What Is Labneh? This Creamy Spread Is Mediterranean Cuisine's Best-Kept Secret

If you're a fan of Greek yogurt, just wait until you try its cool (and creamy) cousin.

Plain yogurt is a staple in my kitchen. It makes a great breakfast with berries and granola, a dip for veggies, or even a healthy substitute for sour cream on taco night. But if you're like me and usually opt for a thick yogurt, it might be time to give labneh (pronounced like leb-nay) a try. Similar to Greek-style yogurt, it's creamy and tangy, only much thicker. Here, you'll learn what labneh is exactly and how to start using it in your favorite recipes. Prepare to meet your new yogurt obsession.

What Is Labneh Cheese?

Frequently used in Mediterranean cuisine today, labneh is made from fermented milk (plain yogurt) that's been strained for several hours to remove all the moisture. It's actually so thick, it resembles a consistency similar to whipped cream cheese. Labneh can be consumed raw or cooked into dishes. It's also packed with protein and gut-healthy probiotics.

overhead of Labneh in a bowl with olives and herbs
Drizzle labneh with olive oil, herbs, and spices to make an easy dip for snacking. NatashaBreen/Getty Images

How to Make Labneh

Many grocery stores now carry labneh in the dairy section, but it's actually simple to make at home. All you need is whole milk yogurt (cow's milk is more traditional, but goat's milk is another option) and a little salt. No need to use Greek-style here, just plain, unsweetened whole milk yogurt will do the trick. Stir together ¼ tsp. salt for every 1 cup of yogurt you use and place in a colander lined with cheesecloth over a bowl. Cover it with plastic wrap and set it in the fridge to let the whey (the yellowish, watery liquid that will be leftover in your bowl) strain for 24 hours. The next day, simply remove the whey and use your labneh however you like (more on that below). That's it! For more detailed instructions, here's a labneh recipe from our sister site, Cooking Light.

Labneh Cheese Origin

The word labneh is derived from the word "laban," which means white or milk. The birthplace of labneh isn't entirely certain, but labneh cheese (aka labneh for short) became most well-known in Levant (a region that includes modern-day Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Jordan, and Israel) and it's been a fundamental ingredient used in this region's cuisine for thousands of years. Historically, it's said countries with hot climates such as Egypt didn't have the means to preserve fresh milk, making it curdle into yogurt and then forming a soft cheese.

Substitutes for Labneh

With the texture of cream cheese, it's a pretty safe bet you could use it interchangeably with labneh. Smear it on your morning bagel or mix up your cheesecake recipe by giving it a tangy twist. Similarly to how you could substitute Greek yogurt for sour cream, you could also sub it for labneh.

Our Favorite Recipes Using Labneh

According to a post by Suzy Karadsheh on The Mediterranean Dish, "good labneh is as non-negotiable as good hummus" in Middle Eastern homes. The traditional way to enjoy labneh is by simply spreading it on a plate along with a drizzle of quality olive oil ($9, World Market) and a sprinkle of Za'atar spice (a traditional Middle Eastern savory spice blend). Serve with veggies and pita chips for an easy snack. You can also use labneh as a topping for your favorite grilled meats, add it to your charcuterie board, or try it in our delicious vegetarian lasagna recipe. The options are virtually endless.

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