The word paneer is of Persian origin.[1] The Turkish word peynir, the Persian word panir, the Azerbaijani word pendir, and the Armenianword panir (պանիր), all derived from paneer, refer to any type of cheese.[2] The origin of paneer itself is debated. Vedic IndianAfghanIranian and PortugueseBengali origins have been proposed for paneer.[3][4]

Vedic literature refers to a substance that is interpreted by some authors, such as Sanjeev Kapoor, as a form of paneer.[3] According to Arthur Berriedale Keith, a kind of cheese is “perhaps referred to” in Rigveda 6.48.18.[5] However, Otto Schrader believes that the Rigveda only mentions “a skin of sour milk, not cheese in the proper sense”.[6] K. T. Achaya mentions that acidulation of milk was a taboo in the ancient Indo-Aryan culture, pointing out that the legends about Krishna make several references to milk, butter, ghee and dahi (yogurt), but do not mention sour milk cheese.[7]

Based on texts such as Charaka Samhita, BN Mathur wrote that the earliest evidence of a heat-acid coagulated milk product in India can be traced to 75-300 CE, in the KushanSatavahana era.[8] Sunil Kumar et al. interpret this product as the present-day paneer. According to them, paneer is indigenous to north-western part of South Asia, and was introduced in India by Afghan and Iranian travelers.[9] For the making of what is today called chhana, the Manasollasa recommends the addition of a sour substance (even sour curds from a previous operation) to boiled milk, after which the precipitate was separated, the cheese then mixed with rice flour and shaped into various balls, and then deep fried to make sweets. National Dairy Research Institute states that paneer was introduced into India by Afghan and Iranian invaders.[10]

The Portuguese may have introduced the technique of “breaking” milk with acid to Bengal in the 17th century. Thus, Indian acid-set cheeses such as paneer and chhena were first prepared in Bengal, under Portuguese influence