Greek yogurt was our gateway drug. Found on less than 1 percent of menus a decade ago, it grew an astonishing 1,500 percent over the next decade as American consumers discovered that yogurt could be thick, rich… even luxurious. Now consumers are seeking out even thicker and richer options, leading to the growing popularity of skyr, the tangy yogurt from Iceland, and labneh, a Middle Eastern creation that’s so thick and rich it straddles the line between yogurt and cheese. In fact, labneh has grown nearly 70 percent on menus in the past four years and Haiku, Datassential’s machine learning prediction engine, foresees it growing another 20 percent in the next four due to its versatility, high protein content, and continued consumer interest in Middle Eastern cuisine.
It helps that labneh appears more often in savory applications at a time when chefs are increasingly leveraging yogurt on the savory side of the menu. Traditionally used as a spread or dip with a drizzle of olive oil and herbs and spices like za’atar and mint, labneh is often served as part of mezze platters in the Middle East. But in the U.S. I’ve seen labneh appear on a number of over-the-top, Instagramable crudites platters or plant-based “charcuterie” boards. Here in Chicago, I’ve had it on the table-filling crudites board at plant-focused Clever Rabbit, where dollops of labneh joined a riot of colorful vegetables ranging from golden beets to heirloom carrots to whole ears of elote-style corn, while the house-made labneh at Chef CJ Jacobsen’s Ēma gets crunch from Marcona almonds and charred sweetness from roasted grapes and burnt honey. Meanwhile, on a trip to Zahav in Philadelphia, we started with the fried cauliflower served over labneh with mint and Aleppo pepper.
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