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Hummus: is it Israeli or Arab?

Many Israelis, and many people around the world, believe hummus to be an Israeli food. On the other hand, when they seek to eat good hummus, most Israelis will go to an Arab hummus place. So who invented it? Who “owns” hummus? That’s not what’s important.

If you’d tell a Syrian, a Palestinian or an Israeli Arab, that hummus is an Israeli dish, they will probably laugh at your face. After all, hummus is eaten all over the middle-east, and is a part of most traditional Arab cuisines. Also, hummus is considered an ancient food, and Israel only exists since 1948.

One can argue that chickpeas are known to man for over 10,000 years, long before there where Israeli’s and Arabs. The Greeks loved it and the Romans made various dishes with it. Staple food or not, hummus was not mentioned in any ancient documents we know of.

Technically, the first documented use of chickpeas to make something that roughly resembles modern hummus, was in cooking books from the first centuries of the second millennium, none of which attributes it to a specific cuisine (and they may all picked the recipe up in the holy land, which was obviously a highly popular place during the time of the crusaders and Salah ad-Din).

The use of chickpeas to make a traditional dish called “Hamitz” was mentioned in the Talmud, some 1000 years earlier. But nobody said anything about tahini there – and there are many dishes that has chickpeas in them and aren’t hummus. We only call it “hummus” when it’s Hummus bi’Tahina (which is also pronounced very similarly in Arab and in Hebrew) – hummus with tahini.

And then there’s the theory dating hummus invention around 1000BC, claiming it was mentioned in the bible. That’s a great story, of course, but you can hardly call it a proof. In my experience, most Israelis who hear about it, say it’s a funny story and that they still think hummus is Arab.

Who owns hummus? Who cares.

Anecdotes aside. The simple fact is that hummus has been an authentic member of several Arab cuisines, for the past few generations at least, and maybe much longer than that. We don’t know.

It’s also pretty clear that hummus first became popular in Israel in cities where there’s a large Arab population, such as Jaffa, Haifa, Jerusalem and Acre (Akko). Unsurprisingly, the oldest and most popular hummus places in Israel (such as Jaffa’s Abu Hassan, Said and Issa in Acre, Lina in Jerusalem etc.) are Palestinian.

So even if there where a real doubt about who invented it, there’s hardly an argue about who makes the better hummus. Actually, it is rare to find Israeli’s, Jewish, Muslim or Christians alike, arguing about the question “who invented hummus”. This was always a much less important question than “who’s hummus is best”.

Hummus is only one of numerous dishes in the traditional Palestinian cuisine. Yet, this is the most important dish that Israelis and Palestinians share, and even eat together, maybe because the two peoples love it equally. So it is accurate to say that hummus is in the heart of a shared food culture, which is beyond nationality and politics, and this is how it should be kept IMHO.

I say: may the hummus flourish regardless of who makes it and who eats it – and who the hell cares who made it first. Lets not argue about it’s origin. Better to make it one of the things we do agree upon.

8 Comments on Hummus: is it Israeli or Arab?

  1. I love hummus. I miss it so much. I’m from the Levant. I’m now in japan for long time. Can’t find hummus here… aarrrggg.

  2. Humus is a middle eastern dish, It originated with Arabs. It is NOT Israeli. They can claim it all they want but it’s the Palestinian presence that influenced the Israelis to make and eat Humus.

  3. Cynthia,
    Arabs are not the only Middle Eastern people. Jewish communities in the Levant have also eaten hummus. It is not uniquely Israeli. But neither is it solely Arab.

    • Shooky Galili // June 4, 2016 at 5:59 pm // Reply

      Evan & Cynthia –

      Jewish people from the diaspora who immigrated to Israel, always brought their food culture with them. Sometime it even included foods that are unique and fascinating, but in many cases they are foods well known in the places where they came from. So if an Israeli that is from Eastern Europe likes to eat Schnitzels or, Goulash and Lecso, this doesn’t say much about who “owns” the recipe. It does say a lot about identity and how it’s complicated relation to food, though.

  4. The question of origin is a tricky one..while hummus may be an acquired food from another culture, it is not anymore Jewish than pita bread is. Arabs can be given credit for both.

    • Shooky Galili // October 8, 2016 at 7:22 am // Reply

      As a Matter of fact, Jenny, pita bread isn’t Arab as far as we know. The traditional arab flat bread has no pocket, and it is almost certain that the name “pita” is Greek. I do believe hummus to be an arab food though.

  5. Ive never heard Israelis claiming its their invention. They adapted it into their cuisine, just like Arabs adapted pre Muslim Egyptian and Greek foods into theirs. Calm the F down.

  6. Ha, Never heard of Hummus coming from Israelis.

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