FHF Featured in UNWTO’s Regional Report on Women in Tourism in the Middle East

Established by ESDU, The Food Heritage Foundation and its food tourism network (Darb el-Karam), have been featured in the United Nations World Tourism Organization’s (UNWTO) “Regional Report on Women in Tourism in the Middle East.”

Published in 2020, The report maps and examines the participation of women in the tourism sector throughout the region prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The five main areas of focus are: employment, entrepreneurship, education and training, leadership and community.

FHF and Darb el-Karam have been highlighted among several community and society-driven initiatives for empowering women and rural communities and supporting rural livelihoods by promoting tourism and food heritage.

Read the full report here (FHF is mentioned on page 72, ESDU & FHF Rural Tourism Coordinator Petra Chedid is mentioned in Annex 3):

Eat Local

Ambarees an icon of the Lebanese Food Heritage

Labneh (strained yogurt) is a daily food item in the Lebanese diet, cherished by everyone and consumed mainly in sandwiches for breakfast. Labneh comes in various tastes and flavors depending on the method of processing and the source of milk; it can be sweet or sour.

Ambarees, also known as Serdalli ( also pronounced Sirdeleh) or Labnet al Jarra, is a traditional dairy product of the Bekaa Valley and the Chouf area where baladi (local) goats are the main grazing animals. Ambarees consists of fermented raw goat milk in earthenware jars; It develops into a Labneh with a creamy texture and an acidic flavor. The word “Sirdeleh” actually refers to the earthenware jar in which the dairy product is prepared.

Old Ambarees jars dating around 100 years, in Saghbine – West Bekaa

This dairy delicacy is made from raw goat milk, and to a lesser extent from cow or sheep milk, which is poured at room temperature in earthenware containers with a coarse salt, closed, and left for a week to ferment. At this stage, a curd and a liquid forms, the latter being drained from a small hole at the bottom of the jar. The process of adding raw milk, coarse salt, fermenting and draining is repeated until the jar is full. It is then sealed and left to ferment until it reaches the right acidity.

Ambarees labneh almost ready to be consumed

Ambarees is a result of an old and wise traditional knowledge of food and food-ways, a preservation technique that has proven successful over the centuries. The  high acidity and salt concentration of this food product, along with a proper handling by food producers, makes it totally safe to eat.


Ambarees is produced from late March until end of September, when goat milk is abundant, and the water content of the pastures becomes low. Ambarees is highly dense in milk solids, can be preserved for a whole year, and makes for a perfect meal in winter days, often spread on a piece of Saj or Markouk bread, and heated over a wooden stove.

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Freekeh, the mega-grain

Freekeh is the grain that everybody has been talking about lately, and which is expected to take quinoa’s spot around the world, making some people call it “the new quinoa”.

Green wheat fields in the South of Lebanon
Green wheat fields in the South of Lebanon

What is freekeh and what makes it so special?

Freekeh is young wheat that is harvested approximately one month and a half before it matures, between April and May, while the wheat is still green and milky; whereas wheat is harvested towards the end of June in Lebanon. Freekeh was discovered in the Middle East around 2300 B.C and has been consumed as a staple food in this region for centuries especially in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine and Egypt. It has recently gained popularity worldwide for its distinctive flavor and nutritional benefits, making it available today in some restaurants and supermarkets in several countries such as Australia, the US, and different European countries.

The word Freekeh comes from the Arabic verb “Faraka” meaning to rub, and refers to a step in freekeh production when the wheat grains are rubbed to remove their shell.

Harvesting freekeh in Ein Ebel, South of Lebanon ©Rana Tanissa
Harvesting freekeh in Ein Ebel, South of Lebanon ©Rana Tanissa

When harvested, freekeh is tied into piles and left to dry in the sun for 3-4 hours. The piles are then roasted over an open wood or charcoal fire, on the ground, for 10-15 minutes and then stored in the shade for a couple of days. Straw and chaff that were burned during this process are rubbed off, and finally the grain is left to dry for 45 days and is checked for remaining impurities and debris before being ready to be stored and sold. The final product is a firm chewy grain with a smoky flavor that is loaded with nutritional benefits.

Roasting freekeh the traditional way, on the ground ©Rana Tanissa
Roasting freekeh the traditional way, on the ground ©Rana Tanissa

[quote]Harvesting wheat when still young and green, makes this grain higher in proteins, minerals and vitamins than the typically processed wheat, and three times richer in fibers and protein than brown rice[/quote]

Besides its high content in protein and fibers, which increases the feel of satiety for a longer period, freekeh is also a source of iron, calcium and zinc.

In Lebanon, freekeh is produced in the Bekaa valley and the South, from Arsal to Ein Ebel. During the past few years, the Lebanon Industry Value Chain Development (LIVCD) and its partners have been working with several farmer cooperatives in Lebanon to improve freekeh production by automating its production process in order to ensure a high-quality end product that meets the international food safety standards. The newly introduced “roasting machine” avoids contaminating freekeh with soil impurities or other contaminating agents that might jeopardize the safety of this food.

How to cook freekeh?

Freekeh can be cooked in different ways; it is basically used in many traditional Lebanese dishes with meat, chicken and vegetables and even in stuffing. To speed its cooking, freekeh is soaked in water overnight. Today, freekeh has been incorporated in different international salads, risotto and soups. Freekeh is also being included within fine and wedding buffets.

Freekeh with meat, served with nuts and almonds
Freekeh with meat, served with nuts and almonds

Famous Lebanese chefs are promoting this traditional grain around the world by twisting traditional recipes and even creating new dishes based on freekeh.

Freekeh salad by Chef Joe Barza
Freekeh salad by Chef Joe Barza

Why choose Freekeh over Quinoa:

Some of the reasons why we should as Lebanese, and people living in the Middle East, consume more freekeh than Quinoa are related to the facts that freekeh is

  1. Locally produced and hence helps sustain a diverse food system and biodiversity, while supporting local farmers
  2. Higher in fibers
  3. Higher in proteins
  4. Cheaper



Sharing Culinary Heritage in the Arab World

The Food Heritage Foundation in collaboration with KariaNet is on the hunt for traditional recipes in the Arab World.

 To share the specialty of your region, send us a typical recipe from your village or country to be featured on our website and social media platforms!

Send your recipe to with the following information:

  • Name of the recipe
  • Cultural background: tell us the story behind it, if it is prepared for special events, what makes it special
  • Ingredients and total servings
  • Preparation steps and required time
  • And pictures of course! (high resolution)

Every two weeks a recipe will be selected and posted on our social media platforms featuring your name.

For more info contact us on or send us a message on Facebook.

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In the lens of Federica Marsi: Food Tourism in Bekaa

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With Shepherd Boutros Bou Maroun


Reporter Federica Marsi visits Darb el Karam in West Bekaa and interviews hosts about their specializations in Darb el Karam the hopes that the food trail raises in light of the region’s political instability, as part of an article set to be featured in Aljazeera.

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Learning about traditional recipes from West Bekaa with Tony Khoury

After a tour in Saghbine and Ein Zebde, shadowing the shepherd, the farmer, the food producer and visiting the Bed and Breakfast, Federica hails Darb el Karam, leaves with high hopes and with a promise to visit again.

We look forward for her article!

Hosts and local guides

Abla Majed, Niha Al Shouf

We like to nickname her the “Sirdele” lady. A sirdele producer for more than 20 years, Abla never thought that one day she would become a dairy producer! Her husband’s family had been raising and herding goats for generations and once part of the family, she got down to business and excelled in it.


Sirdele in Shouf, a type of labne produced in clay jars, is the result of the fermentation of goat milk with coarse salt over a period of few months. It is also called Ambarees in the Bekaa Valley.

In 2006, Abla went to Torino to take part in the 2nd Terra Madre event by Slowfood International and was hailed for her traditional labne product.

With Abla, you will learn how Sirdele is produced after coming back from a hike with her husband and his goats!

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Goat Labneh Balls


A vital part of Lebanese culinary heritage, labneh is basically the by-product of yogurt straining, where yogurt is placed overnight in a cheese cloth bag, and left to drain its “water”, to form a kind of dense, spreadable cream, which is often adorned with extra virgin olive oil, accompanied by a mix of vegetables mainly tomatoes, cucumbers, mint and olives and  eaten with pita bread. Labneh can be made of cow, sheep or goat yogurt.


Goat labneh is mostly consumed in rural areas. With a stronger and sour taste, goat labne is highly appreciated by villagers and lebanese who have a strong link to rural areas.  Its dense consistency makes it easier for goat labne producers to mold it into small balls and conserve it for the winter season, when goat milk is scarce.