No Cream Cheese? Try These Alternatives

Alternatives to cream cheese

January 31, 2022

Clinical Contributors to this story:
Katlyn Cusack, MS, RDN, LDN

Cream cheese is to 2022, as what toilet paper was to 2020—in short supply. If you can’t find your favorite soft, tangy cheese for your frostings, sauces or dips, fortunately cream cheese has many worthy substitutes.

If you’re OK with dairy products—which are rich sources of calcium and vitamin D—try these swaps instead:

  • Mascarpone: Often used in tiramisu and other Italian desserts, mascarpone cheese might fly under the radar compared to cream cheese. But it easily can be subbed as a spread on bagels and bread, as well as mixed into dips and frostings. Blend in a dash of salt or lemon juice to add tang. Mascarpone is also a beneficial source of calcium and other essential nutrients like phosphorus, vitamin B12 and Vitamin A.
  • Neufchatel: You might even buy Neufchatel by mistake when aiming for cream cheese, as this French cheese is often sold in similar brick-like, cardboard-bound chunks. However, the main difference is that Neufchatel contains 10% less fat – this type of cheese is only made from milk, in comparison to cream which is made from both milk and cream. It may “crack” in cheesecake recipes due to its lower fat content, but Neufchatel is almost indistinguishable from cream cheese when spread on bagels.
  • Ricotta: Don’t think this cheese is only useful in lasagna or stuffed shells. Ricotta isn’t as thick or creamy as cream cheese, but whole milk varieties can be strained and then whipped with a bit of lemon juice to become a cream cheese substitute in dips and spreads. Low-fat ricotta cheese has fewer calories, fat and carbs compared to low-fat cream cheese. It also provides a great source of calcium as well as essential nutrients such as vitamin K, vitamin B12 and niacin.
  • Greek yogurt: Chock full of protein, plain Greek yogurt can match cream cheese’s tanginess right out of the carton. But if you’re aiming at a similar thickness, strain the yogurt in cheesecloth before spreading. Nutritionally, this is a healthier option compared to cream cheese because most of the calories in greek yogurt come from protein, whereas in cream cheese they come from fat.
  • Sour cream. A bit thinner than cream cheese, sour cream can add a similar tang to creamy pasta sauces and dips. Just be careful using it with high heat, since sour cream can curdle, so be sure to heat gently. Even though heating sour cream can be tricky, it’s creaminess is known to make many foods taste better.
  • Cottage cheese: Despite its lumpiness, whole-milk versions can be pureed with lemon juice for pretty close results. Plus, cottage cheese is rich in protein. You can use blended cottage cheese instead of cream cheese in many recipes where you need the smoothness of cream cheese with less fat and calories.

Dairy-free Substitutes

If you’re avoiding dairy, try these plant-based cream cheese stand-ins:

  • Tofu: Vegan cheesecake recipes often contain tofu, and with good reason: Pureed, silken versions of this soy product boast a texture similar to cream cheese. Soft tofu can be readily spread on bagels. Try adding lemon juice, apple cider vinegar and seasonings of your choice for a bolder flavor! Or, something like adding a little miso flavor provides the cheesy umami.
  • Nut-based cream cheeses: An ever-expanding array of nut-based, vegan “cheeses” have managed to nearly duplicate dairy-laden versions. Containing cashews, almonds or other nuts pulverized into a creamy consistency, slather these versatile cream cheese substitutes on bread and crackers just as you would the “real” thing.

Next Steps & Resources:


The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.

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