If you’ve ever had Tex-Mex food before, you’ve probably had crema and thought that it was just sour cream. If the United States has sour cream, the French with Crème Fraiche, then for Mexico, it’s crema. While many people will mistake crema for sour cream, they’re actually very different from each other. Crema has around 28% butterfat content, much higher than sour cream’s 18%-20% but at the same time, crema’s consistency is a lot thinner than sour cream. Crema also isn’t as sour as sour cream and it has a slight sweetness to it which is reminiscent of crème Fraiche. So if I were to describe the taste and texture of crema to someone in one sentence, I would say that it’s a milder cross between sour cream and crème Fraiche, and it can be used to substitute for either product.
- Run out of sour cream or crème Fraiche? Then use crema as a substitute.
- Crema helps neutralize capsaicin, so if you’ve accidentally bit into a hot pepper, crema can help take the heat away.
- There are different Latin “sour” creams, like Crema Jocoque (Sour, runny), crema Salvadorena (Thicker, like American sour cream), but the most common one is crema Mexicana, or what we simply know as crema.
- There is a creamy Haitian drink called “cremas” so make sure to buy the right product if you’re looking for crema Mexicana, although it’s never bad to have some cream liqueur lying around for a rainy day.
Crema Buying Guide
To find crema, all you have to do is to head to the refrigerated section of your favorite Mexican or Latin grocery store. While you can find crema in the non-refrigerated section, those will probably be loaded with gums, stabilizers, and other emulsifiers that will make the crema creamy, but taste a little bit off if you’re really looking for authentic crema.
Another thing to look out for is to buy “Crema Mexicana”, which is crema’s full name. The reason for this is some commercial producers will label their table creams as “Crema”.
Another misleading label term is “Mexican-Style Cream”. This MAY taste (we say may because we’ve never bothered to try it, as we’re leery of any cream product that has a 2-year shelf life) like crema, but it sure isn’t crema. A good rule of thumb, not only with crema but with any product is if it’s labeled “whatever”-style then it’s not an authentic product. It’s just something that’s made to resemble whatever it is copying.
Crema Production & Farming in Texas
Since Texas is home to a lot of authentic Tex-Mex Restaurants and Mexican/Latin specialty shops, it’s not that difficult to find freshly made artisan crema around the state. Crema is also sold in various farmers’ markets and local homesteads, although it’s a bit uncommon, there’s a big chance that you can find fresh crema in those locations.
On large-scale production, there isn’t a lot of information on crema production in the state, but why would you want to buy commercially produced crema when authentic and artisan crema is readily available in the state?
Preservatives, Additives, and Chemicals:
If you’re buying locally then you really don’t need to worry about any preservatives and additives in your crema. But if you’re buying commercial crema Mexicana, just make sure to check the packaging for the following ingredients as these are commonly used in commercial production.
- Xanthan gum
- Guar Gum
- Locust Bean Gum
These three additives are all emulsifiers, thickeners, and binders. What they do is they give the crema that “creamy” mouth feel as a way of reducing the costs of production and fermentation. That creamy texture you’re getting from products with emulsifiers is from those additives and not the natural texture of crema, which is why some people will find the texture “off” once they’ve tried the real thing.
While these additives are generally harmless and considered as safe, some people may have a sensitivity to them.
One more thing to consider when purchasing crema is the milk that is used to produce the product. Commercially (and unsustainably) produced milk that is used in making crema can contain a lot of unwanted chemicals, hormones, and antibiotic residue in them. For more information, check out our Milk entry here at the Real Food Promptuary.
Crema Mexicana, much like crème Fraiche and sour cream, is packaged in plastic tubs. Since they have a fairly short shelf life, they’re usually found in the refrigerated section and must be kept in strict temperature-controlled environments to maximize shelf life.
The best way to consume crema is to add it to Tex-Mex dishes, the way it was meant to be eaten. They’re great on tacos, enchiladas, and burritos to give them some extra lubrication and a tart kick.
Aside from its traditional uses, crema Mexicana can also be used in place of both sour cream and crème Fraiche.
Crema Mexicana can be stored in the fridge for up to two weeks. You’ll have to remember though that the consistency will continue to thicken inside the fridge as the fermentation process continues.
Make Your Own Crema Mexicana:
Many households have been making crema on their own for decades, and you know why? Because it’s very simple to make. It just takes a few ingredients, some time and effort and you can have your own freshly made crema Mexicana. Of course, if there’s locally made crema available in your area then that’s the best option if you need it in a pinch.
Heavy Cream, 1 cup
Cultured Buttermilk, 1 tablespoon
Juice of half a lime
Pinch of salt
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, warm the heavy cream to about room temperature then add the buttermilk and mix.
Transfer warmed milk to a clean glass jar and cover with a cheesecloth or any breathable material.
Keep the jar in a warm place away from sunlight for at least 24 hours.
Remove the cheesecloth and cover tightly with a lid.
Refrigerate for at least 6 hours.
Add the lime juice and the salt and mix thoroughly, add more salt to taste. Remember to use a different spoon every time you taste as not to contaminate the crema. Serve immediately or store in the fridge for up to two weeks.