This 4-ingredient vegan sour cream recipe will become your go-to for baked potatoes, chili, nachos, pasta salad, and more. It’s a homemade, plant-based staple that’s as easy to make as it is useful!
The parade of homemade vegan staple foods continues!
If I were an organized person, I’d have made this post part of a carefully curated series. But this blog reflects my life, for better or worse, and I’m featuring staples lately because they’re sometimes the only thing I have time and bandwidth to make.
That’s A-OK, though. Because, as I often remind my busy nutrition clients who have limited time to cook, a single homemade staple can become the foundation of a surprising number of meals.
What are staples, exactly? I guess this is individually defined. For me, staples are usually homemade vegan condiments and proteins. For example:
- Dressings for salads and bowls
- Crumbly cashew cheese for toast, salads, and pasta
- Cubes of tofu or tempeh for bowls, tacos, pasta, and stir fries
- A jar of sauce to elevate simple grain skillets
- Homemade hummus for sandwiches and snacking
The list goes on, but you get the idea.
And today, vegan sour cream!
Specifically, 4-ingredient, cashew-based sour cream, for all of your creamy, tangy topping needs.
Cashews to the rescue (again)
Years ago, one of my editors at Food52 once asked me whether I always have a bowl full of cashews soaking in my apartment. My answer?
Yes. Pretty much yes.
Some people snack on cashews. I do that once in a while, but more often than not, I’m busy softening them in water so that I can blend them up into all the things.
All the things is only partly a manner of speech. Here’s what cashews get turned into in my kitchen:
- All-purpose cashew cream
- Vegan ricotta cheese
- Classic vegan cheesecake
- Vegan parmesan cheese
- Whipped cream
- Queso sauce
- Chocolate pudding
- Cashew cheese
- Pasta sauce
- Stretchy vegan yellow cheese sauce
- Creamy cashew cilantro sauce
- Melty vegan “mozzarella”
- Chocolate truffles
- The best vegan pumpkin pie
That’s not everything, but it does give you a sense of how versatile these humble nuts can be!
Cashews have a buttery texture that makes it easy to soak them, soften them, and turn them into rich, creamy dairy substitutes. Their flavor is neutral, so it can take on the flavor of the seasonings that you choose to add to cashew-based creations.
In the case of this vegan sour cream recipe, the trick is simply to add enough acid to the cashew cream to create a distinctive tangy flavor.
The trick to a perfect vegan sour cream
When I make my all-purpose cashew cream, I do often add a little lemon. This recipe takes the citrus up a notch for a hint of sour flavor.
For a long time, I made versions of vegan sour cream—some with tofu, some with cashews, one with coconut cream—that got their sourness from lemon juice alone.
This worked well enough. Over time, however, I became interested in trying different sources of acid. I tried white vinegar, red wine vinegar, and lime juice.
Ultimately, I found that lemon juice + lime juice together created the best flavor. They create a vegan sour cream that’s just sour enough.
The lime juice offsets the lemon juice a little, preventing the sour cream from tasting overtly lemony. Yet it still contributes a tangy quality.
If I didn’t use two types of acid, this would be a 3-ingredient recipe (not counting water). Thanks to the lemon + lime combo, it’s a 4-ingredient recipe: soaked and drained cashews, lemon juice, lime juice, and salt.
How to make vegan sour cream from cashews
This vegan sour cream is incredibly easy to make. Here’s what you’ll need to do:
All recipes that call for blended cashews will benefit from a couple hours of cashew soaking time. This softens the cashews for smooth, even blending.
I recommend soaking cashews for at least two hours before blending them. More time is fine: up to overnight, if you like. When I soak cashews for two hours or less, I leave them out at room temperature. When I soak them overnight, I cover them and transfer them to the fridge.
If you’re in a rush, there’s a shortcut option: bring a pot of water to a boil, then pour the piping hot water over your cashews. Cashews soaked in very hot water will be ready to blend in 30 minutes.
Once your cashews have soaked long enough, you can drain them and rinse them, using a sieve or colander.
At this point, you’re ready to make the vegan sour cream.
Making the sour cream is as easy as adding the soaked cashews, lime juice, lemon juice, and salt to a high-speed blender or food processor, along with 2/3 cups water. I’ve included instructions for optimal blending within the recipe steps.
That’s pretty much the whole process: soak, drain, blend!
What type of cashews should I use?
For this vegan sour cream recipe and many others using blended cashews, I use cashew nuts that are labeled as raw.
Technically, this isn’t quite true. Cashews are hulled and roasted once before they’re commercially sold. This process makes them suitable for eating.
When cashews are sold as “raw,” it typically means that they aren’t salted or roasted for a second time, to the point of tasting nutty or browning. Sometimes the par-roasted cashews are sold as “unroasted” rather than raw.
In any case, you’re aiming to use cashews that are pale in color and not labeled as being roasted, toasted, or salted. Any of those latter varieties will end up affecting the flavor of the sour cream.
Do I need a high-speed blender?
It’s easiest to make the vegan sour cream in either a high-speed blender or a food processor that has 7 cups capacity or more.
High-speed blenders are definitely investments, but they do make nut-based dressings and sauces an easy reality. In addition, they have tons of other capacities, from perfect pureed soups to grinding up nuts and whole grains into nut butters and flours, respectively.
I have the Breville SuperQ, and I love it. There are many other options, including VitaMix and BlendTec models.
If you have a food processor, I give instructions for using it in place of a blender in the recipe. My Cuisinart food processor is the single most used appliance in my home, and it’s very good at blending up cashews!
If you have a regular blender, it’s still possible to make the vegan sour cream, especially if you soak your cashews for long enough. Just know that the sour cream may be more textured than it would be with a higher speed blender. It’ll still add the creaminess you want to your recipes!
The sour cream should be stored in an airtight container in the fridge. It will keep this way for up to four days.
Since I live alone and sometimes don’t finish a batch at once, I like to portion the sour cream into small mason jars. I store one in the fridge and freeze one for later. That way, I can defrost a small amount whenever I have a baked potato or a quesadilla that’s asking for sour cream.
Can I freeze vegan sour cream?
Speaking of, yes you can! The sour cream can be frozen for up to 6 weeks.
If you freeze it in glassware (like the 4 ounce mason jars I mentioned above), then be sure to leave some headspace at the top of the jar. Liquids and food with high water content will expand in the freezer, so leaving headspace prevents shattering and cracks.
How to use vegan sour cream
The simple answer here is that you can use the cashew sour cream wherever you’d normally use sour cream. But here’s a roundup of recipes from my blog that I’ve used the sour cream in or on:
- Slow cooker black bean butternut chili
- Mushroom bulgur chili
- Red pepper sweet potato quesadillas
- Loaded garlic kale potatoes
- Creamy vegan potato leek soup
- Sweet potato skin nachos
- Slow cooker two lentil chili
- Chili lime tempeh tacos
- Black bean quinoa chili
- Hearty vegan chick’n bean chili
- Sweet potato black bean enchiladas
- Potato corn chowder
- Easy black bean sweet potato tacos
- Cream of broccoli quinoa soup
There are so many more possibilities. But in the meantime, here’s the simple recipe.
- 1 1/2 cups raw cashews (210 g; soaked for at least 2 hours and drained)
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1/2 teaspoon + 1/8 teaspoon Kosher salt
- If using a high-speed blender: place all ingredients in your blender along with 2/3 cups water. Blend for 2-3 minutes, stopping once to scrape the sides of the blender down, or until you have a thick, completely smooth cream.
- If using a food processor: place all ingredients into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the S blade. Process for about 30 seconds, in order to break the cashews down. Stop and use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the food processor. Begin processing again, and while the processor is running, add 2/3 cup water to the machine in a thin stream. Process the cashew sour cream for a full 5 minutes, or until it's thick and very smooth. Stop as needed to scrape the sides of the processor down along the way.
- Taste the sour cream and add additional salt, lemon or lime juice to your liking. Serve or store.
Just looking at this image—cozy carbs and creamy textures—makes me smile.
I don’t think my greatest hits of basics and staple foods will stop anytime soon, as I continue to rely on them during this strange, busy time.
But the big news is that, last week, I made a new spring pasta recipe that I really love, and I’m eager to pass it along to you. For now,