Cream cheese on toast with cherry tomatoes in the background.
Helpful Tips

Cream Cheese Substitute Options

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Many recipes call for cream cheese, but not everyone keeps it in their refrigerator. Instead of a trip to the grocery store, why not try a cream cheese substitute?

Woman holding bagels with cream cheese in front of her face.
Cream cheese. Photo credit: RDNE Stock Project via Pexels.

Some people have dietary restrictions and avoid foods like dairy, while others are looking for healthier options. If any of these apply to you, read on for cream cheese substitute options you can try.

Why you need cream cheese

Cream cheese gives certain qualities to baked goods, desserts and savory dishes. Here are some reasons why cream cheese is needed: 

  • It makes pie crusts light and flaky.
  • Cream cheese adds richness to frostings like those used for carrot and red velvet cakes.
  • It is used in many cheesecake recipes.
  • Cream cheese can be stirred into soup to add creaminess and thickness.
  • It can add creaminess and tanginess to pasta sauce.
  • Cream cheese can be used as a base for dips and spreads.
  • It can be mixed into mashed potatoes to add creaminess and thickness.

Common cream cheese substitutes

Always remember that a cream cheese substitute can change the texture, flavor or consistency of a recipe. Having the exact ingredient a recipe calls for is ideal, but it’s not always possible due to allergies, dietary restrictions or not having it on hand. In such cases, these options are great choices. With the exception of goat cheese, you can easily replace cream cheese with these substitutes in a one-to-one ratio.

Mascarpone cheese

Mascarpone Italian cream cheese is almost identical to cream cheese. It has a higher fat content, which makes it a creamier option — best for desserts and dips. American cream cheese, in comparison, is more acidic, which gives it a tangier flavor. To make mascarpone tangier, add a splash of lemon juice. 

“I find that mascarpone cheese is a great substitute for cream cheese for both savory and sweet recipes! I was making a cheesecake and ran out of cream cheese, and I was able to substitute this because its flavor didn’t overpower other ingredients but still had the same fluffy texture.”

— Shruthi Baskaran-Makanju, Urban Farmie

Neufchâtel

Neufchâtel cheese has a similar consistency and taste to cream cheese but contains higher fat and sodium content. American Neufchâtel comes in 8-ounce bricks like cream cheese. French Neufchâtel is soft but crumbly. This substitute is best used in baking, desserts, frostings, savory recipes, sauces and dips.

Cottage cheese

Cottage cheese in a white bowl.
Cottage cheese. Photo credit: YayImages.

Cottage cheese is made of curds and whey and has a mild flavor. It is lower in fat and has a chunkier texture. When using cottage cheese for desserts or frostings, add the same amount of plain yogurt, plain Greek yogurt or heavy cream. Use a mixer to combine and make it smooth before adding to other frosting ingredients. When using cottage cheese for dips, gravies or cheese sauces, strain the cottage cheese to remove excess water and blend into a puree. Cottage cheese — combined with plain yogurt, plain Greek yogurt or heavy cream when necessary — is perfect for frostings, desserts, sauces, dips and spreads. 

Ricotta cheese

Ricotta cheese has a milder flavor and chunkier texture than cream cheese. When using ricotta cheese for dips, add the same amount of ricotta and plain Greek yogurt or plain yogurt to equal what the recipe calls for and mix until smooth. For other recipes, it can be used as a one-for-one cream cheese substitute. It is best for dips, sauces, spreads, baking and savory cooking. 

Sour cream

Sour cream is thick, tangy and slightly sour. It is best for sauces, dips and baking. When baking, add an extra 2 tablespoons of flour to help make the cake firm. 

Goat cheese

Goat cheese is soft, spreadable cheese that is tangy and rich. In place of cream cheese, use three-quarters cup of goat cheese for every cup your recipe calls for. Try making this substitution in your spreads, sauces, dips or to make sweet and savory dishes.

Cashew cheese

Cashew cheese is a vegan substitute for cheese. It’s usually made with blended cashews, nutritional yeast, water and seasonings. Cashew cheese can be found in natural food stores, organic grocery stores and specialty cheese shops. Cashew cheese is best used for savory dishes like soups and sauces. 

Hummus

Hummus is dairy-free, soy-free, nut-free and vegan. It is made from chickpeas — also called garbanzo beans. Hummus is creamy, tangy and nutty, making it great for savory dishes, spreads, and sauces.

Silken tofu

Silken tofu is another vegan option for cream cheese. It is creamier than regular tofu and has a similar consistency to cream cheese. It can be used in baking, dips, spreads, and savory recipes. 

Plain yogurt

Yogurt in a white bowl with wooden spoon.
Yogurt. Photo credit: YayImages.

To use plain yogurt as a cream cheese substitute, you need time to make hung kurd, also known as strained yogurt. Full-fat yogurt is best for this, with a similar flavor and texture to cream cheese. 

You will need a bowl and a cheesecloth or coffee filter to make hung kurd. Pour the yogurt into the cloth and squeeze it to get rid of the whey. Hang the cheesecloth or coffee filter over a bowl overnight. The longer you hang it, the thicker it will become. 

The end result has a sour taste that is similar to the tanginess of cream cheese. Add a small amount of honey to sweeten, if desired. Try hung kurd in sauces, dips, savory dishes, baking, sweets and frostings.

Final thoughts

When using a cream cheese substitute, it’s important to remember that your recipe may not turn out exactly like the original. Follow the directions above carefully, and although the texture and flavor may be slightly different than when using cream cheese, these alternatives are still worth a try. 

This article originally appeared on Food Drink Life.

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