Tangy, creamy, and incredibly versatile, labneh is swiftly becoming an essential food item on grocery lists worldwide. This yogurt-like staple has deep roots in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern culture and is well on its way to being one of the trendiest recipe items of 2024. Get ahead of the curve and learn more about labneh and all the delicious ways you can indulge, from simple spreads and dips to stunning labneh balls. 

What Is Labneh?

Labneh, also called labneh cheese, is a creamy, tangy spread or dip hailing from the Mediterranean region. Low-fat and high-protein, labneh is an excellent and exciting alternative to Greek yogurt, sour cream, or cream cheese. Its thick and creamy texture puts it in high demand for spreading on pita bread or dipping anything from veggies to crackers. Like many cultured dairy products, labneh is packed with probiotics, making it not only an incredibly delicious snack but also a major benefit to your gut health. 

Labneh’s flavor is smooth, clean, and mildly tangy. This delicate flavor profile makes labneh extremely versatile in the kitchen. Many labneh fanatics love this creamy treat as a light but satisfying breakfast item topped with honey, nuts, fruit, and seeds. One serving of labneh has a powerful five grams of protein, setting you up for a successful morning. Others enjoy labneh as a mezze, or appetizer, served with pita alongside other classic Mediterranean dips and spreads such as hummus or baba ganoush. Increasingly popular graze boards are putting labneh at center stage in a shareable snack that’s so good it’s hard to share. 

Don’t get along with dairy? Well, there is good news for the lactose-intolerant foodies out there. Labneh has very low lactose levels, especially compared to its frequent substitutes: sour cream or cream cheese. Now you can indulge guilt-free knowing that labneh loves your gut just as much as you love labneh!

Labneh is not just confined to traditional Mediterranean dishes. It’s making its way into fusion cuisine, blending beautifully with various culinary traditions. Chefs around the world are using labneh in innovative ways, incorporating it into dishes like tacos, pizzas, and sauces. The mild tanginess of labneh complements spicy and savory flavors, making it an excellent multidimensional ingredient in fusion cooking.

Are you convinced yet? Labneh might just be the perfect fridge staple! Whether you have a monster sweet tooth or you’re a sucker for savory flavors, labneh offers endless opportunities for culinary creativity, all the while promoting a healthy digestive system and providing a healthy boost of energy. 

The Cultural Significance of Labneh

Labneh is more than just a food item; it’s a cultural icon in the Mediterranean diet. Its origins can be traced back centuries when it was prized not only for its taste but also for its longevity. In times before refrigeration, labneh’s fermentation process allowed it to be stored for extended periods, making it a staple in the diets of travelers and a key ingredient in many traditional dishes. Today, it continues to be a symbol of hospitality and is often present at gatherings and celebrations. 

​​Health Benefits of Labneh

Aside from being a delicious addition to meals, labneh boasts numerous health benefits. Its high protein content makes it an excellent choice for muscle growth and repair, while its rich dose of probiotics supports a healthy gut microbiome, enhancing overall digestive health and mental health. Labneh is also a good source of essential vitamins and minerals, including potassium for nerve and muscle health, calcium for bone health, and vitamin B and carbohydrates for energy. Furthermore, its low lactose content makes it a suitable option for those with lactose intolerance, ensuring that more people can enjoy its benefits without discomfort.

How Is Labneh Made?

Labneh is a simple, wholesome cultured dairy product. Though many companies have developed various production shortcuts to produce products similar to labneh, authentic Mediterranean labneh is made with simple ingredients. Yaza, a premier labneh maker based in New York, is a company that cuts no corners when it comes to their high-quality product. Just like traditional labneh, Yaza uses only salt and pasteurized cultured milk in their plain labneh recipe, without the use of fillers or preservatives. Traditionally in the Mediterranean, labneh uses goat dairy. Staying true to time-honored traditions, Yaza uses only local milk from dairy herds in the Catskill Mountains of Upstate New York. The milk is cultured by heating it to just the right temperature and adding fresh probiotic cultures. The milk is strained, similar to the traditional method, to adhere to health guidelines. Never adding starches, gums, or milk powders. This process removes the whey, which is the cloudy yellow liquid protein produced in cheesemaking. The remaining product is labneh, your next favorite food. Adhering to traditional methods means that labneh from Yaza maintains maximum probiotic goodness and truly authentic flavor so you can take part in this ancient culinary tradition from your own dinner table. 

In today’s world, where consumers are increasingly conscious of their food’s environmental and ethical implications, Yaza stands out as a sustainable brand, ensuring minimal environmental impact, and supporting local agriculture. Additionally, the simplicity of its production process means a lower carbon footprint compared to more processed dairy products. They make labneh that’s not only good for you, but good for the planet as well!

What Are Labneh Balls?

Look out, butter boards! Labneh balls are here to steal the spotlight at the next decadent gathering! These compact, delicious morsels elevate standard labneh plating and bring a pop of colorful curiosity to your table. Labneh balls are rolled and pressed labneh, tossed in various spice mixes, and plated or jarred in oil for both a culinary and visual feast. The spice mixes can be sweet, savory, or spicy, whatever suits your fancy. Labneh balls can be coated in aromatic dried or fresh herbs such as mint and oregano, and spice blends like za’atar. Many traditional recipes call for red pepper flakes, sumac, and sesame seeds. And for a sweet twist, some enjoy labneh balls coated with cinnamon and nutmeg and served with honey. Each ball is unique in its flavor and together these colorful treats create a gorgeous serving display. 

Labneh Ball Recipe

To make your own labneh balls, start with labneh from Yaza, choosing from one of their three delectable flavors: plain, za’atar and olive oil, and spicy chili. Scoop the labneh onto a cheesecloth, tie a knot at the top, and let it sit for 24hrs in the fridge to drain a bit more of the whey liquid. Once it becomes firm enough, shape the labneh into balls and let them rest a further 24hrs in the fridge. Then, choose your coating – chili flakes, za’atar, lemon zest, or even sweet spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. Roll each of the labneh balls in your chosen coating until fully covered. Place these balls in a glass jar and cover them with extra virgin olive oil. This essential detail not only adds depth to the labneh ball flavor but also preserves the labneh balls for future dinner soireés. Refrigerate for a few hours before serving. They will also stay fresh at room temperature due to the fermentation process. Serve these jewel-toned beauties as a part of a mezze platter, as a garnish on salads, or simply enjoy them as a healthy snack. They’ll look almost too lovely to eat, but these irresistible delicacies won’t last long on your dinner table!

What Else Can I Do With Labneh?

Labneh’s versatility doesn’t end with spreads, dips, or labneh balls. It can be a game-changer in your kitchen with its multifaceted uses. For a quick and healthy dressing, whisk labneh with a touch of water, garlic, and herbs, perfect for drizzling over salads or grilled vegetables. It can also be a base for creamy pasta sauces, offering a healthier alternative to heavy cream. In baking, labneh can be used to create moist, tangy cakes or as a filling in pastries. Its thick texture makes it an excellent substitute for mayonnaise in sandwiches and wraps, adding a nutritious and flavorful twist. The possibilities with labneh are endless, an inspiration for your culinary imagination.

A Bright and Tangy Future

As labneh’s popularity continues to soar, it’s become a must-have in every food enthusiast’s kitchen. Its versatility, health benefits, and cultural significance make it a unique and valuable addition to various cuisines. Whether you’re a seasoned chef or just getting culinarily curious, experimenting with labneh opens up a world of culinary possibilities. So, next time you’re at the grocery store, remember to add Yaza labneh to your cart. It might just become your new favorite ingredient!