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.

Traditional and Cultured Buttermilk

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 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 it is drunk as a beverage and used in soups and sauces.

Cultured buttermilk, on the other hand, is made by fermenting milk, preferably fresh 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 and shelved among the dairy products in markets across America. Traditional and cultured buttermilk cannot be used interchangeably as their consistency and taste differ dramatically. 

Lban's Uses

Lban is enjoyed as a beverage in Morocco. It is particularly popular following a meal of couscous where it might be served alone or mixed into plain couscous. Lban is also used in dishes, combining with lamb, cucumber, and barley, and is featured in 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 laban broth).

Nutritional Benefits of Lban

Lban is low in calories and fat, having zero saturated fat and trans fats, as well as no cholesterol. It is free of sodium and has 3 grams of protein and 5 grams of total carbs. With 17 percent, it is a good source of calcium.

Alternate spellings for lban include lben, laben, and leben.