Ricotta vs. Cream Cheese (also Philadelphia)

Last Updated on February 17, 2023 by Aaron

Hello food lovers! If you’re anything like me, then you’re always on the lookout for new ingredients to add to your favorite dishes. In this post, we’re going to talk about two popular dairy products that are commonly used in cooking and baking – ricotta and cream cheese.

Quick Answer: Ricotta is an Italian whey cheese made from cow, sheep, or goat milk, with a grainy and slightly sweet flavor. Cream cheese, on the other hand, is an American cheese made from a blend of milk and cream, with a smooth and tangy taste. While they are both soft cheeses, ricotta is typically used in savory dishes like lasagna, while cream cheese is often used in sweet desserts like cheesecake or bagel.

Let’s dive deeper into the differences between these two kinds of cheese. In the following table, we have outlined the key differences between ricotta and cream cheese:

CriteriaRicottaCream Cheese
OriginItalyUnited States
TextureSoft, grainySmooth, creamy
FlavorMild, slightly sweetTangy, slightly salty
Milk UsedCow, sheep, goat, or Italian water buffaloCow
Fat ContentLower fat (5-15%)Higher fat (33-35%)
UsesSavory and sweet dishes, such as lasagna, cannoli, and cheesecakeMostly used in sweet dishes, such as cheesecake, frosting, and dips
Processing MethodCoagulation of wheyCulturing and blending of milk

What is Ricotta?

Ricotta is a soft, fresh cheese that’s traditionally made from the whey that’s left over after making other cheeses. Therefore, the fat content varies on the milk used. It has a mild, slightly sweet taste and a soft, grainy texture that makes it a versatile ingredient in both sweet and savory dishes.

Ricotta is considerably lighter with lower calories, and the proteins are albumin and globulin. The grainy texture is due to its curds (denatured proteins) being larger and firmer than most other soft cheeses.

An example is the Galbani Ricotta Cheese, Ingredients: Whey, Milk, Vinegar, and Stabilizers (Xanthan Gum, Locust Bean Gum, Guar Gum).

Ricotta is also available in aged varieties. It is a staple in Italian cuisine and is commonly used in dishes like lasagna, stuffed shells, and cannoli. It can also be used as a spread on toast or mixed with honey for a simple and delicious dessert.

What is Cream Cheese?

Cream cheese, on the other hand, is a smooth and creamy uncured fresh cheese with a tangy flavor. It’s typically made from a mixture of milk and cream, to which lactic acid bacteria are added to help it ferment. Unlike ricotta, casein is the main protein.

An example is the Philidelphia cream cheese, Ingredients: Pasteurized Milk and Cream, Whey Protein Concentrate, Whey, Salt, Carob Bean Gum (Stabilizer), Natamycin (a Natural Mold Inhibitor), Vitamin A Palmitate, Cheese Culture. 

Cream cheese is a versatile ingredient that’s commonly used in both sweet and savory dishes, particularly in American cuisine. It’s a staple in classic desserts like cheesecake and frosting, as well as in savory dips and spreads. Cream cheese can also be used as a spread on bagels or toast for a simple and delicious breakfast.

Manufacturing: How It’s Made?

When it comes to how they’re made, the process for ricotta and cream cheese is quite different. Ricotta is traditionally made from whey, which is the liquid remaining after the curds have been removed during the cheesemaking process. The whey is then heated and an acid like vinegar or lemon juice is added to cause coagulation, resulting in soft, grainy cheese. Ricotta can be made from cow, sheep, or goat milk, depending on the region and tradition.

In contrast, cream cheese is made from a mixture of cow milk and cream, stabilizers are often added resulting in a smooth, spreadable cheese. Cream cheese typically has a higher fat content than ricotta, with a range of 33-35%. The lite version is around 15% fat content. You can read more about cream cheese and how it’s made in this post.

Nutrition: Which is Healthier?

In terms of nutrition, both ricotta and cream cheese are good sources of protein and calcium, but they do differ in their fat and salt content. Ricotta typically has a lower fat content and salt content than cream cheese, making it a better option for those watching their intake of those nutrients.

In the following table, we have compared the nutritional values of 100 grams of ricotta and cream cheese:

NutrientRicottaCream Cheese
Fat (g)1134
Saturated Fat (g)720
Protein (g)86
Carbohydrates (g)75
Sugar (g)43
Sodium (mg)105368
Data obtained from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) FoodData Central: Ricotta, Cream cheese.

As you can see, ricotta has fewer calories and less fat than cream cheese, and cream cheese has a higher sodium content. If you are watching your calories or fat intake, ricotta might be a better choice for you. Also, if you need a high-protein snack or light meal, ricotta could be a better option.

Uses: Substituting Ricotta with Cream Cheese?

If you’re looking to substitute one for the other, keep in mind that ricotta and cream cheese have different textures and flavors. While they are not interchangeable in every recipe, there are some dishes where one can be used in place of the other with good results. Here are some tips and ideas:

  1. Cheesecake: While cream cheese is the traditional ingredient in cheesecake, you can use ricotta for a lighter and less tangy Italian-style version. It can be drier and less creamy. Use the same amount of ricotta as you would use cream cheese, but add a bit of lemon zest to balance out the mild flavor.
  2. Dips & Spreads: Cream cheese is often used as a base for savory dips like spinach dip or buffalo chicken dip. You can substitute ricotta for a grainier and less dense texture, it will still work well. Mix ricotta with herbs, spices, and equal amounts of Greek Yogurt for a better result.
  3. Frosting: Cream cheese frosting is a classic topping for cakes and cupcakes. You can use ricotta for a lighter and fluffier frosting, but it can be too thin. Mix ricotta with powdered sugar and vanilla extract, and add a bit of heavy cream to get the desired consistency.
  4. Lasagna: Ricotta is the traditional cheese used in lasagna, but you can substitute cream cheese for a thicker and tangier version. You may want to add a bit of water. Mix cream cheese with egg, parmesan cheese, and herbs, and use it as a filling for your lasagna layers.

When substituting ricotta for cream cheese, you might need to adjust the recipe accordingly. For example, you might need to add plain yogurt or cottage cheese to balance out the flavor, or use an equal part of cream cheese lite or Neufchâtel cheese.

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