From Israel to Greece, from Egypt to Jordan, from Lebanon to Turkey or Syria. Who does not know hummus? Let’s discover this chickpea dip that has traveled from antiquity to tables and supermarkets around the world.
What is hummus?
Hummus, in Arabic حمص, in Hebrew חומוס, which means “chickpea” in Arabic, is a dip with Mediterranean flavors in which the very pronounced taste of chickpeas complements the subtle taste of tahini (sesame puree) to combine with the lemon and garlic aroma and the sweet essence of paprika (or Aleppo pepper). Everything is mixed and reduced to a creamy dip.
Hummus can be enjoyed at any time of the day from breakfast to dinner. It is usually served with hot pita bread, either by itself or as an accompaniment to several dishes such as falafel, shawarma, tabouleh, fatayer, and often with gyro, to name a few.
In Israel, it is often seasoned with olive oil and za’atar, a spice blend including thyme, sesame seeds, sumac, oregano, cumin, fennel seeds and marjoram. Also, a must in Israel is to serve it mixed with finely ground spiced beef: hummus bassar (חומוס בשר), bassar meaning meat in Hebrew.
What is the origin of hummus?
The earliest written records of this ancient dip, typical of all the countries of the Middle East, date back to the 13th century, in the cookbook that was published in Cairo: Kitāb al-Wusla ilā l-habīb fī al-tayyibāt wa-l-tīb. This book contained a recipe for a hummus-like dish made from chickpea puree, vinegar, pickled lemons and herbs. This recipe did not include garlic or tahini among its ingredients.
However, other sources claim that hummus existed long before. There are indeed records of hummus in the Bible, which tells the story of Boaz, a rich knight who falls in love with Ruth, a poor peasant. He meets her in the fields, as she was fainting from hunger, and he offers her a plate of bread soaked in himza (chickpea in ancient Hebrew), a purée of chickpeas, vinegar and herbs, without tahini.
Some sources lend to hummus a purely Biblical origin, and more particularly Jewish; the word hometz has been used in the Torah for 3,500 years.
Some sources also claim that after having reconquered Jerusalem, in 1187, Saladin, then Sultan of Egypt and the Levant, decided to prepare a special dish to commemorate the event. According to the legend, he ordered the preparation of a chilled chickpea mixture seasoned with olive oil, lemon juice and sesame seed paste.
Anyone who has minimal knowledge of Middle Eastern cuisine will have certainly recognized the fundamental ingredients of hummus. The addition of tahini in the basic recipe would then go back to Sultan Saladin. Indeed, the full name is actually ḥummuṣ bi ṭaḥīna, which means “chickpeas with tahini”.
Greece also claims that hummus would be Greek and that it is the staple food of their cuisine. But Egypt, Greece and Israel are not the only ones to claim it, as Lebanon claims the paternity of hummus as well.
Charles Perry, president of Culinary Historians of Southern California and a specialist in medieval Arab cuisine, is quoted as saying that hummus comes from Damascus. His argument? “The traditional way of serving hummus throughout much of the Middle East is in a particular red clay bowl with a raised edge. The hummus is whisked around briskly with a pestle so that it mounds up along that edge.”
According to Charles Perry, this presentation is worthy of a “sophisticated urban dish, and not an old folk dish”, which would probably have been developed by the Turkish rulers in the eighteenth century, in Damascus, which at the time was “the greatest city of the region with a sophisticated ruling class”. The historian’s second choice, however, is Beirut, Lebanon, as “it stood out as a sophisticated city throughout the Middle Ages, one with a vigorous culinary tradition, and lemons were abundant there.”
The reality is that currently no one can say for sure, when, how and by whom hummus was invented because everyone is pursuing his own theory.
What we do know, however, is that the history of hummus is deeply rooted in war and conquest. For 400 years, the Ottoman Empire ruled over much of the Middle East from its Turkish capital, Constantinople, to modern national states, also with the “hummus war”.
The Middle East is a place where all passions are ready to catch fire. Thus, where there is hummus, there is also a strong rivalry: who has the best recipe? who can present the biggest bowl of hummus in the Guinness World Book of Records?
In fact, in 2008, the National Association of Lebanese Industrialists decided to sue Israel in an international court, because the Jewish state claimed the paternity for falafel, tabbouleh and hummus, which the Lebanese consider as being their property. While hummus and falafel are considered Israel’s national dishes par excellence, it should be noted that hummus is clearly mentioned in the Bible and that it already existed before the first exile Jews from their homeland.
In an interview with the BBC, Oren Rosenfeld, the director of Hummus The movie, mentioned: “Hummus is a Middle Eastern dish, claimed by everyone and no one really owns it.”
This is also a sharing dish par excellence. It is served in a bowl in which everyone can dip a piece of pita or unleavened bread. No matter who it is and where it comes from, hummus embodies a strong concept of intimacy and conviviality with guests, friends, relatives or perfect strangers.
Consider hummus as the symbolic plate of peace because it unites cultures far apart from each other, even if they are united by the common root of the Middle East.
What chickpeas to use for hummus?
There are more than 20,000 chickpea varieties in the world, divided into two main types, Desi and Kabuli, and a third, less common, Gulabi.
- Desi: it is characterized by rather small, wrinkled, brown (more or less dark) chickpeas. Mostly grown in Asia, this type of chickpea accounts for 85% of the Indian production.
- Kabuli: those chickpeas are medium or quite large in size, up to twice the size of a pea, less wrinkled than the Desi type, and cream-white in color. This type is cultivated mainly in the Mediterranean basin.
- Gulabi: those chickpeas are generally cream-white, without tannin, like Kabuli, but smaller, almost smooth, which when decorticated, make them look like yellow peas.
Absolutely all varieties of chickpeas are suitable for making hummus with a preference for the Kabuli type.
What is aquafaba?
Aquafaba is simply the cooking water of chickpeas, or other legumes, which is often thrown away. Yet it is capable of miracles in cooking, since it can replace eggs in most recipes.
Aquafaba is the secret of vegans, to replace eggs in desserts or other savory recipes, since vegans do not eat animal protein.
It is simply the cooking water of chickpeas that can be used instead of egg white to prepare desserts such as meringues or macarons for example.
The cooking water of legumes is generally a kind of leavening agent, a coagulant that foams when mixed with a liquid. Chickpeas are generally used for cooking, but beans or lentils can also be used, although with less success.
Clearly, it’s not just tips for vegans, but also those who do not tolerate eggs and those who generally want to limit their protein intake and eat a healthier product.
In fact, egg whites are not used to add flavor to dishes but are mainly used as coagulants. In general, you’d want to use 3 tablespoons of aquafaba in place of each egg.
How to make aquafaba?
The aquafaba is obtained with the cooking liquid of the chickpeas, or the liquid contained in the cans. However, since canned chickpea cooking liquid is salty, it is not ideal for making desserts. For sweet recipes, it is better to use the cooking liquid obtained in homemade cooked chickpeas.
It is important to note that the liquid to be preserved is the cooking water of the chickpeas and not the soaking water. In this case, once the chickpeas are cooked, it is recommended to reduce the cooking water a little further in order to obtain a thick and viscous liquid. Then let it cool completely before using it as aquafaba.
In any case, this chickpea cooking water (not beaten) can be stored for 4 days in a refrigerator in a hermetically sealed container. Once beaten, it is recommended to use it as quickly as possible to prevent it from falling.
The consistency varies depending on the amount of liquid that is beaten:
- Low firmness: whisk for at least 5 minutes at low to medium speed; the texture will be soft and light, almost liquid.
- Medium firmness: whisk for at least 9 to 10 minutes at medium speed, you will get a denser foam. By doing the “spoon test”, you will notice that the mixture will stay on the spoon and not fall.
- Firm: whisk for 15 to 25 minutes, at medium to high speed, gradually incorporating at least two tablespoons of caster sugar. The more sugar you add, the denser the foam.
Whatever the recipe, do not hesitate to whisk a long time, the juice will first become slightly sparkling then turn into a compact white foam. There should be no liquid at the bottom of the bowl. That’s when you know it is ready.
Unlike the egg yolk-based mayonnaise, the aquafaba no mayonnaise is hard to miss. And it is delicious!
Aquafaba generally has a very neutral taste. However, if it happens, and it is very rare, to have a legume aftertaste,it can be corrected with a little lemon juice.
Menu ideas with hummus
Hummus can be eaten straight from its container with a spoon, as a spread on bread or used to complement dishes of all kinds. People love it with shawarma, falafels, kibbeh, fatayer, but it also often accompanies salads, such as tabbouleh, mutabal, or fattoush salad, chicken, fish and vegetables.
It is also served with toppings such as grilled onions, pine nuts, mushrooms, tomatoes, cilantro, paprika or various olive sauces.
World production of hummus
Hummus is not only available in specialty restaurants but also from food manufacturers who produce sauces and dips on a large scale. There is a massive expansion of hummus around the world.
Humus accounts for more than half of the world’s market share of spreads according to Market Research Future.
The world’s leading hummus companies are based in Israel. Not only in the Middle East, but also in Europe, America and Australia, those Israeli companies play an important role in the market.
For example, Israeli-based company Sabra Dipping Company accounts for about 40% of hummus sales in the United States.
In the UK, where hummus is a true religion, almost as much as in the Middle East, the market was won by the Tsabar brand of the famous Israeli house Osem.
Before 2000, hummus was barely expanded into Western countries, but today there is strong competition around the world due to growing demand.
In the United States, at the end of 2016, about 1 out of 4 households stored at least one hummus product in their refrigerator. That amounts to revenues of more than $725 million a year, according to NBC News. Market Research Future estimates that the global hummus market is expected to reach 1.104 billion USD by 2027.
- 10 oz. cooked and drained chickpeas (keep some cooking water)
- 3 tablespoons sesame paste (tahini)
- ½ freshly squeezed lemon
- ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon cumin
- 1 tablespoon Aleppo pepper (or smoked paprika)
- 2 cloves garlic
- A few flat parsley leaves , finely chopped
- Take a dozen chickpeas and set them aside for the garnishing.
- Remove the skin from all the remaining chickpeas by rubbing with the palm of the hands.
- Place the well drained chickpeas in a blender. Mix lightly while adding some cooking water.
- Add tahini, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, and salt, and continue mixing by slowly incorporating ¾ of the olive oil until obtaining a smooth and creamy texture.
- Finally, pour the hummus into a serving dish.
- Drizzle the remaining olive oil over the hummus.
- Sprinkle Aleppo pepper (or smoked paprika).
- Add the few whole chickpeas and parsley.
- Serve chilled with pita bread.