Labneh is a delicious, creamy dip made from strained cow's yogurt. It's popular in Middle Eastern cuisine and has a consistency similar to cream cheese. This homemade labneh recipe walks you through making labneh using milk and a starter yogurt culture. If you are short on time and want to simplify things, make labneh using store-bought yogurt.
For sour labneh, I recommend using this recipe. For "not sour" labneh, make labneh using store-bought yogurt.
I grew up on homemade labneh, baba ganoush, and tabbouleh; pretty much every Lebanese kid does. And after so many years of eating labneh (and labneh sandwiches), I finally asked my father how to make our family's homemade labneh recipe. It's simple and doesn't need any fancy equipment. This is how my Tayta Lily used to make it.
What I Love About This Dip
Yes, you can buy labneh from the grocery store, but it doesn't taste the same as the homemade version. I love that this recipe uses very few ingredients (milk and yogurt). I know exactly what I put into my labneh, and I use higher quality ingredients, like organic milk and organic yogurt.
Another thing I love about this creamy labneh dip recipe is there's a shortcut for making labneh using organic store-bought plain yogurt. It's a big time-saver for busy weeknights, making this recipe one step (straining the yogurt).
Labneh dip is a great appetizer for dinner parties. It can be dressed up with some za'atar and extra virgin olive oil or eaten with olives, fresh mint, and raw vegetables like sliced cucumbers and ripe tomatoes. My favorite way to eat labneh is in a labneh pita sandwich.
Labneh is made with two simple ingredients: milk and yogurt. The best-tasting labneh from scratch uses full-fat milk and full-fat yogurt.
The "starter yogurt" is just plain unsweetened yogurt you can buy from the grocery store. I have not tried using Greek yogurt as a starter yogurt, but if you do, please drop a comment at the bottom of the post and let us know how it went.
How to Make Labneh From Milk
Homemade yogurt is really easy, but it takes a day (or more) to make. Once the homemade yogurt is made, all we need to do is strain the yogurt.
Step 1: Make Homemade Yogurt
Put the milk in a large pot. Set heat to high until the milk just starts to boil. Immediately remove from heat. This is important! You have to watch the milk, otherwise, you will run the risk of the milk boiling over and making a mess. We boil the milk to kill competing bacteria so that the yogurt cultures can grow.
Let the milk cool down to a temperature at which you can stick your finger for 10 seconds. If the milk is too hot, come back until you can keep your finger in the milk for 10 full seconds. Back then, they didn't have fancy kitchen gadgets to read temperatures.
Mix the starter yogurt with 2 cups of warm milk (from the pot) in a separate bowl. Mix until smooth. Add the milk and starter yogurt back to the pot full of milk.
The ratio is 2 cups of yogurt to a gallon of milk. So if you want to make less yogurt, you can use 1 cup of yogurt for a half-gallon of milk.
Cover the pot and wrap it with a towel. Let the yogurt sit at room temperature for a full 24 hours.
Hint: If you want more sour labneh, let the yogurt sit at room temperature for up to 48 hours.
Step 2: Strain the Yogurt
The next day, check that the yogurt has formed. Place a thick paper towel (add two layers of the paper towel) in a strainer. Place the strainer on top of a bowl. Add the yogurt on top of the paper towel or cotton cloth fabric.
Strain the yogurt for around 6 to 8 hours. The yogurt can be strained at room temperature or in the fridge. Liquid whey will accumulate in the bowl below. It has a yellowish color which is perfectly normal.
The labneh is ready once it sort of sticks together. Labneh has more moisture than cream cheese, yet less moisture than sour cream. Serve labneh with a pinch of salt, a drizzle of olive oil, and some pita chips.
Store-Bought Yogurt Vs. Homemade Yogurt
If you use store-bought yogurt to make labneh, the labneh dip will not have a sour flavor. If you make your own homemade yogurt, the labneh will be sour. The benefit of using store-bought yogurt is the time savings.
What Is the Amount of Labneh?
My family makes a large quantity of labneh every two weeks (about 2 gallons of milk worth). After the yogurt is strained, it reduces by about half of its size. Here is a table that helps in determining how much to make.
|Starter Yogurt||Milk||Labneh Amount|
|1 cup||half-gallon||4 cups|
|2 cups||1 gallon||8 cups|
|4 cups||2 gallons||16 cups|
Tips and Tricks
- Use a thick paper towel or cotton cloth. If you have access to a thick paper towel, which is most of the paper towels in the US, you can use paper towels to strain the yogurt. If you have thin paper towels where you live, use a thin cotton fabric like a large cotton napkin greater than 20" (51 cm) in diameter or several layers of cheesecloth.
- Use full-fat milk and yogurt. Labneh will not taste the same with reduced-fat milk and yogurt! If you want to make labneh lower in fat, don't make the yogurt from scratch. Just buy a tub of fat-free yogurt from Costco and strain it at room temperature for 6 to 8 hours.
- Add the starter yogurt at the right temperature. This is the key to making homemade yogurt successfully. The milk cannot be too hot or too cold.
- Mix the starter yogurt with some milk first. For ultra-smooth and creamy labneh, mix the starter yogurt with equal parts warm milk before adding it back to the pot of milk.
- Boil the milk attended. Do not boil the milk unattended. It will boil over and burn.
Variations and Substitutions
In Lebanon, some homes use a cloth sack and hang the labneh cheese above the kitchen sink to drain. This removes the need for a bowl to collect the whey as the labneh strains.
- Add crushed garlic cloves to make garlic labneh.
- Sprinkle some za'atar and olive oil on top to make za'atar labneh.
- Add some dried mint, lemon zest, and a pinch of salt.
- Serve labneh dip with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and fresh herbs like fresh mint or parsley.
- Labneh is perfect for crudité platters. Just serve with various fresh veggies, hot peppers, and toasted bread (or pita chips).
Use a large stovetop pot to bring the milk to a boil. Use a strainer and large bowl to strain the labneh using thick paper towels or a large cotton cloth.
Store the labneh dip in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. Labneh cannot be frozen.
Labneh dip and Greek yogurt are similar in texture but differ in taste. Both are strained yogurts, however, Greek yogurt was traditionally made with goat's milk whereas labneh was traditionally made with cow's milk. Another difference is the process for straining the different yogurt. Labneh yogurt has a tangy flavor because it is made and strained at room temperature.
Labneh is made from cow's milk yogurt.
Labneh is strained yogurt. If making homemade yogurt from scratch, use full-fat milk and full-fat yogurt. Strain the yogurt at room temperature for 6 to 8 hours.
Labneh is similar to cream cheese. It's easier to spread and lighter in calories and fat. It doesn't contain any additives like store-bought cream cheese-like carrageenan.
Labneh can be purchased in Middle Eastern grocery stores or in some WholeFoods and Central Market supermarkets. If you can't find labneh, it's easy to make at home.
If making labneh from scratch using milk, the homemade yogurt will be sourer than store-bought yogurt. Some people add lemon juice to labneh made from store-bought yogurt, so the labneh is sour.
Join the Tribe
- 1 half-gallon of whole milk
- 1 cup of full-fat yogurt
Make Homemade Yogurt
- Put the milk in a large pot. Set the heat to high until the milk just starts to boil. Immediately remove the milk from the heat. This is important! You have to watch the milk, otherwise, you will run the risk of the milk boiling over and making a mess. The reason why we boil the milk is to kill competing bacteria so that the yogurt cultures can grow.
- Let the milk cool down to a temperature that you can stick your finger in for 10 seconds. If the milk is too hot, then come back until you can keep your finger in the milk for 10 full seconds.
- Mix the starter yogurt with 2 cups of warm milk (from the pot) in a separate bowl. Mix until smooth. Add the milk and starter yogurt back to the pot full of milk.
- Cover the pot and wrap it with a towel. Let the yogurt sit at room temperature for a full 24 hours. For more sour yogurt, let the yogurt sit at room temperature for 48 hours. Don't exceed 48 hours.
Strain the Yogurt
- Place a thick paper towel (add 2 layers of the paper towel) in a strainer. Place the strainer on top of a large bowl. Add the yogurt on top of the paper towel or cotton cloth fabric. The bowl will capture the whey as it drains from the yogurt. The whey is a yellowish color which is perfectly normal.
- Strain the yogurt for around 6 to 8 hours. You can strain the yogurt at room temperature or in the fridge, whichever, you prefer.
- The ratio is 2 cups of yogurt to 1 gallon of milk when making the homemade yogurt.
- The yogurt reduces by half once it's strained. So expect to have about 4 cups of labneh for a half-gallon of milk.