Thursday, February 24, 2011

INGREDIENTS - Creme de Leite (cream)

In the last post on Flavors of Brazil, which included a recipe for the Brazilian version of Beef Strogonoff (estrogonofe), among the ingredients called for was a product called creme de leite (which simply means milk cream). In the estrogonofe recipe it substitutes for the sour cream found in many more traditional versions of Strogonoff, as sour cream is not generally available in Brazil.

Many, many Brazilian recipes call for creme de leite, and if the recipe forums and culinary FAQ websites are to be believed, there is a lot of confusion as to what creme de leite is and is not. Cooks from other countries who are trying to use a Brazilian recipe are often stumped when trying to find an acceptable substitute for creme de leite. Equally so, Brazilian cooks who try to cook their favorite recipes with creme de leite when outside Brazil don't know what to use.

Basically, creme de leite is nothing more than what we generally know in English as cream. It is the fatty portion of milk (the part that rises to the top in unhomogenized milk) containing about 30-40% milk fat. In Brazil, it can generally be bought in two forms - fresh, which is purchased refrigerated and which must be kept refrigerated, and UHT-treated, which is purchased unrefrigerated and can be stored at room temperature until the container is opened. At that point, any unused portion must be kept in the fridge. Fresh creme de leite is normally sold in plastic bags, and the UHT version is sold either in small cans or in Tetra-brik boxes.

The UHT-treated creme de leite is heat-treated to ensure long shelf life, and it is also churned slightly so that it has a significantly thicker consistency than the fresh. Because of this thicker consistency, when substituting other ingredients for creme de leite, it's best to use something like sour cream or creme fraiche. Plain North American or European fresh cream will not have the same consistency and the result will be different. Obviously sour cream will change the taste of the final dish, though creme fraiche will less so.

Just as expat Aussies carry Vegemite with them when migrating or travelling and Americans go to great lengths to find peanut butter overseas, Brazilians living outside Brazil often express "saudade" (nostalgia) for creme de leite and beg visiting relatives to bring some along with them. Or, on their visits home to Brazil, they fill any empty space in their suitcases with creme de leite for use across the seas.

None of the substitutes are perfect reproductions of Brazilian creme de leite, but for most purposes, other dairy products can successfully be swapped. But if you're making a Brazilian dish with creme de leite for Brazilian guests, don't expect them to say it tastes just like Mama made - because she used creme de leite and you didn't


  1. Olá James,
    Firstly, let me tell you, I love your blog. Both the design and content are excellent!
    I am a Brazilian living in cold Vermont for 8 years. Although VT does not have a particularly large Brazilian community, I have managed to find almost every ingredient I have searched for, with the exceptions of some produce (jiló and mandioquinha-salsa).
    The perfect substitute for creme de leite here in the US is "media crema", a canned cream manufactured by Nestlé in Mexico. It is easily found in ethnic (hispanic) markets and even some supermarkets here in VT carry it.
    Um abraço, e parabéns pelo blog!

  2. Obrigado, Debora! I´ve not heard of media crema, but I´d bet it is exactly the same thing as creme de leite. As you no doubt know, Nestle is one of the biggest producers of creme de leite in Brazil. When I´m in the USA next time, I´ll check it out in the Haspanic markets.

  3. Hello
    Just to say:
    I dont think the English cream is the same a brazilian creme de leite.
    The nutritional values of Brazilian Cream de leite is different There no carboidrathes and not fat trans ,is different collor, thick and flavor too.

  4. Just made a shitake sauce with Nestle Media Crema. It's exactly the same as Creme de Leite in Brazil.... even the can label is the same.

  5. Thanks for the tip. I checked out images of Nestle Media Crema on Google, and you're right, even the label is the same as creme de leite. I notice that the label also calls it table cream in English.

  6. @Debora...I too live in Burlington, VT for about six years now where exactly do you reside? It would be nice to get in touch with more brazilians in this area...My email address is

  7. I usually use heavy cream here in Granville, OH. It tastes pretty similar, thought it's just a little thicker and fattier.

  8. In the UK nestle does sterilised cream known as 'Carnation extra thick cream' and it should be a near perfect replacement for creme de leite with its taste and similar butterfat content. For creme de leite fresco I recommend whipping cream :)

  9. Jim-
    I want to make a cheese cake but it calls for sour cream, ive not seen it in the stores here, have you? If not, how are you substituting it?

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