cream cheese substitute

What Can I Substitute for Cream Cheese?

Cream cheese is an ultra-creamy, rich fresh cheese versatile for using in baked goods, hearty cooked dishes, or serving fresh out the tub. Its neutral slightly tangy flavor makes it suitable to incorporate into sweet desserts and savory meals.

Despite its versatility and great texture, it is not the cheapest, nor healthiest ingredient to consume daily.

Whether you have run out, are looking for a dairy-free alternative, or need to cut the fat and calories, there are a number of cream cheese substitutes to choose from.

The substitute you use will depend on the dish you are preparing as well as the reason for the substitution. In this guide, we’ll help you choose the best substitutes for cream cheese without foregoing any velvety goodness.

What Is Cream Cheese?

Cream cheese is made when lactic acid bacteria is added to a cream or a mixture of milk and cream. The dairy separates into curds and whey. Once the whey is drained the curds are heated and stabilizers added to form cream cheese.

The slightly tangy cheese is not matured and is therefore consumed fresh. It typically contains 33% fat and has a moisture content of 55%. This may, however, differ according to the variety, such as regular, double-cream, or whipped.

What is Cream Cheese Used For?

The neutral flavor of cream cheese, its creamy texture, and its high-fat content make the product suitable for a huge range of applications. It can be used fresh as a spread on bagels or toast, a dip for crackers, chips, and crudites, in cake frosting, as a sushi topping, or filling for small pastries.

In savory recipes, it can be used as a thickener, or to add creaminess to soups, sauces, mashed potatoes, and eggs. In desserts, it serves as one of the main ingredients in cheesecake and can be used in baked, layered, and whipped desserts and tarts.

Homemade Cream Cheese Alternative

Making your own cream cheese may sound daunting but it is really quite easy. Since it is a fresh cheese it doesn’t take much time to make either. Not only is it cost-effective to make your own at home, but you can also control the amount of fat by using milk, cream, or a blend of the two.

In addition, you can flavor it with spices or herbs.

Some additions, such as fresh shallots, chives, or herbs, may affect the shelf-life so be mindful of what you use if you do decide to flavor your cheese.

To make your homemade batch, heat 4 cups of milk, or milk and cream blend on the stove. As soon as it starts to boil add 2 to 3 tablespoons of lemon juice and turn off the heat. After a few minutes, the milk will start to curdle, forming lumpy curds that separate from a light yellow liquid.

Let it stand till somewhat cooled and well separated into curds. Strain the mixture through a cheesecloth placed in a sieve. Give the curds a quick rinse in cold water and then squeeze out as much liquid as possible by straining it tightly in the cheesecloth.

Place the strained curds in a food processor or blender and blend for one to two minutes until smooth and fluffy. Now is the time to add salt or dried herbs and spices if you want to add flavor.  Sweeten it with confectioners sugar and add vanilla for a delicious cream cheese frosting.

You can store the mixture in an air-tight container for up to 7 days in the refrigerator.

What Can I Use Instead of Cream Cheese?

If you prefer using a replacement rather than making your own, try some of these cream cheese alternatives.

#1. Mascarpone

Mascarpone is the closest substitute for cream cheese. Although very similar in taste, it is creamier with a slightly sweeter and less acidic flavor. If you do want the same slightly acidic tang, add a small squeeze of lemon juice to the mascarpone when using it as a replacement.

Mascarpone cheese contains almost twice the amount of fat up to 75%. If you are looking for an exact replacement this is your go-to. If you are watching your calorie intake, move on to another option instead.

Best used in: cheesecake, tiramisu, desserts, as a frosting, and for topping fruit. In savory dishes, it can be used to thicken soups and pasta sauces, stuff chicken, as a bagel spread, in egg dishes, or dip.

Substitute quantity: replace measure for measure

#2. Neufchatel

Neufchatel is a semi-soft cheese that can be slightly aged for a more pungent flavor. When using it as a substitute you want to get the fresh variant since the taste and smooth texture will resemble low-fat cream cheese better.

Another difference you might notice when using Neufchatel is that although it is firm and spreadable, it has a slightly grainy texture with a salty, sharp, and almost nutty flavor. From a health perspective, this is a great replacement since it contains one-third less fat than cream cheese and therefore fewer calories too.

Best used in: dips, frostings, bagel and toast spreads, and mashed potatoes. It can be used in cheesecake, however not in quick cheesecakes that require a firmer cheese for an instant set.

Substitute quantity: replace measure for measure

#3. Ricotta Cheese

Ricotta has a grainier, harder, and less sweet profile, but still makes a good substitute in sweet and savory dishes. With a lower sodium content, it makes an ideal alternative for people watching their salt intake, however, it is high in fat and lactose.

Ricotta is made by re-cooking the whey by-product from other cheese production. One of its most popular uses is pasta filling, lasagna, and manicotti.

Although on its own it lacks some moisture and tang, you can remedy this by adding a few drops of lemon juice for zest or mashed avocado for a creamier toast topping.

Best used in: pasta and cooked dishes, some sauces, pancakes, and baked items.

Substitute quantity: 

  • In baked goods and dips, mix ricotta with plain yogurt in a 1:1 ratio. For example, mix one cup of ricotta with a cup of plain yogurt to equal two cups of cream cheese substitute.
  • In cheesecake and frostings mix a cup of ricotta with one cup heavy cream to equal 2 cups substitute.

#4. Cottage Cheese

Cottage cheese is chunky yet moist at the same time. It is a fresh, unripened product with a mild taste that pairs well in sweet and savory applications. Low-fat versions may have a slightly more watery consistency and tangier flavor than their full-fat counterparts.

Cottage cheese is an ideal healthy alternative to cream cheese since it is much lower in saturated fat. It is however high in sodium, but low-sodium varieties are available.

Due to its lower fat content, its structure won’t hold up well so if you are using it as a replacement in recipes where consistency is important, you will need to add heavy cream which will increase the fat and give it a thicker texture.

To use cottage cheese as a replacement strain off all the liquid and blend it in a food processor or blender until completely smooth. This is ideal for dips, spreads, and sauces. However, if you are using it in cheesecakes and desserts, mix one cup of the blended cottage cheese with an equal amount of heavy cream for a closer consistency to that of cream cheese.

Best used in: dips, sauces, spreads, stews, pasta, and frosting. Mixed with cream it is great for cheesecakes, desserts, and creamy dessert toppings.

*Always blend until smooth before using it as a replacement.

Substitute quantity: replace measure for measure

#5. Greek Yogurt

Greek yogurt is another healthy cream cheese alternative with great benefits. To get the yogurt thicker you can make your own cream cheese by straining it through cheesecloth or even a clean paper coffee filter. This process is also known as making hung curd.

Place the cheesecloth or coffee filter in a sieve over a bowl or jug and scoop the Greek yogurt inside. Leave for 8 to 12 hours to let the whey drip out. You will be left with a thicker product very similar to cream cheese.

Best for: Regular Greek yogurt can be used in dressings and sauces, however, when using it as a replacement for cream cheese it is best to use the strained version. Strained Greek yogurt can be flavored either with sweet or savory additions (honey, spices, shallots) depending on how you are using it. It makes for a good bagel spread, dip, and can be used in sauces, stews, frosting, and baking recipes.

Substitute quantity: replace 1 cup of cream cheese with 1 cup of hung curd

#6. Sour Cream

Sour cream is thick and smooth with a sour tang, best used in uncooked applications or as an ingredient in batters. Although it does come in low-fat varieties, these are not recommended as a substitute where consistency is important. The different compositions of minimal fat and added stabilizers will affect baking and cooking processes.

Sour cream should not be used in soups, stews, or cooked sauces as the heat during the cooking process will make the dairy curdle. You can however add it after cooking, just before serving in this case.

Best used in: dips, dressings, salad toppings, and served with potatoes. When used as a substitute in cake batters add one or two extra tablespoons of flour if the batter consistency needs to be firmed. Not suitable for cheesecakes.

Substitute quantity: replace measure for measure

#7. Kefir and Chia Seeds 

If you are a self-proclaimed health-nut, this combo should be your go-to alternative. Kefir is fermented milk, very similar to drinking yogurt. It has a tart and tangy flavor and boasts a host of health benefits, especially for digestive and gut health.

It is however very runny, which is why the chia seeds are a great thickening agent. These small black seeds are also a superfood with numerous health benefits.

To make your superfood cream cheese replacement, mix one cup of kefir with a quarter cup of chia seeds. Let the mixture stand for 30 minutes allowing the seeds to absorb the liquid and swell up to become gelatinous and soft.

Once thickened, use it as your substitute in dips and sauces. As with sour cream, it should not be used in soups, stews, or cooked sauces as the heat during the cooking process will make the dairy curdle.

Best used in: dips, desserts, cheesecake, and as a spread for bagels.

Substitute quantity: replace measure for measure

#8. Gervais Cheese

Gervais is a wonderful substitute since it very closely mimics the flavor and texture of cream cheese. It is a rich and creamy French product that is spreadable and ideal for sweet and savory dishes. The downside to this alternative is that it is not always easy to find in grocery stores.

Best used: as a replacement in almost any recipe including cooked, baked, and fresh applications.

Substitute quantity: replace measure for measure

#9. Goats Cheese

Goat cheese, also known as Chèvre is also a wonderful replacement with a very similar texture and consistency to cream cheese, although it is a little denser.

Goat cheese has a strong flavor so you will most likely want to season it when using it on its own as a spread, dip, or frosting. You can also tone down the strong flavor by adding some heavy cream.

Best used: as a replacement in almost any recipe including cooked, baked, and fresh applications.

Substitute quantity: use ¾ cup of Chevre to replace 1 cup of cream cheese

Vegan and Dairy Free Cream Cheese Alternatives

#10. Cashew Cheese

 Cashew cream cheese is a vegan, dairy-free cheese alternative. Although you can purchase it ready-made, it may be best to make your own to keep the flavor neutral and control the ingredient composition.

To make cashew cheese at home, soak one cup of raw cashews in water overnight. Drain the cashews and keep the water aside. (Don’t throw the water away yet). Put the soaked cashews in a blender or food processor with 1 teaspoon of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar. Blend and scrape down the sides occasionally to make sure it mixes evenly and smoothly.

Slowly add one tablespoon at a time of the water left from soaking until you get the desired consistency. This will depend on how you wish to use your cashew cheese. Add salt or spices to taste for savory dips.

Best used as: dips, spreads on bagels or toasts, in soups, stews, sauces, and toppings for sweet or savory items. Cashew cheese is not the best alternative for making cheesecake. Instead of using a substitute, rather opt for an entirely different dairy-free or vegan cheesecake recipe.

Substitute quantity: replace measure for measure

#11. Almond Cheese

Almond cream cheese can be made in exactly the same way as cashew cheese (see no 10 above). When making the paste with almonds make sure you use raw, skinless almonds for soaking. With a little added honey, this version also makes a great fruit dip or cake topping.

#12. Hummus

Hummus is vegan, dairy-free, healthy, and loaded with nutritional goodness. It is made from a base of blended chickpeas and sesame paste (tahini). Traditional savory versions also include olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and spices.

Although it is usually easy to come by in large grocery stores or deli’s, homemade versions often taste better, fresher, and allow you to customize the flavor and thickness. Hummus should be thick and creamy, yet still light.

It does have a fairly strong flavor and is mostly suitable for savory dishes, although unseasoned hummus can be sweetened and used in cheesecake recipes.

Best used for: dips, dressings, spreading on bagels and crackers, in wraps and tacos, served with vegetables, and salads.

Not suitable for frostings or most desserts.

#13. Tofu, Lemon Juice, and Margarine

Make your own vegan cream cheese by mixing 1.5 cups of tofu with 0.5 cups margarine and a tablespoon of lemon juice in a blender. Blend well until it becomes a unified creamy mixture and chill it in the refrigerator to set.

If you prefer, blend only the tofu until creamy. You may however not have the slight tang and thick, creamy consistency. Firm or extra-firm tofu is the best type to use as your dairy-free substitute.

Best for: sweet and savory dishes such as dips, spreads, in tacos and wraps, vegan cheesecake, and frosting.

#14. Coconut Cream Cheese

Another dairy-free alternative is made with coconut milk, coconut butter, and a little nutritional yeast. This forms the base, making the product nut-free and vegan-friendly.  Some large supermarkets, health food, or vegan stores stock the ready-made product.

It is rich and smooth and somewhat sweeter than its dairy counterpart. It also has a different coconut flavor ideal for desserts.

Best used in: desserts, filling pastries, and as a cake topping

Substitute quantity: replace measure for measure


FAQS

Conclusion

Cream cheese is such a great ingredient because it can be used in a massive variety of applications from sweet and savory to hearty winter dishes and delectable summer desserts. You may need to substitute cream cheese to find a healthier option or due to allergies. The good news is that there is a range of options to choose from.

While blended cottage cheese and hung curds are the best options for a healthy replacement with the same texture, mascarpone is a fabulous choice for frostings and desserts. Try ricotta for baking and when it comes to savory dishes goat cheese and sour cream, will provide you with all the tang and creaminess you need.

Whichever substitute you use, get creative by adding spices, herbs, honey, or vanilla to enhance the flavor profile of your dish.

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*image by bhofack2/depositphotos

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