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Does commercial sour cream still contain live bacteria? A family member cannot consume them, so I am looking for a way to recognize sour cream without live cultures.

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    @rumtscho : sometimes giving the reason why you're asking is important ... eg, asking about gluten. Answers might be different for someone with non-celiac gluten sensitivity vs. celiac's disease. Someone might have questions about dairy for a number of reasons (kosher, vegan, dairy allergy, lactose intolerant, casein intolerant, etc.) and without being able to tell people about their specific case means we can't give them a good answer. I'm not going to claim that their phrasing was the best, but removing all mention of motivations/conditions is a problem. – Joe Jan 13 '16 at 15:19
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    I totally agree with Joe. These are well known benefits that are undisputed in the medical industry. Knowing that the poster is looking for a particular type of bacteria is relevant to the question otherwise mold could be an answer. – NKY Homesteading Jan 13 '16 at 15:27
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    The problem with this line of thinking is that people start answering with what they believe to be good advice about some condition, and others start upvoting it when it feels authoritative enough. If they are wrong, we end up with terribly misleading answers which can hurt someone. So really, the point here is that the OP should find out on their own, from medical professionals, what they should and shouldn't consume. If "searching for" vs. "searching to avoid" is important for this question, then the OP should clarify which one it is. But we cannot make recommendations what they should eat. – rumtscho Jan 13 '16 at 16:05
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    @Mia nobody is offended. We have our rules, and they can seem strange to new people at first. We know it's not easy, and that nobody reads pages of "how to post" before posting. So when somebody posts something which doesn't work well here, we try to change his post to conform to the rules, while keeping their original meaning intact as much as possible. If we knew how to make the process easier for new users without compromising the rules and leaving open the kind of question we cannot answer well, we would. Also, thank you for the clarification. The process is basically 1) you post, (cont.) – rumtscho Jan 16 '16 at 16:39
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    (cont.) 2) we look at it and see if it is OK by our rules. If it is not, it has to be corrected - but we know that it is hard for you to find a formulation which fits our rules, so 3) we do our best to remove the problematic parts. If the user is nice enough to come back and clarify, like you did, we can 4) add even more information, while wording it in a way which does not invite well intended but possibly misleading answers. When you spend some more time around, you will get a better feel for the site, read the help, and your questions will probably be a better fit from the beginning. – rumtscho Jan 16 '16 at 16:43
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It's hard to get a straight answer online, unfortunately, as most sour cream manufacturers don't mention either way. Daisy brand, for example (one of the mass-market brands that is relatively unprocessed) doesn't mention it on their website, nor do they on their containers, though some people have said they do contain live active cultures - but nothing reliable that I see indicates that. Breakstone's mentions that their cottage cheese has prebiotics, but nothing about sour cream, leading me to think they probably don't.

A few brands pasteurize and then add back in the L. Acidophilus and Bifidus Regularis (or similar) cultures afterwards, presumably to improve taste as they continue to break down the lactose (similar to how some mass-market yogurts do so); for example, Organic Valley mentions on their website:

Our sour cream is a cultured blend of nutrient-packed organic cream and skim milk. When the sour cream is pasteurized and homogenized, active cultures acidophilus and bifidus are added to boost the tangy flavor and create a consistently dense cream. The active cultures also serve as probiotics to improve the microbial balance of your digestive tract.

If you're looking for a brand that specifically does contain live active cultures, you should look for a mention on the label. Any brand that does not mention it on the label may or may not contain them. The indication of live and active cultures is not mandatory, as far as I can tell; the National Yogurt Association has a voluntary compliance process involving a seal that indicates live and active cultures, for example, but it is strictly voluntary.

However, searching for a brand that does not contain live active cultures, your best bet would be to contact the manufacturers directly. I don't think there's a reliable way to prove they don't contain them. Fat-free sour cream is also unlikely to contain live and active cultures (as it's not really sour cream, it's a flavored gelatin product more or less). Alternatively, you can cook the sour cream yourself (or only use it in cooked applications) to ensure the bacteria are not live, though in this case you should talk to your doctor to find out in what applications this may be safe.

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Joe M.'s answer is correct that it's difficult to get this information, though you can always try contacting the manufacturer directly. But in general I would assume that commercial sour cream still contains at least some live bacteria.

In the U.S., food packaging laws require sour cream produced with bacterial cultures to be labeled either "sour cream" or "cultured sour cream." Sour cream produced without bacteria by law must be explicitly labeled "acidified sour cream." ("Acidified sour cream" usually has an inferior flavor and generally tends to show up as ingredients in other things or occasionally in low-fat or non-fat varieties. In any case, "acidified" here only means that acids were used at some point to help the process along, so it doesn't guarantee that cultures were NOT used.)

To my knowledge, sour cream is generally NOT heat treated after culturing (unlike some yogurt), which means that active cultures are probably still present in significant numbers in most "cultured" sour cream.

And even if it is "heat treated" as some yogurts are, I don't think sour cream could actually be "re-pasteurized" without ruining the texture, so it's very unlikely to find a "cultured" sour cream that has no live bacteria in it. Products explicitly labeled with a "live and active cultures" designation have to meet a standard for a minimum of bacterial concentration, but other products that are "cultured" without that designation likely still have residual live bacteria unless proven otherwise.


Another thought to make a determination is to try to culture with the cream yourself. Put a tablespoon or two of the sour cream in a few ounces of fresh pasteurized milk (or some fresh cream), and let it sit out at room temperature. If the sour cream has active cultures, it will likely start to thicken significantly in 12-18 hours. If the milk hasn't noticeably thickened within a day or so, it's less likely that it contains a significant number of active cultures (though not certain).

This is not a definitive test to rule out bacteria, but if the milk thickens noticeably, it's pretty likely the sour cream has some active cultures.

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Most do not because they have been pasteurized. You would need to look for an all natural "raw" product for it to contain beneficial probiotic bacteria. You may also find "contains live cultures" on the label. This goes for yogurts as well. You may want to try looking in a grocery store that has a good sized natural food section or a health food store.

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  • You certainly don't need "raw" (or non-pasteurized) in order to have live bacteria; said another way, a pasteurized product can have live bacterial cultures. As in @JoeM's answer, pasteurization can happen before or after culturing/inoculation. If cultured after pasteurization (as is most yogurt) you'll be left with the (desirable) "live and active" bacteria even in a (previously) pasteurized product. – hoc_age Jan 14 '16 at 2:44
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They usually do, but those are probiotics generally.

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