor that works well with many dishes. It has both sweetness and slight sourness as flavor notes. This spread also has a smooth texture and flavor.

Can you use a cream cheese spread in place of cream cheese?

Yes, you can use a cream cheese spread instead of cream cheese. There are a few differences between the two types of cream cheese, with the main difference being that cream cheese spread can be easily spread right out of the fridge. Since they both have a similar consistency and flavor, you can use them interchangeably.

Does Greek yogurt taste like cream cheese?

Yes and no. Greek yogurt has a tangy flavor similar to that of cream cheese. Though it typically lacks the same cheesy taste. You can remedy this by adding parmesan cheese or other shredded cheese in savory recipes. For baking, you can use Greek yogurt as-is.

Summary

If you are wondering what can you substitute for cream cheese in your recipes, here is a short summary. While there are many substitutes for cream cheese that will work for your recipes, mascarpone is the best alternative, hands down. It has the most similar consistency and the creamy, mild flavor you seek in cream cheese dishes.

Use mascarpone to replace cream cheese in fillings, frostings, and the above-listed food items. Vegans can instead use cashew cream cheese as the best cream cheese replacement. Next time you reach for cream cheese while making a recipe and find the package is empty or has gone bad, try one of the above swaps. You’ll find they provide great flavor and work with most recipes.

Can’t run to the store and don’t have any of the above available? Try these additional cream cheese alternatives – almond cream cheese or goat cheese.

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Natalia | Flavorful home
Natalia is a recipe developer, food photographer, and home cook. She started Flavorful Home to document easy real food recipes perfect for busy families. She loves creating flavorful and nutritious meals while keeping the cooking process simple and joyful!

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