Alex Eats: Tangy Creams

Every week, Alex Guarnaschelli, host of Alex's Day Off , shares with readers what she's eating -- whether it's from the farmers' market or fresh off the boat, she'll have you craving everything from comfort food to seasonal produce.

As a lover of all things dairy, I especially like sour cream, yogurt, crème fraiche and buttermilk because they add "tang” to my cooking. They get their base flavor from friendly bacterial cultures that actively convert the natural sugars in milk lactic acid through fermentation. So if each of these four tangy dairy variants gets its signature acid zip the same way, what makes them different?

Sour Cream: Take cream, add those miraculous cultures, allow fermentation to partially run its course, and voila. It’s has such a thick texture, it can stand on its own. A dollop of sour cream on a baked Idaho or sweet potato is just delicious. I love adding sour cream to blue cheese dressing instead of mayonnaise. Hot blueberry pancakes topped with cold sour cream? It's so creamy against the fruit.

Yogurt: Add cultures to whole milk and allow the fermentation process to run its full course and you get yogurt. In its simplest form, I love it with a spoonful of jam and sweet fruits, like mangoes or bananas. Try making a sauce for a simple grilled chicken kebab by mixing yogurt with lemon juice, cucumber, salt, pepper and a touch of paprika -- it's cool and refreshing. Yogurt also takes on spices well. Curry powder, dried ginger and cinnamon are a few I think pair best with yogurt.

Crème Fraiche: Crème fraiche is actually less sour than American sour cream. Crème fraiche is also higher in fat and lower in protein than sour cream. It’s great as a condiment -- with berries or salted fish roe -- but a dollop added to whipped cream can add a special tang and richness. I love stirring crème fraiche into vegetable soups (carrot or tomato are my personal favorites) to add thickness and rich flavor.

Buttermilk: Today’s supermarket buttermilk refers to homogenized, pasteurized whole milk that is industrially produced with lactic acid cultures. Buttermilk is the only one of the bunch that you can’t drink or eat as-is. Instead, buttermilk can be the spark-plug ingredient of a marinade. I use it to tenderize chicken and squid. Try whisking some into fork-crushed potatoes for a leaner (and tangy) alternative to cream and butter. It’s also great for baking -- my mother’s corn bread would never be as tender without the addition of buttermilk.

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