What Is Crème Fraîche?

Luxuriously rich and tangy crème fraiche is a great addition to both sweet and savory recipes. Here’s everything you need to know about the French dairy product.

A bowl of Crème Fraîche and its packaging behind it.
Lori Rice

Crème fraîche is a thick, pleasantly tangy cultured cream. The dairy product originates from France, though today its popularity has grown all over the world. It has endless uses—both savory and sweet—and can be cooked with or enjoyed straight from the container.

Crème fraîche lends rich creaminess to soups, pasta sauces, and pan sauces, as well as dressings and dips. It can be dolloped on fresh fruit or desserts, spread on toast or scones, and is excellent used in baked goods.

Crème fraîche

Origin: France

Uses: Commonly used in soups and sauces, and as a topping for fruit and desserts.

Substitutes: Sour cream or full-fat plain Greek yogurt

A bowl of Crème Fraîche with the packaging set in front of it.
Lori Rice

About Crème Fraîche

Crème fraîche is a French dairy product that translates to “fresh cream.” Traditionally it’s made by adding natural bacteria to unpasteurized cream. This causes the cream to ferment and thicken.

Since dairy must be pasteurized in the United States, the product is made slightly different stateside. Here, crème fraîche is produced by adding bacteria to pasteurized cream to ferment it. The result is a cultured cream that is rich and thick, with a slightly sour, nutty flavor.

Crème Fraîche vs. Sour Cream vs. Mexican Crema

Crème fraîche and sour cream are often confused, and for good reason. Sour cream is also made by fermenting cream (lactic acid is added to cream, which thickens and sours it), but the difference between crème fraîche and sour cream is that sour cream contains about 20% fat, while crème fraîche contains about 30%. That means crème fraîche is significantly richer, as well as thicker and a bit less tangy.

Mexican crema, or crema Mexicana, is also a cultured cream. The commercially-produced Mexican crema you find in the United States is thinner and with a milder, slightly sweeter flavor than either crème fraîche and sour cream. (This is not the case for authentic Mexican crema, which is typically unpasteurized and quite thick and tangy.)

What Does Crème Fraîche Taste Like?

Crème fraîche has a rich, luxuriously thick mouthfeel and a milky, mildly tar flavor, with nutty, sweet undertones. It’s also ultra-creamy, with a custard-like consistency.

Where to Buy

While crème fraîche was once difficult to find outside specialty stores, you’ll now find it in most grocery stores. Look for it in the dairy section—depending on your store, the containers will be by the sour cream or by the specialty cheeses.

Also, small dairies and creameries often produce it, so keep an eye out the next time you’re at your local farmers’ market.

How to Store

Store crème fraîche in its container in the refrigerator. Containers are typically marked with a “sell by” date. Once opened, use crème fraiche within 7 to 10 days. Unfortunately, crème fraîche cannot be frozen.

A bowl of Crème Fraîche with the container behind it.
Lori Rice

How to Use and Cook with Crème Fraîche

Crème fraîche offers a creamy, decadent tang to just about anything, be it savory or sweet. While sour cream has less fat (and therefore more protein) than crème fraîche, it has a tendency to curdle when stirred into hot items like soups and sauces. Crème fraîche, however, won’t curdle, thanks to its higher fat content. Stir it into soups, pasta sauces, and pan sauces at any stage of the cooking process, and then simmer or boil it.

Crème fraîche can also be gently warmed, on its own, which will cause it to liquify. You can drizzle runny, melted crème fraîche on soups, roasted vegetables, fish, even pancakes or waffles!

Crème fraîche also offers supreme tenderness when added to cake recipes, and a lovely, creamy quality to pies. Use it cold in salad dressings and dips, dollop it over fresh fruit or pudding, or add it to whipped cream or frosting for pies and cakes. Spread it on scones, toast, or on bagel instead of cream cheese—it’s particularly great paired with smoked salmon!

Crème Fraîche Substitutes

Sour cream is the best substitute for crème fraîche. Since sour cream has a lower fat content, it should be handled with care in hot applications. Stir it into hot soups and sauces at the very end of cooking, after removing the pan from the stovetop or oven.

For cold applications, sour cream and crème fraîche can be used interchangeably. Just now that sour cream is less rich and more tangy-tasting.

The second-best substitute for crème fraîche is full-fat, whole milk plain Greek yogurt. Though not as rich and tangy, it’s just as smooth and creamy. Since it’s also lower in fat, it may curdle when simmered or boiled, so only add it to hot dishes at the end of cooking, when the dish is off the heat.

Crème Fraîche Recipes

If you’re looking to add creaminess to a dish, be it savory or sweet, crème fraîche is a great choice. It’s a luxurious addition that’s balanced with its natural tang, making it truly something special in recipes.