Where Did Hummus Really Originate?

~ For Chowhound. April 2018.

The brownish paste has become a staple appetizer on most menus, often served as a dip with a side of pita and veggies. It can now be found at American, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern restaurants, but do you know where hummus really comes from?

The Invention of Hummus

Israelis, Palestinians, Egyptian Arabs, Greeks, and other Middle Eastern and Mediterranean countries all claim hummus as “their” dish. Some historians say hummus can be dated to 13th century Egypt, others identify it as hometz from the Hebrew Bible written 3,500 years ago. The truth is, chickpeas have been growing in Turkey and surrounding areas for 10,000 years, which most likely gave way to some form of this dip.

Hummus Wars

Naturally, ownership of the popular chickpea dip started a war between Lebanon and Israel in 2008. Lebanese Industrialists and the government petitioned to recognize Lebanon, not Israel, as the appropriator of hummus, and waged an unconventional war of lawsuits, cook-offs, and competitions. According to CNN, in 2010, Lebanon set the record for the largest plate of hummus at 11.5 tons!

Chef, restaurateur, and cookbook author, Yotam Ottolenghi, writes about the hummus wars in his book “Jerusalem: A Cookbook.” “The arguments never cease. And even if the question of authorship is somehow set aside, you are still left with who makes the best hummus?…It is like the English fish-and-chips shop, a savored local treasure.”

What’s the Difference?

Most recipes for hummus contain the same basic ingredients: chickpeas, tahini (sesame paste), lemon juice, garlic, and salt. Yet a hummus aficionado has preferences of consistency—smooth and fluffy vs. chunky and spicy; temperature—warm, cold, or room temperature; and which condiments to serve alongside—cooked whole chickpeas, rehydrated dried fava beans, spice paste, chilisauce, or just plain. “It’s sort of like Minestrone soup,” says Paul Nirens, founder of GalilEat that runs culinary tours in Galilee. “Every cook has his/ her own recipe. I personally like it not too heavy, with a good amount of tehina, no garlic, and with very little lemon,” following a family recipe of a Christian-Arab grandma of 17 kids in the village of Dir Hanna in Israel.

Turkish, Greek, Israeli, or Lebanese—each culture has their own twist on the recipe. The Turkish chef and owner of Sivas Turkish Restaurants in Atlanta, Georgia adds ice cold water while blending the chickpeas and a little white pepper to flavor his hummus. Sometimes small amounts of Greek yogurt, cumin, and hot peppers can be added, and toppings range from foul (fava beans), to eggs and minced lamb. Hummus has even surfaced to dessert menus. New York-based franchise The Hummus & Pita Co. serves chocolate hummus, cookie dough humus, and cake batter hummus with cinnamon toast pita chips, while Delighted by Hummus’ Snickerdoodle hummus has become all the rave after appearing on the hit TV show Shark Tank.

Cake batter hummus, The Hummus & Pita Co.

The Best Way to Eat Hummus

At the famous Carmel Market in Tel Aviv, you will find a row of hummusias, dedicated hummus cafes open for breakfast until late afternoon, typically run by Mizrahi Jews and Arab-Israelis. These are packed with locals starting at breakfast and crowded out by tourists. Masabacha (or hot hummus) is a full hummus-based meal eaten for breakfast or lunch. A huge portion of hummus is served individually, topped with shakshouka, chickpeas, cumin, paprika, chopped fresh parsley, and a whole brownish looking egg which is boiled in black tea. Custom dictates using raw onion scales to scoop the hummus and biting into long green peppers that are served on the side.

One thing to note is that hummus is traditionally served in a red clay bowl with raised edges, allowing for convenience of scooping. Also, for proper eating etiquette, twist your wrist in a clockwise motion instead of dipping right in.

Make it at Home

No matter where hummus comes from, the important part is using good quality ingredients and making it from scratch. Soak dried chickpeas or garbanzo beans with baking soda overnight to soften them instead of using canned preserved ones. Squeeze fresh lemon juice, mince whole garlic cloves, blend in tahini paste, extra virgin olive oil, and kosher salt. Balance the measure of each of the ingredients based on your personal preference. The result will be wholesome hummus that is rich in protein, iron, vitamin C, vitamin B6, fiber, and potassium.

~ Written for Chowhound. April 2018.

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