Discover Lban or Laban (Middle Eastern Buttermilk)

The Different Uses for Buttermilk in Moroccan Cuisine

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Buttermilk (Lban). Photo © Christine Benlafquih

Lban (also spelled laban or لبن in Moroccan and Standard Arabic) is buttermilk. Throughout the Middle East and North Africa, lban might also be used to refer to other fermented dairy beverages, yogurt, or yogurt drinks or even cheese-like labneh. Alternate spellings for lban include lben, laben, and leben.

In Morocco, both traditional buttermilk and cultured buttermilk are available and are most often made with goat's milk rather than cow's milk.

Traditional Buttermilk

Traditional buttermilk is produced when whole cream is churned to make butter. The newly formed butter separates from the liquid, which is the buttermilk. This resulting buttermilk is a slightly acidic thin liquid that happens to be low in fat (since most of the fat is now in the butter). Traditional buttermilk is not sold commercially in the United States but is available in Northern Africa and India as well as South Asia and Northern Europe, where people drink it and use it in soups and sauces.

Cultured Buttermilk

Cultured buttermilk, on the other hand, is made by fermenting milk, preferably fresh to retain beneficial bacteria but most often pasteurized. The low-fat or nonfat milk is fermented to turn the sugars into lactic acid. The resulting liquid is usually thicker than traditional buttermilk and is tart in flavor because of its increased acidity. This is what is sold in cartons among the dairy products in markets across the United States. Traditional and cultured buttermilk cannot be used interchangeably as their consistency and taste differ dramatically. 

In traditional Southern cooking, cultured buttermilk often gets used as a meat marinade and as a leavening agent in pancakes and baked goods such as the region's famous flaky buttermilk biscuits. It's also the signature ingredient in ranch dressing and can be used to make ice cream, pie, and sweet-tart cakes.

Uses of Lban

Lban is enjoyed as a beverage in Morocco. It is particularly popular following a meal of couscous, when it might be served alone or even mixed into plain couscous. Lban is also an ingredient in many dishes, often those with lamb, cucumber, and barley; recipes such as kibbee bi laban (a rice ball), shorbah-Ib-laban (lamb or beef steaks with yogurt sauce), and sheesh burruk (stuffed dumplings in a lban broth), all call for lban.

Nutritional Benefits of Lban

Lban is low in calories and fat, with no saturated or trans fat and no cholesterol. It is free of sodium and contains 3 grams of protein and 5 grams of total carbs per serving. It is also a good source of calcium, delivering 17 percent of the recommended daily allowance.

Lban produced without pasteurization, a method of high-heat sterilization that kills any bacteria in the milk, is also a good source of probiotics, the gut-friendly microbes that cultivate healthy digestion. The process of pasteurization kills them along with any bacteria that could lead to illness, so commercially available buttermilk in the United States does not have this benefit.