wikiHow to Make Sour Cream

Three Parts:Assembling Ingredients and SuppliesHeating and Holding the CreamCulturing the Cream

Homemade sour cream is delicious and easy to make. It only requires two ingredients: a quart of cream and a packet of sour cream starter culture. The bacteria in the starter culture thickens the cream and lends it the classic sour flavor that pairs so well with everything from potatoes to tacos to fruit. Best of all, homemade sour cream contains none of the preservatives or stabilizers often found in store-bought sour cream.


  • 1 quart (4 cups) heavy cream
  • 1 packet sour cream starter culture

Part 1
Assembling Ingredients and Supplies

  1. Image titled Make Sour Cream Step 1
    Purchase a quart of fresh cream. Since you're going to the trouble of making sour cream, use the freshest cream you can find. Full-fat, organic heavy whipping cream is best. Pasteurized heavy cream ends up with a consistency closest to store-bought sour cream. If you prefer a thinner consistency or are looking for a low-fat option, you can use half and half instead.[1]
    • Unpasteurized raw cream is also a great base for sour cream. The result will be lighter than the sour cream made with pasteurized heavy cream.
    • Avoid ultra-pasteurized cream or half and half. This product produces inconsistent results when cultured.
  2. Image titled Make Sour Cream Step 2
    Purchase sour cream starter culture. Sour cream is produced by mixing cream with a bacterial culture that thickens the cream and gives it a slightly sour flavor. Sour cream starter culture contains milk as well as live, active cultures. It can be found in natural food stores or online and comes in packets (usually four or more to a box) with enough culture to make up to a quart of sour cream. Extra packets of culture can be stored in the freezer for up to 12 months.[2]
    • Live, active cultures in sour cream starter culture include lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis, Lactococcus lactis subsp. cremoris, Lactococcus lactis biovar. diacetylactis and Leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp. cremoris.
    • Once you have made sour cream with a starter culture, you can use that sour cream to make more. The process is similar to making sourdough bread with a sourdough starter.
    • If you do not want to track down sour cream starter culture, you can make a version of sour cream a tablespoon of cultured buttermilk per cup of cream. The consistency and taste will be more similar to that of buttermilk.
    • You can also make kefir cream, another type of cultured cream, using kefir grains.
  3. Image titled Make Sour Cream Step 3
    Prepare a jar and ventilated cover. Sour cream should be stored in a clean glass jar. During the culturing period, it needs a ventilated cover to allow air to flow through the jar while also keeping out bugs and other contaminants. A tight-weave cloth, such as cheesecloth, makes a fitting lid when secured with a rubber band. For storage, you will need a regular airtight lid.
    • Be sure the jar is clean and sterile. If you've used the jar before, boil it for five minutes and let it completely dry before using it for sour cream.
    • If you don't have cheesecloth, a paper coffee filter also works as a lid.

Part 2
Heating and Holding the Cream

  1. Image titled Make Sour Cream Step 4
    Pour the quart cream into a heavy saucepan. It's important to use a heavy saucepan made of copper or stainless steel. Using a heavy saucepan will allow you to control the temperature of the cream more easily than if you used a lighter aluminum pan.
    • If you don't have a heavy saucepan, you can also use a double boiler.
    • Or make a double boiler by filling a large pot with a few inches of water. Set a smaller pot inside the large pot so that it rests on the water. Pour the cream into the smaller pot.
  2. Image titled Make Sour Cream Step 5
    Heat the cream to 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Turn the burner to medium heat to slowly heat the cream to the correct temperature. Take care not to let it get too hot. Use a candy thermometer to monitor the heat and make sure it reaches 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
    • Heating the cream kills competing bacteria so that the bacteria in your starter culture can thrive in the cream. Heating ensures that the resulting flavor and texture will be delicious.[3]
    • If you don't heat the cream, the end product will be much thinner than regular sour cream.
  3. Image titled Make Sour Cream Step 6
    Hold the cream at a steady temperature for 45 minutes. Keep the burner turned to the correct level so that you can hold the cream at 145 F; try not to let it drop too low or exceed this temperature. Holding the cream steady is necessary to ensure that the cream ends up thick and rich.
  4. Image titled Make Sour Cream Step 7
    Cool the cream to 77 degrees Fahrenheit. Turn off the heat and remove the pot from the burner. Use a candy thermometer to monitor the temperature of the cream. It should rapidly drop once you remove it from heat.
  5. Image titled Make Sour Cream Step 8
    Dissolve the starter culture in the cream. Put the entire contents of one packet of starter culture into the pot with the cooled cream. Use a spoon to stir the starter culture together with the cream until it fully dissolves.
    • Make sure the cream has sufficiently cooled, so that the live bacteria in the starter culture don't get killed when mixed with the cream.
    • If you're using cultured buttermilk instead of starter culture, stir in a tablespoon of cultured buttermilk per cup of cream. If you're using kefir grains, stir in the kefir grains.

Part 3
Culturing the Cream

  1. Image titled Make Sour Cream Step 9
    Pour the cream into the jar and cover it. Secure the cheesecloth over the jar with a rubber band.
  2. Image titled Make Sour Cream Step 10
    Store the jar in a warm spot for 16 to 18 hours. In order for the starter culture to do its job, the cream must be stored at a temperature between 74 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit. This is just warm enough to keep the culture alive and thriving. A warm spot in your kitchen is usually the perfect place.
    • Don't store the culture in direct sunlight, since it may overheat the jar and kill the bacteria.
    • Check the jar every few hours to see if the consistency of the cream has begun to set. If not, the temperature may be too warm or too cold. After 16 to 18 hours, it should be the consistency of store-bought sour cream or slightly looser.
  3. Image titled Make Sour Cream Step 11
    Store the sour cream in the refrigerator. Replace the cloth with a tight-fitting lid and store the sour cream until use. It will keep in the refrigerator for one to two weeks.
  4. Image titled Make Sour Cream Step 12
    Make it again using your sour cream as a base. Reserve a cup of your homemade sour cream, which contains the same live, active cultures as a starter mix. Using three cups of heavy cream, following the instructions for heating and holding the cream at a high temperature. Cool the cream, then stir in the cup of reserved sour cream. Follow the instructions for culturing the cream. Refrigerate it once it sets.


  • Garnish soup and chili with dollops of sour cream.
  • Make a simple dip using sour cream, salt and pepper and some fresh dill. Use the dip for chips or vegetables.
  • Make sauces with your sour cream and pour the sauce over fish and meat.
  • Substitute sour cream for milk when making macaroni and cheese; you may have to add a bit of milk for thinning, but the sour cream turns macaroni and cheese into a rich, creamy dish.


  • Food dishes made with sour cream do not freeze well; the cream becomes separated.

Things You’ll Need

  • Heavy pot or double boiler
  • Glass canning jar with lid
  • Candy thermometer
  • Cheesecloth

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