Strained yoghurt, yoghurt cheese, labneh, or Greek yoghurt is yoghurt which has been strained in a cloth or paper bag or filter to remove the whey, giving a consistency between that of yoghurt and cheese, while preserving yoghurt’s distinctive sour taste. Like many yoghurts, strained yoghurt is often made from milk which has been enriched by boiling off some of the water content, or by adding extra butterfat and powdered milk. However most strained Greek yoghurts have no added fats and are made of real milk.
Yoghurt strained through muslin is a traditional food in the Levant, Eastern Mediterranean, Near East, and South Asia, where it is often used in cooking, as it is high enough in fat not to curdle at higher temperatures. It is used in both cooked and raw, savoury and sweet dishes. Due to the straining process to remove excess whey, even non-fat varieties are rich and creamy.
In Western Europe and the U.S., strained yoghurt has become increasingly popular because it is richer in texture than unstrained yoghurt, but low in fat. Since the straining process removes some of the lactose, strained yoghurt is lower in sugar and carbohydrates than unstrained yoghurt.
In fact, most of the recent growth in the $4.1 billion yoghurt industry has come from the strained yoghurt segment. In the West, the term “Greek yoghurt” has become synonymous with strained yoghurt due to successful marketing by the Greek Fage brand, though strained yoghurt is a staple in many countries besides Greece, and some Greek yoghurts are not strained. “Greek-style” yoghurts are similar to Greek strained yoghurt, but may be thickened with thickening agents, or if made the traditional way, are based on domestic (rather than Greek) milk.
Strained yoghurt (“στραγγιστό γιαούρτι” straggistó giaoúrti in Greek) is used in Greek food mostly as the base for Tzatziki Dip and as a dessert, with honey, sour cherry syrup, or spoon sweets often served on top. A few savoury Greek dishes use strained yoghurt. In Greece, strained yoghurt, like yoghurt in general, is traditionally made from sheep’s milk. More recently, cow’s milk is often used, especially in industrial production.
Similarly, strained yoghurt is widely used in Cypriot cuisine not only as an ingredient in recipes, but also on its own or as a supplement to a dish. In Cyprus, strained yoghurt is usually made from cow’s milk.
Strained yoghurt or labneh (also known as labni, lebni or zabedi) is popular in the Levant and the Arabian Peninsula. Besides being used fresh, labneh is also dried then formed into balls, sometimes covered with herbs or spices, and stored in olive oil. Labneh is a popular mezze dish and sandwich ingredient. It is also a traditional Bedouin food. The flavour depends largely on the sort of milk used: labneh from cow’s milk has a rather mild flavour. Also the quality of olive oil topping influences the taste of labneh. Milk from camels and other animals is used in labneh production in Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries.
While Bedouin will also eat fresh labneh, they also produce a dry, hard labneh that can be stored. For that, the strained labneh is pressed in its cheese cloth between two heavy stones and later sun dried. This dry labneh is often eaten with Khubz (Arabic bread) in which both the freshly made bread (khubz) and the labneh are mixed with some water, (some amount of animal fat) some salt and then mashed into a porridge. The food is then rolled into balls by using the (right) hand and eaten like kabsa. It is similar to the stringed, dry yak cheese cubes made by Tibetan nomads.
In the West Bank, Gaza and amongst Israeli Arabs and the Palestinian diaspora, labneh is a common breakfast food typically eaten with Arabic flat bread, olive oil and oftentimes mint. It is usually lightly salted and eaten in a fashion similar to Hummus in the region; being spread on a plate with thicker edges and a more shallow centre, drizzled in olive oil. It is often served with an assortment of pickled vegetables, olives, Hummus and cheeses as part of a meal. Armenians who historically lived in Palestine have adopted the food as well as the name and mode of consumption. Like the Bedouin Arabs, Palestinians also press and dry strained cheese as a mode of preservation and flavour enhancement. Like in Jordan and amongst the Bedouins, Palestinians often use this product to make Jameed for use in a common national dish shared with Jordanians called Mansaf – Lamb in Yoghurt Sauce.
In Jordan, labneh is very common for breakfast, sandwiches and mezze too. It comes in two forms: soft labneh, which is manufactured and sold in large quantities at supermarkets, and hard or authentic labneh, which is sold in small shops in towns such as Jerash, Ajloun and Kerak. Each town makes labneh in small factories which also make other dairy products like Jameed and salted White Cheese. Authentic labneh is stored in olive oil, which adds to its flavour.
Lebanon and Palestine
Laban (yoghurt), labneh (strained yoghurt), Yoghurt, strained or not, is an important element in Levantine cuisine, eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. One famous Levantine dish is labaneh mixed with crushed dry mint leaves, garlic, salt and sliced cucumbers. Laban can be eaten sweet or salted, and used for stuffed vegetables, meat stew, and fried kibbe.
Labneh is most commonly made of cows’ milk, which is available all year; it is also made from goats’ milk from April to September. It is either eaten alone or used as a filling for pita sandwiches. It can also be served as a light dish at dinner. Labneh is used as a spread on pita bread or Marouq bread. Olive oil, vegetables, mint, thyme, garlic or other spices are usually added to dishes and sandwiches. Labneh bil zayit (labneh in oil) is also very popular because the cheese can be kept for over a year. However, as it ages it turns slightly more sour. This is prepared by rolling the labneh into little balls the size of a nut and filling a jar with olive oil then filling it with the labneh balls. Labneh malboudeh is drained labneh.
In Egypt, yoghurt, both strained and unstrained, is called “zabadi” (“laban” meaning “milk” in Egyptian Arabic); some may call the strained variety “labnah” under Lebanese influence. Both strained and unstrained yoghurt are eaten with accompaniments both savoury (e.g. olives and oil) and sweet (e.g. honey) as a snack or breakfast item.
In Syria it is eaten for breakfast with olive oil, cheese, olives and bread.
Labneh (known as lebni in Armenian) is popular among Armenians expatriates from Levantine countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Palestine.
A thicker, higher-fat variety known as süzme yoğurt (strained yoghurt) or torba yoğurdu (bag yoghurt), is made by straining the yoghurt curds from the whey. In many houses yoghurt is put in a cotton cloth bag which is tied to the tap above the basin. As the whey leaves the yoghurt, the strained part becomes much thicker. Süzme yoghurt can be kept in fridge for longer periods safely such as 2-3 weeks. Depending on how it will be consumed, a little water can be added before use. Strained or Süzme yoghurt is used in Turkish mezzes and dips such as Haydari as well as a long-life version of the regular yoghurt.
Strained yoghurt in Iran is called Mâst Chekide and is usually mixed with water for various dishes. In Northern Iran, Mâst Chekide, is a variety of kefir with a distinct sour taste. It is usually mixed with fresh herbs (pesto-like) puree called delal. Yoghurt is a side dish to most Iranian meals. Strained yoghurt is used as dips and various appetisers with multitudes of ingredients: cucumbers, onions, shallots, fresh herbs (dill, spearmint, parsley, coriander), spinach, walnuts, zereshk, garlic, etc.
The most popular appetisers are spinach or eggplant borani, Mâst-o-Khiâr with cucumber, spring onions and herbs, or Mâst-Musir with wild shallots.
In Afghanistan and other Central Asia (i.e., Tajikistan and Uzbekistan), a type of strained yoghurt called “Chaka” is eaten.
In south Asia (primarily India and Pakistan), regular unstrained yoghurt (dahi or curd), made from cow or water buffalo milk, is often sold in disposable clay pots (called matkas). Kept for a couple of hours in its clay pot, some of the water evaporates through the clay’s pores. But true strained yoghurt (chakka) is made by draining dahi in a cloth.
In the southern states of India – Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu – the final course of lunch and dinner is a dish of steamed rice mixed with dahi.
Shrikhand is an Indian dessert (eaten with poori) made with strained yoghurt and sugar, saffron, cardamom, diced fruit and nuts mixed in. It is particularly popular in the state of Gujarat and Maharashtra, where dairy producers market shrikhand similar to ice cream. In Pashtun-dominated regions of Pakistan a strained yoghurt known as chaka is often consumed with rice and meat dishes.
The United States and Canada
Strained yoghurt (often marketed as “Greek yoghurt”) has become popular in the United States and Canada, where it is often used as a lower-calorie substitute for sour cream or crème fraîche.
Strained yoghurt is called jocoque in Mexico. It was popularised by local producers of Lebanese origin and is widely popular in the country. The name jocoque is Nahuatl, and is also used for an indigenous cultured milk product similar to labneh.
Strained yoghurt, in full-, low-, and no-fat versions, has become popular in Northern European cookery as a low-calorie alternative to cream in recipes. It is typically marketed as “Greek” or “Turkish” yoghurt.
In Denmark, a type of strained yoghurt named ymer is available. In contrast to the Greek and Turkish variety, only a minor amount of whey is drained off in the production process. Ymer is traditionally consumed with the addition of ymer drys, a mixture of bread crumbs made from rugbrød and brown sugar. Like other types of soured dairy products, ymer is often consumed at breakfast. Strained yoghurt topped with muesli and maple syrup is often served at brunch in cafés in Denmark.