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Where does Hummus come from?

posted on: Jun 8, 2021

The Origin of Hummus by Arab America contributing writer/Christian Jimenez

There are many famous middle eastern dishes known across the world today, from baba ghanoush to falafels.  However, where does hummus come from? Does it come from the Arab World or somewhere else?  This article will attempt to list some of the best theories regarding the famous side dish of hummus.

Conflicts Over the Origin of Hummus

Where does Hummus come from?
Enormous Bowl of Hummus in Lebanon
Image by cnn.com

In the current day, hummus is a dish enjoyed by people of different races and cultures worldwide, and it is well known as a famous Middle Eastern dish.  However, the food’s origin and who made it is a controversial and still mostly unknown topic.  Today people as diverse as Arabs, Jews, Turks, Indians, and even Nepalis claim to have given birth to this world-renown dish and that their version of it is the best.  This debate has led to conflict between these groups and nations over who created it; one example of this began in 2008 when Lebanon challenged Israel over the origin of the dish and claimed that it was cultural appropriation.  They have also been upset that hummus was being labeled as an Israeli dish in the Western World.  In fact, the Lebanese have even accused Israel of copyright concerning hummus and demanded that the EU recognize hummus as a Lebanese instead of an Israeli dish.  According to the Guinness World Records, this issue soon led to the famous hummus wars where Lebanon and Israel competed to create the largest dish of hummus in the world.  The Lebanese attacked first in 2009 by creating a plate of hummus weighing around 2,000 kilograms then the Israelis created one that doubled that size at around 4,000 kilograms.  The Lebanese then decided to end the contest by creating a dish at around 10,500 kilograms in 2010.  With all of this fighting between nations outside and within the Arab World, I will now list some of the theories of where the dish comes from. 

History of the Etymology/ Ingredients of Hummus

Where does Hummus come from?
Image of the chickpea plant by dreamtime.com

To explain the origins of hummus, there needs to be a definition of hummus, which is a dish consisting of chickpeas, tahini, garlic, and lemon, or there could be other ingredients added as well. One possible way to discover the origin of hummus is to discover where the word comes from.  The current theory of the etymology of hummus is that it comes from the Arabic word for chickpeas, “hommos.”  However, there are some people who say that hummus comes from the Hebrew word of “hometz” meaning vinegar, but the Arabic origin for the word seems to be the most credited one so far.  Another possible factor is to discover where the cultivation of hummus’s main ingredients originated.  The crushed chickpeas, which is arguably the most important ingredient, has been discovered to date to 10,000 years ago in Turkey, which could mean that the origin of hummus originates in this country.  However, the cultivation of chickpeas has been practiced for thousands of years across a large area that stretches thousands of miles long from the Middle East all the way to India, and simply because they cultivated chickpeas first doesn’t mean that they were the first to make the recipe for hummus.  Meanwhile, the food that makes up tahini, sesame seeds, have been cultivated in the Middle East region since 2500 B.C.E. in Mesopotamia, and the ingredient and process of making tahini dates back to 13th century cookbooks in the Arab World.  

Current Theories Over its Origins

Where does Hummus come from?
Image of hummus in a red bowl by dedemed.com

Many countries claim the origin of this dip, but it most likely originates somewhere in the Middle East.  In addition to other nations mentioned, Greece also claims the dish of hummus.  However, it is most likely that the dish was transmitted from the Middle East towards Greece and then the rest of Europe instead of originating there.  Meanwhile, the Jewish claim comes from a verse of the Tanakh which says to come eat and dip the bread into the “hommetz.”  However, as mentioned previously, the word means vinegar in Hebrew, which means that hummus most likely didn’t originate with the Jewish people.   While, the people of India most likely didn’t make it either due to the first records of tahini originating in the Middle East and not in India.  This fact means that the origin is most likely with the Arab people, but which Arab country could claim hummus.  Below, I will list some of the most popular theories for its origin in the Arab World, but the argument is still ongoing so these theories might change over time.

This first theory is that hummus originated somewhere in Lebanon as Charles Perry, who is a medieval Arab food historian, said that Lebanon does have a serious claim on the dish.  The reason for this is that Lebanon, in the city of Beirut, has a vibrant culinary history where they use many different ingredients and spices such as lemons as well as olive oil, so it is possible that the Lebanese experimented with these ingredients to make hummus as well.  The second theory is that hummus comes from Damascus, Syria but not because of the recipe for hummus, but the bowl that it is served in.   Today hummus is traditionally served in a special type of bowl, whose importance is that its edges are used to whisk the paste, which ensures that the dip has the perfect texture and is not too loose or stiff when dipping it with bread.   This bowl is also made up of a red clay, which could mean that its origin dates back to the Syrian aristocracy of Damascus during the times of the Ottoman Empire.  Meanwhile, the third popular claim is that of Egypt where the first recipe for a dish like hummus  was found in Egypt in the 13th century with the ingredients being pureed chickpeas, vinegar, and lemon.  However, there is no mention of tahini, so we cannot be sure if this recipe can be the proof that hummus originated in Egypt.   In addition to these three, there are still countless other claims by other Arab countries that are still worth looking into such as Palestine.  However, even though hummus can cause controversy due to its origin and the arguments over its creation, it is still a popular and healthy dish that brings together many groups of people across the globe, especially in the Middle East.

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