Haleeb or Laban? What’s the difference?

22 Jul

 A mini Arabic lesson…………



When I first started learning Arabic, using the Madinah Books, I learned that milk was laban. Then, browsing through the Hans Wehr dictionary I came across haleeb. At that point I didn’t know what the difference was, if any. Well most of the time we have been overseas we have used haleeb. The other week I got a “sour” lesson that proved to me, the difference between haleeb and laban.


We were at the store and I was at the milk aisle. We had started drinking more milk lately so I was loading up on cartons. The milk is sold in “tetra pak” cartons, box like cartons which do not need to be refrigerated until they are opened. So I bought about four cartons.


Happily that same day, I found Keebler M & M cookies which I hadn’t seen in a while. So we go home eat lunch, and prepare to have cookies and cold milk. My son served me a plate of cookies and brought a nice cold glass of milk. I pick up the milk expecting cold and creaminess (so I took a big sip) and to my dismay what I tasted was a thick, clumpy sour taste..Uggggh! I looked at the carton,—–laban. It was basically like the buttermilk in the United States. So now without a doubt I know, haleeb is the milk you want to buy for cereal and cookies…..


Posted by on July 22, 2007 in Arabic Vocabulary/Spelling


3 responses to “Haleeb or Laban? What’s the difference?

  1. TheLadyOfTheHouse

    July 23, 2007 at 6:18 am

    I’ll help you with understanding this: “Haleeb” is the standard Arabic word for milk and it is used in most of the dialects as well. In Egyptian dialect, though, they say “laban” for milk instead of “Haleeb”. You see Egyptian dialect as the dialect that is most often presented (or mixed in) in books and textbooks because of the large population of Egypt and the fact that Egypt used to dominate the Arabic entertainment industry, still is a major player in the publishing industry, was seen as the political center of the Middle East, etc., etc. So this is why you were initially taught that “milk” = “laban”. In most other Middle Eastern countries, though, and in standard Arabic, “laban” means “yogurt”. What you drank was probably what they call “kefir” in some places (including the US) which is a yogurt drink. It has different names depending on the country. Also, you may come acrosst his, but I don’t know if they eat it in Yemen, but in bilaad ash-shaam they eat strained yogurt called “labneh– we call it “yogurt cheese” in the US. In Syria they mix it with dried mint, salt, and serve it on a plate drizzled with olive oil. YUM.

    Anyway… I digress! Unfortunately many translators and book writers frequently make the mistake of calling milk “laban”. I am constantly correcting translations done for me that refer to what comes from a mother’s breasts as “laban” LOL. 🙂 Unfortunately, because of low levels and poor levels of education in Arab countries, even most educated people (Arabs, I mean) don’t know Arabic well and these kinds of mixups are common.

  2. Umm Junayd

    July 24, 2007 at 7:32 am

    Mashaa`Allaah – great Arabic lesson. I have always called milk haleeb, also.

  3. Abu Rashid

    February 17, 2014 at 6:07 pm

    In the Qur’an, the word milk is laban, there is no higher authority than this.

    Haleeb might be more common in most dialects today, but that’s hardly authoritative.

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