If you’re looking up German recipes regularly, you might be familiar with Schmand. It’s a sour dairy product that is not readily available outside of Central and Eastern Europe but an integral ingredient of many traditional German dishes such as Flammkuchen.
In German cuisine, the three most common fermented dairy products made from fresh cream are:
- Saure Sahne (‘Sour Cream’)
- Crème fraîche
The fat content is the main difference between the three dairy products listed above. German sour cream has a fat content of about 10 %, Schmand of about 20 %, and crème fraîche of about 30 %.
An important thing to note is that German sour cream is not the same product as American sour cream. The fat content in American sour cream is comparable to the fat content in Schmand. So it is a great substitute for Schmand.
Crème fraîche is the king of all sour creams. With its fat content of 30 %, it is very luxurious and rich. French people, in general, seem to have an insane obsession with creaminess and richness in their foods.
Why does Schmand contain less fat than crème fraîche?
Even though German food is often said to be too heavy, I do think the French beat the Germans in their generosity when it comes to the addition of fats and cream to dishes. And I do have a theory as to why French dairy is often richer than its German equivalent.
As you might know, the Southern parts of Germany used to be poor agrarian states. To produce 1 liter of heavy cream with a fat content of 40 % you need roughly 10 liters of raw milk.
By halving the fat content from 40 to 20 %, you can produce 1 liter of cream with only 5 liters of raw milk. So I do think it’s because of poverty, that people couldn’t afford to make their cream richer in Germany.
Cream with a fat content of 20 % cannot be whipped but it can be used to cook and it can be fermented to Schmand. The creaminess is quite similar to the one of crème fraîche and Schmand even has a big advantage over its French counterpart: it doesn’t require refrigeration. That is because it is usually heated after fermentation to increase shelf life. For crème fraîche, on the other hand, heat treatment after fermentation is forbidden by law.
How is Schmand produced?
The production process for all kinds of sour creams always follows the same principle. Dairy manufacturers add lactic acid bacteria to the cream which convert the milk sugar lactose into lactic acid. Through the acidification of the product, the milk forms a gel network which thickens the cream and makes it spoonable.
What you might’ve noticed is that crème fraîche is often sourer than Schmand. But how can that be? I just told you that it’s the milk sugar that gets converted into lactic acid. It doesn’t have anything to do with the initial fat content of the cream.
Well, the French have a little trick they use to give crème fraîche its signature tanginess. They just add sugar to the cream prior to fermentation. It doesn’t make the end product sweeter because all the sugar gets converted into lactic acid. So, by adding sugar, you actually end up with more pronounced acidity.
Is it worth to make Schmand at home?
No way! Schmand is not that different in taste from other sour creams. Just use what you can get at your local supermarket. There’s really no point in producing your own dairy at home.
Just out of curiosity I’ve made yogurt myself a few times. It’s easy and it isn’t much work but the end result wasn’t any different from the stuff you can buy at any grocery store here in Germany. The same is true for sour cream and Schmand. It’s not worth the effort.
The other thing to consider is that, for the authentic Schmand taste, you have to use the same starter culture of bacteria that dairy manufacturers here in Germany use. If you’re using American sour cream or yogurt as your starter culture, it will taste like American sour cream or the brand of yogurt you use.
In Germany, I could just try to pick up a cup of Schmand that hasn’t been heat-treated to use as my starter culture. However, if you can easily get a hand on it too at the place where you live, then what’s the point of making it yourself?
So, to summarize what I just told you:
- Schmand is a sour dairy product made from cream that is comparable to American sour cream.
- Schmand is milder and less creamy in taste then crème fraîche.
- You shouldn’t bother making your own Schmand at home. Almost any sour cream with a fat content of around 20 % will make a great substitute.