What Is Smetana? (сметана)

Halichna brand tub of Ukrainian Smetana on a table

If you enjoy looking at recipes for Central and Eastern European cuisine then you have surely come across this delicious ingredient. But often you may just ask yourself, “What is smetana?” Many people just assume smetana is some foreign language word for sour cream…but that’s not entirely the case.

Is Smetana Sour Cream?

Smetana is a type of soured cream, however it is different than when you would find in America. To be perfectly clear, a Central/Eastern European smetana is somewhere between an American sour cream and a French crème fraîche.

Smetana generally has a higher fat content than Western sour creams. While most popular sour cream brands in America have a milkfat range between 12-16%, smetana generally starts at 15% and goes as high as 42%!

Where Is Smetana Popular?

potato zrazy on a plate with ukrainian smetana
Potato Zrazy With Smetana

Smetana is pretty popular in all of the Central and Eastern European as a staple foodstuff. Here’s a list of countries where smetana is a common ingredient:

Czechia

Poland

Slovakia

Finland

Estonia

Latvia

Lithuania

Belarus

Ukraine

Russia

Romania (as Smântână)

Moldova (as Smântână)

How Is Smetana Used?

ukrainian rabbit stew in smetana cream sauce in bowl with pasta
Rabbit Stew In A Sauce Made From Smetana

Smetana is used in so many different ways because it can be added to both sweet and savory dishes. It is added as a condiment in the famous Ukrainian borsch, and is used to make the sauce in a Hungarian paprikas.

It is common to see smetana alongside pierogi or potato pancakes in Poland and it is often blended into cheese spreads like the popular Slovak spicy liptauer. In many countries it is also used in baking – for example enhancing the richness of muffins and cakes.

Related Dairy Products

As mentioned above, related dairy products include American sour cream, crème fraîche, strained yoghurt, clabber, and more. These options can be used as 1:1 substitutes for traditional smetana but the taste may be slightly different.