The Ultimate Guide to Ricotta Cheese Substitutes
Ricotta cheese is a one-of-a-kind ingredient that adds a special creaminess and delicate flavor to both sweet and savory dishes. From the pillowy layers of lasagna to the lush filling of cannoli, ricotta is an Italian staple with fans worldwide. However, you may sometimes need a stand-in for ricotta cheese when cooking or baking.
Finding a suitable ricotta substitute depends greatly on the recipe and your personal preferences. The good news is that with so many options available, you can confidently replace ricotta cheese in any dish!
This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know, from reasons for substituting to detailed comparisons of popular alternatives. You’ll also find useful tips for cooking and baking success when using ricotta cheese substitutes.
Why Find a Ricotta Cheese Substitute?
There are many reasons why one might seek a replacement for ricotta cheese:
- Dietary restrictions – Vegans, lactose intolerant individuals, or those with allergies have limited cheese choices. Finding ricotta swaps broadens recipe options.
- Availability issues – Ricotta cheese can be difficult to source depending on where you live. Having backup choices ensures you can still follow recipes.
- Enhancing nutrition – Some substitutes like Greek yogurt or part-skim ricotta offer more protein or less fat.
- Cost savings – Usually pricier than common cheeses, ricotta substitutes provide budget-friendly alternatives, perfect for large recipes.
- Experimentation – Exploring different tastes and textures can make recipes more tailored, unique, or health-conscious.
With so many reasons to use substitutes, having go-to ricotta stand-ins in your repertoire is valuable for every home cook!
An Overview of Ricotta Cheese
To understand the best substitutes available, let’s first examine ricotta itself.
What is Ricotta Cheese?
Authentic ricotta cheese originated in Italy over 2,000 years ago. The term “ricotta” literally translates to “re-cooked” in Italian. This describes the cheese-making process of heating the whey drained from other cheeses to produce ricotta curds.
Typically made from sheep, cow or goat’s milk, high-quality ricotta cheese has a lush creamy texture and signature sweet, mild and slightly tangy flavor. It stays fresh for up to two weeks refrigerated.
How is Ricotta Cheese Used?
Beyond Italian cuisine, ricotta cheese has become popular worldwide in both sweet baked goods and savory dishes. Its smooth and lush texture adds rich note to recipes without overpowering other ingredients.
In cooking, ricotta makes a delicious addition:
- Layered in mozzarella cheese-topped lasagna
- Stuffed into large pasta shells or ravioli
- Added to pizza or flatbreads before baking
- Stirred into dips and salads
- Enhancing the flavor of soups and sauces
For baking and desserts, it brings sweet decadence through:
- Rich cheesecake
- Sweet ricotta pie or pastries
- Cannoli and other Italian treats
- Pancakes, crepes, cookies or bars
- Cupcakes, cake fillings, frostings
With so many sweet and savory applications, having a good ricotta cheese substitute is key for cooks and bakers alike!
Factors in Selecting a Suitable Substitute
When deciding which ricotta cheese stand-in is best for your needs, keep these key factors in mind:
Ricotta imparts a sweet, delicate flavor that plays a supporting role, not overtaking other ingredients. When assessing substitutes, ensure options have a similarly:
- Mild, not sharp, salty or sour
- Sweet, not smoky or umami
By considering flavor notes, you can select options like cottage cheese with comparable mellowness or rule out bolder picks like feta cheese.
Texture and Consistency
Good ricotta cheese substitutes mimic the smooth, creamy curd consistency, described as:
- Creamy – lush, with a full mouthfeel
- Moist – not dense, dry or sticky
- Grainy – tiny delicate curds, not completely smooth
Compare stand-in textures and make adjustments as needed. For instance, creamier Greek yogurt requires thinning to match ricotta’s consistency.
Cooking and Baking Properties
Factor in cooking methods too. Ricotta cheese:
- Retains its shape well once heated
- Does not harden or brown
- Adds moisture without wateriness
- Acts as a subtle binding agent
Substitutes like cottage cheese share these traits. But increased water content from sour cream may compromise texture when baked.
Consider how cooking and baking impact each cheese, and account for differences in your recipe.
Ricotta cheese offers dietary benefits of:
- High protein – excellent source from milk
- Low sodium – moderate at 80-140mg per cup
- Low fat* – Part skim options provide 2.5g or less fat per 1⁄4 cup
- Calcium – 10-15% RDA per serving size
Compare nutrition stats if dietary considerations are vital, and adjust quantities to meet health goals.
Top Substitutes for Ricotta Cheese
Many excellent substitutes for ricotta cheese exist. Let’s explore some top contenders and how they contrast against ricotta for taste, texture and handling.
A favorite swap is mild, versatile cottage cheese. With small, creamy curds in a loose matrix resembling ricotta cheese, it brilliantly mimics aesthetics. Blending or processing reduces curd size for a smoother consistency too.
Taste and texture: Lean, mild and faintly tart ‘sweet milk’ flavor, compared to ricotta’s delicate sweetness. Similar moisture levels.
Cooking notes: Melts smoothly. Excellent binding properties. Ideal for baked dishes like lasagna.
Nutrition: Low fat and high protein options. Less calcium than ricotta.
Best uses: Lasagna, manicotti, ravioli fillings, pizza, savory tarts or pies, cheesecake
Famously luscious cream cheese makes a fine ricotta swap in terms of texture. With added dairy richness, tangy cream cheese imparts more pronounced flavor. Adjust quantities when substituting.
Taste and texture: Heavier, denser and more intensely tangy versus ricotta’s fluffiness.
Cooking notes: Requires moisture adjustment for baking, as it can dry out or curdle if overheated.
Nutrition: Much higher fat and calories than ricotta cheese.
Best uses: Cheesecake, dips, pasta fillings, frostings, sweeter baked goods
Originating from Italy, sweet mascarpone cheese mimics ricotta’s role in Italian desserts. Its velvety texture feels indulgent in both sweet and savory recipes. However, it is far richer than ricotta.
Taste and texture: Uber-smooth, creamy and buttery with a subtly sweet, tangy zing.
Cooking notes: Can overpower more delicate flavors when heated. Stands up to bold ingredients.
Nutrition: Very high in fat and calories compared to ricotta cheese.
Best uses: Tiramisu, ravioli, cannoli, fruit tarts, richer cakes or cheesecakes, compound butters
A protein powerhouse, Greek yogurt offers similar tangy creaminess to ricotta cheese, with a more pronounced tang and thinner texture. Straining thickens consistency.
Taste and texture: Pleasantly tangy, less sweet than ricotta. Naturally smooth yet thinner consistency.
Cooking notes: Prone to curdling or wateriness at high heats. Add towards end of cooking time.
Nutrition: Excellent source of probiotics and protein. Usually fat-free or low fat options.
Best uses: Healthy stand-in for dips, salad dressings, lighter desserts
This fresh Mexican cheese bears an uncanny resemblance to ricotta in crumbly texture, yet boasts a saltier, dairy-forward flavor. Milder when heated but doesn’t fully melt.
Taste and texture: Pleasantly salty, milky flavor. Soft, moist crumbles smooth out when warm.
Cooking notes: Saltiness reduces need for added seasoning. Doesn’t melt fully when baked.
Nutrition: Less fat than ricotta cheese but still relatively high in calories.
Best uses: Enchiladas, tacos, tamales, empanadas, Mexican pasta bakes
For plant-based diets, blended silken tofu mimics ricotta’s lush creaminess. It absorbs flavors of sauces and seasonings well. Crumble for recipes needing ricotta bits.
Taste and texture: Extremely mild flavor (beany if unseasoned) with smooth, creamy texture when blended.
Cooking notes: Works well in nearly all cooking methods. Often benefits from added nutritional yeast and lemon to amplify flavor.
Nutrition: Excellent source of vegan protein and nutrition including iron, magnesium and calcium.
Best uses: Vegan lasagna, ravioli, pizza, soups, baked pastas, dips, desserts, cheesecake
Handy Swaps in a Pinch
While less authentic to ricotta cheese, handy ingredients already stocked in home kitchens can also substitute in a pinch:
If you need ricotta texture fast, sour cream adds instant lush smoothness to recipes, although flavor intensity differs.
Best uses: Dips, sauces, gnocchi, quick breads, filling for crepes or blini
Similar to sour cream, smooth plain yogurt offers an ultra-fast swap aiding moisture and texture, with added tanginess.
Best uses: Quick breads and baked goods, dips, Indian or Mediterranean dishes
With a quick blend to break up texture, soft tofu provides velvety plant-based richness suitable for making dips, fillings, desserts and more in moments.
Best uses: Vegan cream sauces, pestos, cheesecakes, savory pie fillings
Plant-Based and Specialty Substitutes
Those avoiding dairy or seeking less common ricotta swaps can try these options:
Soaked raw cashews blended with lemon juice, water and seasonings like garlic, onion and oregano make a simple vegan ‘cheese’ with mild sweet flavor reminiscent of ricotta.
Best uses: Vegan lasagna, manicotti, calzones, cannoli, cheesecakes
Like cashew ricotta, raw almonds produce a dairy-free cheese when soaked, blended and flavored with citrus juice and your choice of spices.
Canned coconut cream or coconut butter offers lightly sweetened dairy-free creaminess but imparts coconut essence.
Best uses: Vegan pasta bakes, arancini, tropical recipes, desserts, frostings
This old-fashioned thick, tangy soured cream has a lush texture closely mimicking whole milk ricotta cheese.
Best uses: Biscuits, scones, savory dips, compound butters
In a ricotta cheese emergency, this fresh Indian dairy cheese provides subtle mellow flavor and crumbly, dense texture.
Best uses: Curries, palak paneer, samosa fillings, baked dishes
Baking and Cooking with Substitutes Successfully
To ensure best results using ricotta cheese stand-ins:
- Start with less substitute volume than recipe states for ricotta. This allows adjusting for variances in moisture and flavor intensity as the dish cooks.
- Mind other ingredients that interact as cooking progresses. For example, saltiness of feta intensifies alongside tomato sauce.
- If substituting in baked goods, stay vigilant as processes like coagulation or browning happen at different speeds and temperatures for different cheeses. Adjust oven temps or baking times accordingly.
- Mixing dairy and non-dairy substitutes mimics ricotta’s qualities most closely. For instance, combine mashed tofu with Greek yogurt or cottage cheese in lasagna.
- Add extra seasonings, citrus, herbs or spices to amplify or modify flavor with bolder, tangier or drier stand-ins.
- When using unfamiliar substitutes, test a small batch before committing ingredients for larger recipes, to perfect texture, moisture and taste.
Frequently Asked Questions
Still have questions about replacing ricotta cheese successfully? These common queries have you covered:
What’s the closest substitute for ricotta cheese?
Of all options, cottage cheese best mimics ricotta with subtle sweet flavor and adjustable curds blending easily into a lush, creamy texture for recipes.
Can I replace ricotta cheese with cream cheese?
Yes! With similar rich smoothness but tangier flavor, cream cheese makes an ideal substitute in portions up to 1:1 by weight or volume in sweet or savory recipes.
What is the best cheese to use instead of ricotta?
Top contenders include cottage cheese (best overall match), along with Greek yogurt, mascarpone or quark cheese depending on the dish and your flavor preferences.
Can I use yogurt instead of ricotta in lasagna?
You can substitute an equal amount of creamy Greek yogurt for all or part of ricotta called for in lasagna recipes. For best results, strain yogurt first. Mixing with cottage cheese also enhances texture.
What can I use if I don’t have ricotta cheese?
Handy options on hand likely include sour cream, plain yogurt or cream cheese. With some seasoning adjustments, these lend adequate texture and moisture in a last-minute ricotta crisis!
Is there a nut-free, dairy-free ricotta?
Yes! Blended silken tofu or homemade ‘cheese’ made from cashews or almonds makes excellent vegan, nut-free substitutes with a similar mild sweetness.
Ricotta cheese brings an irreplaceable creamy, delicate flavor and texture to cooking and baking that cheese alternatives can only hope to emulate. With so many options to choose from, priority goes to matching ricotta’s role in your target recipe.
Overall cottage cheese makes the closest direct substitution, but alternatives like Greek yogurt, cream cheese or vegan cashew ricotta each provide their own virtues. Keep flavor intensity, moisture, fat content and handling in mind when substituting.
By understanding your options and adjusting flavor or texture as needed, even an unplanned ricotta cheese absence ensures you can keep enjoying beloved ricotta-filled recipes. Grab your favorite substitute and get cooking ricotta-less tonight!