If you’re like me, you love the taste of a freshly toasted bagel with a dollop of cream cheese spread thinly across, melting into the porous face. It’s my children’s favorite too, especially on a chilly fall morning with a cup of cocoa.
The only secret? It’s not cream cheese. It’s labneh (also written as labna and labne, depending on where the product’s origin).
I learned about labna living in Cyprus. My daughter was a toddler when we moved to the island. She loved cream cheese. I would complain to fellow expats about the lack of cream cheese on the island. Finally, a Cypriot friend who had studied, worked and lived in the US for many years suggested I try their variation: labne. My entire family was pleased with the revelation. My daughter got her fresh, toasty bread with a “cream cheese” schmear. My husband (who is Cypriot) was kind of surprised I hadn’t heard about labne before.
Shortly after the revelation, I visited my parents one summer with my two small children in tow. I asked my mom (who is of Egyptian and Greek descent) if she had ever heard of labneh. She opened up her refrigerator and presented me with a large jar of what appeared to be white ping pong balls floating in a vat of olive oil. Mom and Dad had known of this Lebanese form of eating labneh for years and it was one of their favorites! I tried it immediately. Who knew yogurt and olive oil could be so scrumptious?
Labneh is a Middle Eastern yogurt spread. It comes packed with protein and probiotics. Made by straining yogurt to remove excess water and whey, labneh has a slightly tangy taste. On a Lebanese table, it is made into little balls and soaked in olive oil. On a Turkish table, it is served like a yogurt, drizzled with either olive oil, mint and as a dip, or with fresh, organic honey as a dessert.
Labneh is a fantastic substitute to cream cheese. The reasons my family and I choose labneh over cream cheese:
- Better consistency. Rather than coming in a rectangular block, labneh is creamier, softer and more easily spreadable
- Filled with probiotics because it is made from Greek yogurt!
- Great source of protein
- Longer shelf-life: cream cheese gets moldy after a couple of weeks. Because of the live bacteria and probiotics, a tub of labneh can last weeks
- More versatility: I use labneh as a cream cheese substitute on bagels and to make cheesecake. However, it is lovely as a spread with mint and olive oil sprinkled in. Served with warm pita or lavash bread, and add it to your cheese plate when dinner guests come over. Likewise, for breakfast or for dessert, add swirls of cinnamon and honey and enjoy as a tasty treat
Regular cream cheese (per 2 Tablespoons) has 80 calories, 7 grams of fat, 2 grams of carbohydrates. Regaular Labneh has 60 calories, 6 grams of fat and 1 gram of carbohydrates. Doesn’t sound like much of a difference? It adds up if you use in cooking! Add to that the probiotic benefit and it’s an overall healthier alternative to cream cheese
Have I convinced you to at least try labneh? For more information on ways to use labneh, check out http://www.thekitchn.com/why-labneh-should-be-just-as-popular-as-yogurt-yogurt-culture-219005 for ideas.
I still haven’t figured out why Labneh hasn’t taken off in the United States. It is a far superior, healthier alternative to cream cheese, with a slightly tangier taste.
Like natural yogurt went on to be a huge phenomenon over in the West and replaced mayonnaise as a far healthier alternative, I predict labneh will do the same to cream cheese and will become more mainstream over the coming years.
Finding Labneh can be a little tricky. Most grocery stores in the US don’t yet stock it. Visit your local International or Middle Eastern grocer for a tub. Look for the words “Contains Live & Active Cultures” to get the full yogurt benefit of probiotics! For those of you who want to make it at home, take a look at this site for instructions. https://www.thehealthychef.com/2015/04/labna-how-to-make-yoghurt-cheese/ Let me know how it works for you! Maybe one of these days, I will attempt to make it and report back.
Enjoy! I’m always looking for feedback, fellow goddesses! Please drop me a note. I always love hearing from you!
Discover your Inner Aphrodite . . .