However, they have some key differences in terms of their texture, taste, fat and calorie content, production process, and best uses.
What is Cream Cheese?
Cream cheese is a soft, mild-tasting fresh cheese made from milk and cream. It has a smooth and spreadable texture and is tangy, but not as sharp as other cheeses. Cream cheese has a fat content between 33-55% and gets its name from the cream added to the milk to make it extra creamy.
Cream cheese was invented in 1872 by American dairyman William Lawrence in New York state. He was trying to recreate the French cheese Neufchâtel and added cream to the process. This became the first commercially produced cream cheese in the United States.
Key Takeaway: Cream cheese is an American invention that must contain at least 33% milk fat. It has a tangy flavor and smooth, spreadable texture.
What is Mascarpone?
Mascarpone is an Italian double or triple-cream cheese made from cream and citric acid or vinegar. No starter or cultures are added. The citric acid causes the proteins in the cream to coagulate and thicken. Once the watery whey is drained off, the creamy curds become mascarpone cheese.
Mascarpone likely originated in Italy's Lombardy region during the 16th or 17th century. There are several theories about the name's origin, but one states that it comes from the Spanish phrase "mas que bueno" meaning "better than good."
With 60-75% butterfat, mascarpone has a rich, velvety texture. It is mildly sweet and lacks the tanginess of other cheeses. Its fresh, fatty flavor makes it a perfect ingredient in desserts like tiramisu.
Key Takeaway: Mascarpone is an unripened Italian cheese with a very high fat content, giving it a smooth, rich sweet flavor.
Cream Cheese vs. Mascarpone
|Originated in USA (1872)
|Originated in Italy (16th or 17th century)
|Milk, cream + cultures
|Cream + citric acid
|Used in savory & sweet dishes
|Mainly used for desserts
Key Differences Between Cream Cheese and Mascarpone
Although cream cheese and mascarpone look quite similar, they have some clear differences when it comes to their taste, texture, production method, and best uses.
The most noticeable difference is in the flavor. Cream cheese has a tangy, salty taste from the lactic acid created during production. It is milder than most cheeses.
Mascarpone's flavor is sweet and rich, owing to its extremely high fat percentage. It lacks the sharpness of cream cheese and has a fresh, creamy flavor.
Cream cheese has a smooth, spreadable consistency that works well as a topping or dip. Mascarpone is lighter, fluffier, and more velvety. It has a silky texture similar to whipped cream that melts in your mouth.
The higher fat content of mascarpone (up to 75% butterfat) gives it a richer, more indulgent mouthfeel compared to cream cheese.
Cream cheese is made by adding cultures and thickening milk and cream. This fermentation by the cultures is what makes it tangy.
Mascarpone involves coagulating cream with an acid like lemon juice or vinegar, without the use of bacterial cultures. So it lacks the sharp taste. The watery whey is drained off, leaving behind the unripened curds.
Cream cheese is more versatile since its tangy flavor works well in sweet and savory dishes. It can be used as a spread, in dips, cheesecake, icing, soups, casseroles, bagels and more.
Mascarpone works best in desserts, adding its signature silkiness. Using its mild sweetness, it shines in tiramisus, parfaits, tarts, etc. It is rarely used in savory cooking.
Key Takeaway: The main differences between cream cheese and mascarpone are the flavor (tangy vs. sweet), texture (smooth vs. velvety), production method (cultured vs. acid coagulation) and uses (savory and sweet vs. mainly desserts).
There is a clear difference between cream cheese and mascarpone when it comes to fat and calorie content:
- Cream cheese contains 33-55% milk fat, equaling 343 calories per 100g.
- Mascarpone is higher in fat at 60-75% butterfat, giving it 400 calories per 100g.
So while both cheeses are high in calories and fat, mascarpone contains significantly more fat and calories than cream cheese. It has almost 20% more calories per serving.
Mascarpone also contains less protein than cream cheese, since cream cheese uses milk and mascarpone just utilizes the cream portion.
If watching your fat and calorie intake, cream cheese would be the better choice between the two. However, both should be eaten in moderation as part of a balanced diet.
Can You Substitute Cream Cheese for Mascarpone or Vice Versa?
Because cream cheese and mascarpone differ quite a bit in terms of tanginess, fat content, and texture, they cannot be perfectly swapped without the recipe being affected. However, in a pinch, there are some adjustments you can make:
Substitute Cream Cheese for Mascarpone
- Whip cream cheese until light and creamy. Add 1⁄4 cup heavy cream per 8 ounces cream cheese.
- Can add 1⁄2 tsp powdered sugar if needed.
- Add lemon juice to increase tanginess.
- Best for frostings, fillings, etc. Not ideal in tiramisu.
Substitute Mascarpone for Cream Cheese
- Use equal amount mascarpone measured for cream cheese.
- Add pinch of salt for tanginess.
- Add lemon juice or white vinegar for more bite.
- Mix in bit of flour if needing more structure.
- Only use in desserts and sweets, not savory dishes.
For best results though, find a recipe developed specifically with the cheese you have on hand. Substituting will alter the taste and texture so adjusting other ingredients is needed.
Which Cheese Should You Choose?
Cream cheese is the better option when you want a tangy flavor and ability to use the cheese in savory cooking. With its smooth spreading texture, it works great as a dip, topping, or binder in cooked dishes.
For pure decadence, choose mascarpone. Its velvety texture and slight sweetness adds luxury to desserts without overpowering other ingredients. Mascarpone should be used in sweets where its silkiness can elevate the entire dish.
Are cream cheese and mascarpone the same thing?
No, they are different types of cheese. Both are soft, creamy cheeses, but cream cheese has a tangy flavor while mascarpone is mildly sweet. They have different textures, fat contents, and uses as well.
Is mascarpone better than cream cheese?
It depends on what you're making. Mascarpone has a richer, more indulgent texture that works beautifully in desserts. But for versatility in both sweet and savory dishes, tangy cream cheese can't be beat.
Is mascarpone healthier than cream cheese?
Neither cheese is particularly low in calories or fat. Though cream cheese is a bit lower than mascarpone. For health, both are best consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet.
Can I use cream cheese instead of mascarpone in tiramisu?
You can, but the taste and texture of the tiramisu won't be nearly as light and pillowy. For best results, use mascarpone or find a tiramisu recipe developed specifically with cream cheese.
Is mascarpone better for frosting cakes or desserts?
Yes, the naturally sweeter and silkier mascarpone works beautifully in frostings and desserts. Its high fat content makes it perfect for decadent cakes and pastries.
Cream cheese and mascarpone are delicious soft cheese options to keep on hand for all your cooking and baking needs.
Cream cheese adds tang and versatility, working in dips, cheesecakes, icings, and more.
Mascarpone provides extreme richness and body, perfect for elevating desserts like tiramisu or fruit tarts.