You can absolutely make delicious, creamy homemade labaneh—a Middle Eastern savory yogurt spread popular in Israel—in your Instant Pot, and it's even easy. You can use any yogurt with live, active cultures as a starter, or, if it's available to you, start with store-bought labaneh.Yum
- Choosing a starter culture for homemade labaneh
- Step 1: Heat the milk to 180F / 82C (5 minutes)
- Step 2: Cool the milk to 115F / 45C and add the labaneh culture (30 minutes)
- Step 4: Culture the labaneh (10 hours)
- Step 5: Strain the labaneh (8 hours)
- Looking for more Israeli salads + starters?
- 📖 Recipe
Labaneh is the hummus of the dairy world, drizzled with plenty of olive oil, sprinkled with its own magical spices—za'atar and/or sumac—then scooped up with pita at the table. It's also wonderful spread inside laffa and other sandwiches. In Israel labaneh a common supermarket item, of course, and in many parts of the US, you can find great-quality labaneh at standard or specialty markets. (See my Israeli Ingredients 101 for more info on locating a kosher brand in the US.) But if it's not sold near you, or you want to make an extra special, extra creamy batch to serve at a gathering, it's surprisingly easy to make homemade labaneh in a dairy Instant Pot using the "Yogurt" function.
Choosing a starter culture for homemade labaneh
Okay, this sounds harder than it is; it's as easy as buying whatever yogurt you usually buy at the supermarket! But a few details for the curious:
When culturing your own yogurt at home, starting with different yogurt cultures—like Greek vs. French-style—will give you somewhat different results. However, as you can see from the nutrition panels on my container of (Fage brand) Greek yogurt and (Kayoun brand) labaneh, the live cultures are virtually identical, except for the order, which I'm not sure if it indicates the relative amounts. (Bifidus and bifidobacterium are different names for the same thing.) I'd venture a guess that what makes labaneh so distinctive includes the milk base used (it includes some cream for extra richness), the salt and lemon juice added (which make it distinctly savory), and the texture, accomplished by straining the yogurt (thicker than Greek yogurt, even). So you can probably use whatever plain yogurt with live, active cultures you already have or usually buy. You can check the cultures listed on your yogurt in comparison to mine to gauge the degree of difference.
I have not experimented with propagating my homemade labaneh culture—that is, using a bit of the last batch to make the new batch—so I'm not sure how it would work. It may be something that you're interested in trying if you'd like to keep labaneh around but don't have access to store-bought. I found this article on Cultures for Health about yogurt starter culture a good beginning read (and they even carry kosher certified starters, should you want to purchase one; no affiliation). Although, you can always innoculate a fresh batch of labaneh using whatever yogurt you happen to have in your fridge.
Step 1: Heat the milk to 180F / 82C (5 minutes)
The Instant Pot is already set up to do for you most of what needs to be done to culture yogurt products, like labaneh. If you've never used the "Yogurt" function on your Instant Pot before, don't worry, it's not much of a learning curve. Basically, the "Yogurt" function has a few options that you access by repeat pressing of the "Yogurt" button.
To make this labaneh, you'll want to bring your milk up to temp (180F / 82C) and hold it there for five minutes, which helps get your labaneh thick and creamy. To do this, place the Instant Pot lid on in the unsealed position and press the "Yogurt" button, then press it again, so that "More” under the time counter is illuminated, and then keep pressing until the word “boil” appears in the display (like in the photo at top left). It takes about 15 minutes or so for the milk to reach 180F / 82C, at which point "Yogt" will appear on the Instant Pot's display (like in the photo at top right).
To hold the milk at temp, you'll need to cancel the present yogurt cycle and restart the "boil" function. So, you'll press the "Cancel" button, then repeat exactly what you just did. Remove the lid and set a timer for five minutes, then press "Cancel" again.
Step 2: Cool the milk to 115F / 45C and add the labaneh culture (30 minutes)
The next step is to bring the milk/cream mixture down to 115F / 45C, which you do by removing the inner pot and setting it to cool at room temperature on a cooling rack for about half an hour. If you don't have a thermometer, you want to look for the milk to be hot but not scalding to the touch. If a bit of film forms on the top of your milk, it should be easy to skim it off with a spoon or ladle.
Then, you'll ladle a small amount of the warm milk/cream into a separate bowl and whisk in a bit of store-bought plain yogurt. When it's well-blended, pour it back into the inner pot with the rest of the milk mixture.
Step 4: Culture the labaneh (10 hours)
Now it's back to the Instant Pot to make use of a different part of the yogurt cycle. This time, after inserting the inner pot back into the Instant Pot and closed the lid, again unsealed, you'll select "Yogurt." This time, though, you'll press only until "Normal" is displayed. Then, when the time comes on the display, adjust it down to 10 hours. After the 10 hours have elapsed, the display will again read "Yogt."
Step 5: Strain the labaneh (8 hours)
When the yogurt cycle finishes, your labaneh will be fairly loose. To thicken it up so it's the consistency of softened cream cheese, you'll need to strain it in the fridge for 8 hours. To accomplish this, set a strainer over a mixing bowl and line it with cheesecloth. If you use coarser cheesecloth (as is often sold in supermarkets), you'll need at least three layers. If you can, use no. 90 (fine) cheesecloth, available on Amazon and at specialty retailers, which has much smaller holes and is less frustrating to use, although this is not that big a deal for labaneh making.
Squeeze out some cursory liquid as you wrap up your labaneh, then leave the packet right in the strainer to drain for 8 hours or overnight. After the time has elapsed, you can discard the whey (or save it for another use—and if you find a good one, do share!) and stir in the salt and lemon juice. If you'd like your labaneh even thicker, one of the perks of homemade labaneh, you can continue to drain it. In my experience, the vast majority of whey drains out during the first 8 hours, though.
Looking for more Israeli salads + starters?
- Israeli Eggplant Salad with Tahini - Roasted eggplant + seasoned tahini = YES.
- Moroccan Meat Cigars - Here's how to make authentic, grandma-style savory fried pastries full of Moroccan flavors.
- How to Make Creamy, Smooth Israeli Hummus - Obviously we couldn't leave out hummus.
Instant Pot Labaneh (dairy)
- Instant Pot (pressure cooker)
- 4 cups milk
- ¼ cup cream
- 1 Tbsp plain labaneh or yogurt - with live and active cultures
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- ½ lemon - juiced
- olive oil
- za’atar or sumac
- kalamata olives or other black olives
Heat the milk to 180F / 82C (5 minutes):
- Pour the milk and cream into the inner pot of the Instant Pot and place the lid on top, without sealing.
- Press the "Yogurt" button, then press it again, so that "More” under the time counter is illuminated, and press until the word “boil” appears in the display. The Instant Pot will bring the milk/cream up to 180F / 82C, which takes about 15-20 minutes.
- When the milk reaches 180F / 82C, the machine will beep and the display will read “Yogt.”
- You will now hold the milk at that temperature for 5 minutes, to enhance thickening. To do this, you will restart the yogurt cycle: first, press "Cancel" to stop the current cycle. Remove the lid of the Instant Pot. Now, restart the yogurt cycle: as you did the first time, press the "Yogurt" button, then press it again, so that "More” under the time counter is illuminated, and press until the word “boil” appears in the display. Set a timer for 5 minutes. When the time is up, press "Cancel."
- Cool the milk and add the labaneh culture (30 minutes):
- Remove the inner pot from the Instant Pot and place on a cooling rack. Allow the milk/cream mixture to come down to 115F / 45C, which takes about ½ hour at room temperature.
- Remove any film that has solidified on the top of the milk. Ladle about ½ cup into a bowl and whisk in the tablespoon of labaneh (or plain yogurt). When evenly combined, pour the inoculated milk from the small bowl back into the Instant Pot inner pot with the rest of the warm milk.
Culture the labaneh (10 hours):
- Place the lid on the Instant Pot (unsealed). Press the "Yogurt" button, this time pressing only until "Normal" is displayed. Then, when the time comes on the display, adjust it down to 10 hours.
- When the yogurt cycle is complete and the display reads "Yogt," press "Cancel" to turn off the pot. Remove the inner pot from the Instant Pot. The labaneh inside will be runny; it needs to be drained.
Strain the labaneh (8 hours):
- Place a colander in a large bowl (that will go into the refrigerator to strain). Line the colander with a large square of no. 90 (fine) cheesecloth or several layers of regular cheesecloth.
- Pour or ladle the labaneh into the cheesecloth. Place in the refrigerator to drain for 8 hours or overnight.
- Discard the yellowish whey that has accumulated in the bowl beneath the colander. Stir in salt and lemon juice to the labaneh in the colander. If you'd like your labaneh to be thicker, you can continue to strain it, although most of the liquid will drain out after 8 hours. The finished labaneh should be a spreadable consistency similar to softened cream cheese.
- Transfer to a sealed container and store in the refrigerator.