Hummus: Whose Is It?
By: Katie Teague/Arab America Contributing Writer
It’s a classic battle of ownership. The dip that is so good, everyone wants to claim credit for it. Anywhere you go, you’ll find endless brands and variations of a classic dish, but who is actually responsible for it? In this article, we will attempt to track down the origin of the food that has not only swept the world off its feet but also been the cause of tension in the Middle East.
Food is never sedentary. Ever since civilizations have engaged in trade and cultural exchanges, food has been along for the ride. When it comes to hummus, the original path of its movement dates back many years. Unfortunately, there is no exact time or place designated as the ‘hummus capital of the world’. There is, however, a good amount of evidence to suggest that the dish was first served in Ancient Egypt, which is unsurprising considering the Arabic nature of the word (hummus translates to “chickpeas” in English). As trade came into the picture, a blurred line separating nationalistic foods was created. For instance, given their historical trade relations, Arab and Greek foods share many commonalities: both enjoy stuffed grape leaves and baklava, though they go by different names and pronunciations. With a dish as delicious as hummus, however, it would be hard not to ask for the recipe!
In terms of the legume itself, chickpeas started in Turkey over 10,000 years ago. The other key ingredient, tahini, was noted in cookbooks dating back to the 13th century. Eventually, the dish spread to other nations; many of whom claimed it as their own. Israel, for instance, views the mentioning of the dip in the Jewish Bible as proof of ownership. As Diana Spechler explains in her BBC article on the controversial food, “While it’s true that hometz does sound like hummus, there’s also a good reason to believe otherwise: in modern Hebrew, hometz means vinegar,” which is not an ingredient of Hummus.
For all we know, hummus could very well be from anywhere in the Middle East! Within the Arab world, it serves as a symbol of unity and cultural identity. Unfortunately, nominating a hummus mastermind seems to be a never-ending argument showing no signs of resolution. In 2008, the “Hummus Wars” between Israel and Lebanon broke out when Israelis sought to make hummus their national dish. Soon enough, Lebanon struck back with the world’s largest bowl of hummus; a dish sporting 4,532 pounds of goodness. One year later, Israel came out with an even bigger serving, which amounted to four tons and required a satellite dish to hold the spread. Following the pursuit, Lebanon won the world record (a title which they still hold) in 2010 with their plate, which held 23,043 pounds of hummus.
In Palestine, frustration over Israel’s adoption of the dish dates back to the start of Israel as a state. During this time, exchanging food across the border was highly frowned upon, since Israelis chose to keep to themselves and vice versa. Then, as explained in an NPR news article, “by the late 1950s, the Israeli army started serving hummus in mess halls, and soon the average Israeli came to know hummus as an everyday food. As the local fare became more familiar to the Israeli immigrants from Europe, hummus became hip, something young people began to eat.”
Regardless of whoever claims hummus in the Arab World, the dish itself should be utilized as a unifying force. Let us Arab Americans with our friends sit down at a table together to share and enjoy a delightful bowl of hummus!