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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.

51 Comments on Hummus: is it Israeli or Arab?

  1. Every time that peace talks with Syria are mentioned, reporters fantasize about eating Hummus in Damascus. Well, one day…

  2. The best hummus foul I had was in East Jerusalem and it rather upset me when the “mehumot” started cause I wanted my hummus!

    Great blog 🙂

  3. Excuse my ignorance but what exactly is “palestinian” cuisine? Is it the thing that was called “syrian cuisine” or “jewish cuisine” before the six day war (i.e. when modern palestinians were invented).

  4. Dear de Vries,

    It is not within this blog mandate to make decisions about other peoples nationalities. Although historically, the Palestinians “invented” themselves in the 1920’s not the 1960’s. But does is really matter? Aren’t they entitled to decide for their own?

    Anyhow, the Palestinian cuisine is not identical either to the Syrian nor to the Jewish cuisine. There are traditional dishes eaten by Palestinians which you don’t find in neighboring countries. It is somewhat similar but hardly identical to the Jewish-Israeli food my family, who lived in Israel for the last 7 generations now, is eating.

  5. Andre Fucs // May 31, 2007 at 2:41 pm // Reply

    I came to this blog with 2 stones and a knife to finish the author of that horrible article that was published on Ynet… but it seems based on your last post, reply to de Vries, that it was a to harsh move and I decided to visit again… at least you know that Palestinian is not identical to the Lebanese and Syrian, Egyptian and Jordanian cuisines. 🙂

  6. Dear Andre,
    The article on ynetnews was based upon a Hebrew version which was translated with some changes to be suitable for the sites’ typical audience. I’m sorry you didn’t like it and it’s good to know you felt better about what you found here.
    We have no interest in making a political issue out of hummus. We really want to make this a peaceful community for all hummus lovers (read our declaration in the about page).

  7. No axe to grind about politics at all, but your main argument against humous being Israeli was “There’s no way it was brought here by European Jews” is plain silly. There were Jews in Israel *way* before any started coming from Eastern Europe, and since chick peas aren’t so common there, there isn’t even any reason to suppose that it would have been the Eastern European Jews who brought it. If it is Israeli (and I have no idea, nor much interest, I just eat the stuff!), then it would have come from Israeli Jews, resident in Israel many centuries ago, not from Eastern European ones.

  8. Dear Fred,
    Whats real silly is you trying to teach middle-east history to me, especially the part about Jews being here for centuries. That’s because:
    a. I live here, I went to school, I learned history and I know the history of my own region very well.
    b. I’m 7th generation in Israel. My ancestors came here about 200 years ago.

    The Actual truth is that until the 20th century the land of Israel was almost deserted. Most of the people who are arguing about this place are descendant of people who came here in the past 80 years. But it is also true that for about 1300 years, there where more Arabs than Jews here. This does not mean anything in terms of who does the land belongs to, of course.

  9. You gotta remember that both Arabs and Jews (in the Middle East) were for a long time ruled by the Ottoman Empire. Whatever group first had chumus, it was probably spread to various places by the Ottoman Turks.

    One thing I can’t stand is when English speakers pronounce it identical to huh-miss : the first syllable being pronounced “huh” as is in “what’d you say?”; the second syllabel, “miss”, as in “polite way of addressing an unmarried woman.” . I’ve heard speakers of three Middle Eastern languages (Hebrew, Arabic, Turkish) pronounce it and none of them say anything near to huh-miss. As a Jew, I prefer the Hebrew pronunciation, but if you’re from a traditional chumus eating culture, use that languages pronunciation. If you’re not, please refer to it as the locals. For English speakers, the Turkish pronunciation is probably the easiest (not to mention, they also use the Roman Alphabet): humus. Pronounced who (question word referring to person) moose (large animal related to deer).

    Enough complaining. With that said, I personally think that the Lebanese have the best. They make a big indentation in the middle and fill it will olive oil and lemon juice

  10. From Humus will come peace.

  11. Israeli’s have no culture. The Israeli’s are stealing the Palestinian culture and lands including the food. But the truth is, Israeli’s are trying to create a culture for themselves that never existed.
    the Israeli’s invaded Palestine and came to Palestine from Europe.

    Sorry but hummus is a very Arabic middle eastern dish and everyone knows that.

  12. John – what you say is interesting. And what about Sepharadic Jews, who lived in Arab countries until the state of Israel was formed – are they from Europe as well?

  13. Hummus, falafel, tabouleh, baba ghanouj, etc. are all Arabic foods. Yes Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews like Moroccan, Tunisian, Iraqi, Yemeni Jews etc. eat those same foods because they lived in Middle Eastern countries and lived among the Arabs. So when they came to Israel, they brought that culture with them along with the cuisine. Same with other Eastern Jews, what about Israeli Persian Jews? They eat Persian cuisine, does that mean that certain Persian foods like ghormeh sabzi for example can be now considered Israeli just because Persian Jews eat it? Or because Persians Jews were living in the Middle East for so long does that mean that the credit for Persian cuisine immediately goes to them?

  14. Nadia –

    I already explained why I think this discussion is pointless.

    But since you seem to have that interest in the origins of these foods, feel free to read the sources I referred in this post and others, as well as the proper entries in any Encyclopedia (hummus, falafel, tahini etc.).

    Since the occupation by the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century, the of the middle-east is mostly populated by Muslim Arabs. Of course, this isn’t the first time the region was concurred by Arab armies. It first happened in the 7th century, than several other times during the middle ages. You can read about it here:

    As far as historians and archeologists can tell, Hummus was first eaten by the Crusaders, falafel by the Copts and tahini comes from east Africa. They where all brought and eaten all around the middle-east at least since the middle ages, which was a time when the region was ethnically and religiously heterogeneous.

    So the culture of the region, including the it’s culinarity, has many roots – including those of the people from which the Arab occupiers occupied these places – because if they were empty you wouldn’t need armies to take it by force.

  15. hummus is`arabic, the word hummus is chickpea in arabic….isrealis took our land and now they want to take our food?

  16. Dana – you seems like you didn’t bother to read the post. BTW, “hummus” is the name of chickpeas in Hebrew too.

  17. dear shooky
    it seems that you are struggiling , it is good to know all about hommus tahina falafel and everything else, plus it is fantastic to know peaple and be as freindly as you could, yet differences in openions are not suppose to be fighting base, weather hummus is arabic or hebrew, chickpeas english or chinees i do not care, all i care a bout is to make a good tahina, to satisfy good peaple like you,
    i am proude of being palestenian but i can be a freind to anyone and respect every nationality on earth, we have been in the occupation now for about fifty years, we live a terripple live compairing to many other countries, but i know who to plame for this,
    the bottom line is love life life loves you.
    love hommus i will make you the best tahina
    thanking you all a rround

  18. Stevestarland // January 24, 2008 at 6:22 pm // Reply

    I agree with the comment from Yochanan on July 18th, Americans are notorius for mispronouncing words from other cultures then adapting the mispronounced word into the “English” language – Americans even mispronounce English (from England) words, then insist people from England speak with an “accent.”
    Another food that is even more mispronounced is tabouleh. How did they come up with the pronunciation “lee” from the letters l-e-h?

  19. You are just too funny when you mention that a discussion is pointless about where hummus originated from. Without caring about the chickpea in general or how people used to eat it once upon the time or the way it was mentioned in the talmud, the hummus you eat origin from arabs. This certain meal was created by arabs and what kind of damn discussion are you talking about. Nothing to be discussed, PERIOD… Pasta is from italy, no one claims anything different because other people used the same ingredients to create a different dish. Im also suprised that nobody mention Lebanon. Hummus is very often attributed to Lebanon,. where the best hummus in the world is and everybody knows it.

  20. That we can make food political is just so poor. Someone said earlier “why not make it one of our agreements.”
    Speculate about it’s history or not we all seem to enjoy it “hummus.” I haven’t a clue from whence it came I am simply glad that it did.
    As far as I’m concerned thank- God for creativity of His people but I thank him above all for the chick-peas, etc. To him alone belongs the glory.

  21. I belive food dont belongs to anyone 🙂 but on the other hand on a text from the article; ” . There’s no way it was brought here by European Jews…”

    I think around 50 % of the population in Israel has middle eastern jewish bakground. it has always been there with the jews like any other people living in middle east..

    anyway.. food is food and everyone creates their own style of something..

    whats next, the war over clothes? 🙂

  22. Where I live, hummus without Olive Oil doesn’t exist. Olives grow mainly in the Mediterranean basin, and anyone MUST try the Olives and Olive oil of south Lebanon, Delicious 😀

    Anyhow, it was in the Levant (currently known as Syria-Lebanon-Palestine-Israel) that hummus has always been eaten, in those small villages where grandmothers make the best food. So if indeed some “israelis” have been in that region ages ago, then they are also the parents of this awesome dish, otherwise they came here lately and making and eating it.

    But REALLY, it doesn’t matter, it’s food, and it’s delicious here because of the nature of the land, it’s amazing what this land produces, in terms of good thinkers and great trees, no wonder all god messengers came from here, and no wonder it’s a conflict zone !

  23. pupularity of hummus is not a country wise thing, here in nablus, palestine we have one or two special hummus makers, you might not fined the same hummus anywhere in the world, the same story can be true for lebanon and israel, or anywhere else. the acceptance of taste deffeirse from a place to another, like in india they love spicy food, yet we dont. therefore for a good evaluation for the best hummus in the world i would suggest a worldwide compitition, the winner will carry the belt of hummus and he can assume that he is the first to make hummus, and this could be every four years.

  24. I think to properly ask this question you need a clear idea of what makes a food a national dish. I don’t think it’s to do with who invented it, or ate it first. I’m Scottish, and one of our national dishes hagis was probably invented by the English. I don’t think that stops it from being Scottish. What seems to be important is that people of that nationality eat it, have a history of eating it, and consider it to be a part of their culture. On these terms I think both Isrelis and Arabs can say that the dish is part of their national cuisine. There isn’t anything wrong with that – many countries share distinctive dishes such as Pakistan-India or Norway and Sweeden.

  25. so what yall trying to say is humus is an israeli dish?
    thats retarted thats like saying a taco part of an israeli dish

  26. Hummus is Lebanese no doubt ,
    every country tried to have their own version of Hummus , and I tried most of them , the Lebanese was is the best(maybe because we Invented it ?) the first canned hummus was made by a lebanese company named Cortas in 1956, Lebanon is filing for the trademark to the hummus and Tabbouli…….

  27. R Mc D thanks for the comment, i would go with you, and i would say that quality of tahini what makes it special, if you could make good tahini i would call it the fantastic scottish tahini, who found it is dead, we have to make sure that we make a good tahini to respect the founders of tahini, and to give our consumers the best and healthiest food, naturality of sesamy seeds, and cold graunding makes the richiest tahini ever.
    sandy thanks for the comment , lebanone has a special food, we all like it.
    jabbathanks for the comment, nice to have you.
    have nice himmous made from the best tahini.
    love to all

  28. Ahahaha… Jews acting oh so stereotypical, humus is a wonderful metaphor, next thing you know they will trick a powerful country to support their occupation of humus. Maybe prop settlements to garnish the humus. Just remember that falsehood by its nature is meant to perish.

  29. I live in Greece and have noticed that many greek dishes (which the greeks swear are greek) are actually similar (but not exactly the same) as other dishes from around the mediterranean. I think hummus is a regional dish rather than a national one. Here they also make pastes that go with certain foods, and some islands actually serve something quite similar to hummus made with fava – but with olive oil not tahini. Like Falafel, the greeks also like to mash up vegetables (spinach, tomatoes,or zuchini)and pulses(lentils), mix them with other stuff and fry them up into delicious little patties or balls. People cook with the stuff that grows best in the region so I imagine chickpeas have around in the Levant and the Med. forever.. Mashing and mixing stuff and frying it seems to be a mediterranean favourite preparation method. I don’t think anyone can deny that the greeks have been living around here for donkey’s years? Of course semitic peoples (Arabs and Jews) have been living around the levant for thousands of years all the way back to Mesopotamia – isn’t that where Abraham came from? Perhaps, as other people have mentioned over the years on this blog it is time to celebrate the commonalities.

  30. But people LOVE conflict and arguing! It makes them feel like they’re contributing to something great. They feel as if their resolve is being tested, and their ego is challenged. Not many things are more intimate than an argument or a conflict. It’s one of the reasons why war will never disappear from humanity. Hummus….it tastes awesome!

  31. Twilight // May 2, 2010 at 8:13 pm // Reply

    Dear Shooky,

    I sincerely thank you for providing an insightful look into “Hummus” As a history buff, and more importantly, not given into emotional frenzy, I appreciate your calm resolve in responding to the various comments. As an Israeli you show a tasteful disposition in responding to even comments that are, quite obviously, deliberately designed to “ruffle your feathers.”

    Keep going…good luck!


  32. Where does the “dish” of fish and chips come from? England, right?. Wrong. Portuguese Jews brought it to England, when they were expelled from Portugal. Foods travel and change, as do languages.

    As for the pro-Arab commentators hysterically claiming that the Israelis stole their land, and now their food, I would say this: Arabs come from Saudi Arabia. They “spread out” all over the Middle East conquering the local populations, forcibly converting them, destroying their religions and cultures and languages. For example, the copts, the marronites, the berbers, the kurds, and so on. Today this process is going on in Darfur. Also Arabs and other Muslims forcibly converted the Jews they found living in Palestine. It is known in Israel that there are Arab Muslims who are descendants of Jews, i.e. they themselves claim this. So please learn some of your own history before you accuse people of stealing.

    • @anon – as a matter of fact, the Muslims rarely tried converting Jews to Islam. The golden age of Judaism in Spain, for example, was under Muslim governance, and the persecution started only when Spain and Portugal were occupied by the Christians. In the 12 century, Jews actually fought with Saladin against the crusaders.

  33. Hummus makes me happy, and my tummy glad,…..its soooooo delicious!!!!! that should be the end of this silly blog discussion. I LOOOOVE HUMMUS!!!!! YUMMY!!!

  34. I stumbled upon this blog, having a Lebanese neighbor who taught me how to prepare and love this wonderful dish. I only wanted to know how if you promounced it as she did-(somewhere between a “who and a hum”). Upon reading it is clear to me why, during my entire lifetime, the middle east has been in turmoil of some kind…bicker bicker bicker!!! Your food is delightfully tasty…my mouth waters at the mere thought of kibbe (sp?) and falafel in that marvelous cucumber sauce! Put down those guns, stop arguing about bordersor whatever, and join together manufacturing your wonderfully delicious foods, unique to your region, and most interesting to ours —- and make a small fortune! No one here wants to cook anymore for many reasons, so we would ALL buy your products! You become rich, we become fat and happy. I’ve resolved the conflict in the Middle East….I’ll become the “Hummus Hero”!

  35. Holy moly! i just became aware that this is a sore spot for people in the region. hbo show called hung has a funny little bit on there with arab and israeli both trying to convince ray that hummus belongs to their country and forcing him to choose a side. here in southern states of the usa we stew our beans till theyre really thick then flavour with garlic salt oil lime herbs etc. then we eat it with flatbread which the mexicans call frijoles and tortillas. i hope they dont get angry at us and fire off an international lawsuit. the commonality of our cuisine has nothing to do with theft of culture but with natural resources available to the region. btw pasta is NOT from italy. also complaints about english speakers pronunciation of huh miss is amusing. if arab speaking countries cant agree on a common pronunciation then there can hardly be a correct one. i have a feeling that the complaints are from people whos pronunciation of english isnt perfect either.

  36. Also fish and chips from portuguese jews.. seriously? fried fish are eaten worldwide and chips (potatos) are from america. fish and chips were eaten by native americans for thousands of years before any portuguese ate a potato. curious what my israeli friends who insist latkas are jewish have to say about this. im often served tomatoes peppers and squash in traditional palestinian or lebanese cuisine. wonder if these people realize how recently these veggies were “stolen” from americans

  37. Hummus is Arabic. PERIOD. Israelis have no real culture, no national food…nothing is authentically theirs…not even their land.. Their solution to everything is to steal and claim it to be “originally” theirs. So shameless.

    • Shooky Galili // January 14, 2014 at 10:35 am // Reply

      You know Lisa, this is interesting – the things you say are exactly what right-winged extremists in Israel say, only with “Israelis” instead of “Palestinians”.

      If you ask for my personal opinion, than yes – I do think hummus is Arabic. But if you want to make a claim about Palestinian right over the land, than you should consider the fact that even the word “Palestinians” is no more than 150 years old while “the land of Israel” is mentioned in literature over 2000 years old.

      I’m no extremist, so I do think Palestinians should have a state of their own as part of a “two state solution”. But opinions such as yours make it harder for me to convince other Israeli’s that such a solution is even possible.

  38. I LOVE Ala’s idea (from four years ago) of a hummus competition. An international gathering where everyone shares their version of hummus. The differences could be used as an opportunity to learn from one another and about one another’s cultures, and to celebrate the diversity of this dish which clearly means so much to so many people. And some friendly competition could keep things fun.

    Probably best to hold the hummus conference someplace like Switzerland.

    Who’s in?

  39. I did notice israelis take claim for foods that are arabic. i think israel does have national dishes just not as good as arab food 😀 motza ball soup is israeli i think lol im wondering about bagels.. because i noticed there is an arabic bread that its like an oblong bagel. this makes me wonder who this should be credited to..

    i love hummus!

    i side with palestine!

  40. I am so excited to finally make this, I love hummus from middle eastern restaurants and have only made it once. The time I made it, the recipe asked for sesame seed oil and a whole hell of a lot of olive oil as well as way too much garlic cloves. it was pretty bad but after coming upon this website, I am super happy to make it. I hope to make it a regular part of my diet. Thanks so much

  41. I really think a lot of people need to take some history classes again. Did everyone forget where the Jewish peoples started? Like say Egypt? Which is one of the “original” places to make hummus or a hummus like dish. Also in travels oh so many many years ago they traveled right up into the Arabian area then across to Greek and Roman territories living and and being occupied by those peoples respectively for many years. To those saying that the Jewish or Israeli people like to claim things that aren’t theirs… I would strongly recommend checking your facts before posting wrong or uninformed information.

    Have fun everyone and keep on enjoying the HUMMUS!! (Also great with some Tahini covered Shawarma )!!

  42. @Marcella I hear ya. I hope this board isn’t the place for politics (including “siding”), especially given that bagels originated in POLAND at least 500 years ago and that “motza ball soup” also originated in Europe, NOT Israel. Let’s not fall into the trap of using good food as an excuse to play politics. I like to think we’re here to share (including recipes) enthusiastically, not create dissent.

  43. Karen..U R Correct, they started baking bread and look what they accomplished. The rest is history (‘_”)

  44. @Jack AND they were ethnic Poles, not Jews! But bagels are now associated with Jewishness and for my money, there’s no question that hummus b’tahina was created by Arabs. I don’t think, though, that Israelis ever claimed to have invented it. But Israelis certainly popularized it (hugely so) and gave it their own spin.

  45. Hummus is Palestinian. End of story. The Palestinian people, The Olive People, The Weird People, The Sad People, The Orange People (whatever you want to call them) have been living on the same land for thousands of years. But, hey, apparently all human beings originated in Africa. Does that make Hummus African? You decide.

  46. Hummus originated in the Levant, before their were national borders. Muslims, Christians and Jews have lived in the Levant for millennium. The problems of ownwership of hummus have only arisen with nationalism and national borders, which are relatively recent compared to the age old recipe.

    Hummus belongs to everyone who makes, eats and enjoys it.

    Peace , love & hummus! And make sure you see the film Make Hummus Not War. All you hummusniks will love it.

  47. Hi Trevor!! I like your way of thinking, we express it in the same way to all our Clients in Hummus Amamamusi, i really belive, that some day you will visit us here. And “Levant”, thats the name i’m missing in the strory!! :- ))

  48. Hummus did originate in the Levant but it was originated by Muslim Arabs. The first ever recipe of Hummus was written by Muslim Arabs in the Abbasid period, no Christians and no Jews. In fact there was barely any Jews in the Levant during that period, almost all Levantine Jews arrived to the Levant in the 19th century. So to claim that Hummus is not Arabian because there were no artificial borders is as absurd as claiming that Pizza is not an Italian food because Italy with its modern borders did not exist when Pizza was invented. But what should one expect from a bigot who is advertising his “movie” in which he interviews a Jewish fascist named Schlussel and gives her all the time she needs to propagate her Jewish supremacism, anti-Muslim, anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian bigotry and racism.

    • WOW.
      Ibid. re falling into the trap of using good food as an excuse to play politics on a board of this type, especially so viciously.

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