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The Sour Cream Rises

December 9, 2012

Happy Chanukah. Last night may have been the first evening of this Winter Solstice holiday, but today is the first day. Go fig.

As a kid Chanukah used to be my favorite Jewish holiday because of the eight nights of presents. Now Chanukah is my favorite holiday because of the carte blanche it provides for the consumption of fried foods. It is one of many Jewish holidays that’s best surmised by the mantra, “They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat.”

I’ll replace the sufganiyot available in Israel with the jelly-donuts from Bella Napoli available in the Capital Region. They are the best we’ve got, and they are pretty damn good. Really the only thing that would make them better is if they were stuffed with a high quality handmade jam. Maybe if I got them some jam they would do a custom order. Oh man, that would be amazing.

Last night we had latkes (AKA fried potato pancakes), another traditional holiday food. Actually we’ll have them again tonight too. And as a kid I loved to dip them in applesauce. However as my sweet tooth morphed into a fat tooth, applesauce was replaced by sour cream.

The only problem is a good sour cream is hard to find.

Dairy products are delicious. There are only a few problems. I’ve discussed these in the past, but for the sake of those who might be reading for the first time let’s very quickly review. One is the common use of rBST injections to artificially increase milk production. Another is subtherapeutic doses of antibiotics in feed. Sure, there are other issues surrounding feed, like GMOs and poultry waste, but let’s put those aside for now.

Over the past several years, fluid dairy (aka liquid milk) has been very good about walking away from milk made from the cows treated with rBST/rBGH. You can tell because their cartons all share the same disclaimer about the pledges their farmers take not to use the stuff, while at the same time professing that science hasn’t proven rBST to be harmful.

However, the pledge to avoid synthetically produced growth hormones isn’t always echoed on the full line of a brand’s products. Cabot has some strict quality guidelines for its producers, and when I told one of these producers that the Cabot butter doesn’t make a claim about rBST she was shocked. But it’s not there. I keep on looking for it.

Cabot does indeed have the pledge predominantly placed on their carton of sour cream. Huzzah!

Except there’s a problem. Just because something starts off with better ingredients doesn’t mean all of the ingredients are going to be of equally high quality. It’s kind of counterintuitive, as a consumer might expect a small local producer of milk to not sully their product with dreck. But it happens all the time. The moral of the story is to always read the ingredients.

Here’s what’s in the Cabot Sour Cream, “Cultured milk, cream, modified corn starch, guar gum, sodium citrate, carrageenan, locust bean gum.”

That’s not okay.

When I buy sour cream, I’m buying it for the fat. For its rich, mouth filling, delicious and expensive butter fat. Things like starches, gums, and carrageenan are there to give the perception of fat without the expense. Their addition allows a manufacturer to dial back on the butterfat to save money. And that’s wrong.

You want to play those sort of games with light sour cream, and you won’t hear from me. If that’s what you want, that’s what you’ll get. But don’t mess with the good stuff.

Luckily, I also found a tub of Organic Valley sour cream. But I have to confess that it made me nervous too. Because when I turned it around to look at the ingredients, this is what I found: Organic cultured pasteurized nonfat milk, organic pasteurized cream, Acidophilus and Bifidus cultures, microbial enzyme.

Nonfat milk?!?! That’s madness.

However, upon close cross-examination with other sour creams on the shelves, the proof was in the Nutrition Facts. The Organic Valley sour cream had 60 calories for every two tablespoons of the rich tart and thick goodness inside, with 50 of those calories coming from fat. This was in line with other sour cream brands that eschewed nonfat milk and stuck solely to cream.

As far as I can tell, the only possible way this could work is if the Organic Valley cream was just super fatty and needed to be thinned out to make a parity product with the national supermarket brands.

Regardless, I’m glad I found it. Maybe there are other good sour creams out there. And given this week full of fried potato pancakes, I’ll be on the lookout. As I find others, I’ll keep you posted.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. Mr. Dave permalink
    December 9, 2012 12:04 pm

    Is Dnipro still open? Haven’t been there since last summer. In any event, the smetana they carry is very good and would go great with a latka. Never checked the label though…

  2. christine permalink
    December 9, 2012 1:10 pm

    I remember reading a review in a magazine or online somewhere of various sour creams and the one rated best in this taste test was the Walmart brand sour cream. I’m not sure what’s in it (probably all the stuff you mention) but against four or five brand name sour creams it was rated the one that tasted the best.

  3. December 9, 2012 1:16 pm

    I can make you a big batch. There are 4 steps. Pour 1/2 cup quality buttermilk into 1/2 gal of heavy crem. Let it sit out 1 or 2 days till sufficiently thick. Refrigerate, eat.

  4. December 9, 2012 1:17 pm

    Four Seasons in Saratoga has an organic sour cream called Kalona Super Natural. It’s amazing – gives a whole new meaning to sour cream. The ingredients are organic milk, organic cream, organic skim milk, cultures. Highly recommend!

  5. December 9, 2012 2:27 pm

    I suppose you might say that all these issues with sour cream are just more reasons to stick to applesauce. Some of us are still kids inside, at least when it comes to latkes, I guess.

  6. December 9, 2012 3:05 pm

    @Christine – the WalMart brand is actually pretty good as far as ingredients. I read the labels on this stuff a lot because I’m avoiding wheat and corn starches, and that brand had only cream, milk, etc., nothing else.

    Cabot is a disappointment, they used to have thickener-free sour cream back in the late Jurassic. For unadulterated sour creams, I have found my favorite brand so far to be Daisy.

    Perhaps a blind taste test is in order?

  7. December 9, 2012 5:10 pm

    Among commercially-available sour creams, I prefer Crowley’s, made in Binghamton. I came to appreciate the brand’s dairy products when I lived there back in the mid-1960s and when, in the early 1970s, I returned from a stint in Baltimore to the Capital Region was pleased to re-discover it.

    Crowley’s Sour Cream contains only “cultured pasteurized milk, cream, nonfat milk and enzyme.” It has the delightful tang good sour cream needs, the consistency to dollop on a dish, and the right texture to break down beautifully as part of a marinade.

  8. Laura permalink
    December 9, 2012 5:19 pm

    I’ve been waiting for an excuse to tell someone about my love for Trader Joe’s Organic Sour Cream. It takes all of my willpower to not eat it out of the tub by the spoonful. The ingredients and fat content are the same Organic Valley’s, by the way.

  9. December 10, 2012 8:19 am


  10. Michaeline permalink
    December 10, 2012 11:53 am

    *laughs* Daniel….sometimes you are just “too” fussy! I like Stewarts sour cream.

  11. enough already! permalink
    December 10, 2012 4:18 pm

    Friendship brand contains cream and enzyme.
    In addition, their low fat cottage cheese contains no gums or thickeners..

  12. enough already! permalink
    December 10, 2012 4:25 pm

    Happy Chanukah (and birthday). I must tell you I tried the bialys at pc on 155. (Thanks for the tip.). They are soft and tasty and good but are a little larger, thicker and more doughy, I believe, than the real deal. AGB’s are more old style and tasty, but I think too salty. Both, however, are better than none at all, for sure!

    • December 11, 2012 10:33 am

      Hi EA: not sure when you tried our bialys, but we did have a problem w/ a new baker several weeks ago (who didn’t work out) adding too much salt to them. Unfortunately those went out before we caught them. We’d be happy to offer you a free bialy next time you’re in to see if the correct version might suit you better!

  13. kathy permalink
    June 23, 2015 1:34 pm

    the cabot sour cream ingredient list is this the regular? i thought i saw corn starch on the container…but one of the farms is saying no….i do not believe them …i can taste the corn starch

  14. June 23, 2015 1:38 pm

    Cabot….i am talking to one of the farms that is part of cabot….and they are telling tall tales about the butter and the sour cream……MANY of these cows never touch their feet onto the earth it is NOT RIGHT….i had an excellent conversation with a farmer from Cambridge ny…very passionate …said if someone thinks this is OK tell them NO…

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