Exploring Hummus: It's Ancient, Arabic, and Amazingly Healthy

Updated on July 17, 2019
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Exploring food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

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Hummus is a Middle Eastern food claimed by all and owned by none.

— Oren Rosenfeld, writer and director of "Hummus! The Movie"

There's a Hummus Among Us

In the beginning, there was the chickpea (Cicer arietinum), a legume cultivated in Turkey perhaps more than 10,000 years ago. You might know it as a garbanzo bean, but rest assured that the two are synonymous. For the sake of brevity, let's stick with the name chickpea. And guess what? The word hummus is Arabic for chickpea. So the birthplace of hummus should be easy to ascertain, right?

Wrong.

Some Israelis state that it's a Jewish food—it's mentioned in the Bible.

In Ruth 2:14, Boaz said to Ruth, who’d been hard at work harvesting his barley all morning: “Come here, and eat of the bread, and dip your piece of bread in the hometz.”

Well, hometz sounds like hummus, but if you look at the original Hebrew (and my pastor reads and writes the language), hometz actually means vinegar. Does that strike you as an odd offering? I don't think so. When enjoying an appetizer meal in Tuscany, I've dipped my Mediterranean bread into a bowl of balsamic vinegar and olive oil so I can accept this as an invitation to a wonderful meal.

So, is it Israeli?

One of the earliest recipes for hummus bi tahini (chickpeas with tahini) appeared in a 13th-century Egyptian cookbook. But other food historians point to a 13th-century recipe from Syria.

What's the real story? According to Cooks Illustrated:

“Today chickpeas are the most consumed legume in the world, and hummus is a staple in the Middle East, where hummus shops are as common as pizza parlors in this country. Heated debate can erupt over whose hummus is best, and exact recipes are carefully guarded secrets.”

Actually, the debates went way beyond raised voices and wild-arm gesticulations. In the year 2008 chickpeas became a political hot button. The president of the Association of Lebanese Industrialists filed a lawsuit against the nation of Israel for food copyright infringement. This, dear friends, is known as The “Hummus Wars.”

To further promote national pride, the government of Lebanon petitioned the EU to have hummus classified as a uniquely Lebanese food.

The Israeli Plate Was...

Of course, a battle over whose bean dip reigns supreme can only be settled in the kitchen. In January 2010 Israeli cooks assembled the largest plate of hummus, a staggering 4,082 kilograms.

The Israeli 4,082 kilogram plate of hummus
The Israeli 4,082 kilogram plate of hummus | Source

And Then the Lebanese Retaliation

Not to be outdone, 300 Lebanese chefs retaliated with a Guinness World Record plateful (actually it was a satellite dish) weighing in at 10,450 kg. To this day, Lebanon is undefeated, but bigger isn't always better.

The Lebanese response. (I give the Israelis 2 more points for food styling and presentation.)
The Lebanese response. (I give the Israelis 2 more points for food styling and presentation.) | Source

In an online article by the BBC, American food historian Charles Perry (president of the Culinary Historians of Southern California) was quoted as saying:

“I tend to take the Lebanese claim somewhat seriously.... Beirut would be my second choice in response to the question of who invented hummus. It stood out as a sophisticated city throughout the Middle Ages, one with a vigorous culinary tradition, and lemons were abundant there.”

Therein lies the question—if Lebanon holds second place, who would Perry claim as the victor in the hummus war? Mr. Perry thinks that Syria is actually the most likely birthplace of hummus. According to his interview with the BBC:

"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. Not only does this present the hummus conveniently for picking up with bread, it proves that the hummus has the proper texture, neither too slack nor too stiff.

The practice of whipping hummus up against the wall of the bowl indicates a sophisticated urban product, not an ancient folk dish. I'm inclined to think hummus was developed for the Turkish rulers in Damascus.

Nobody can say who invented hummus, or when. Or where, particularly given the eagerness with which people in the Middle East borrow one another’s dishes. But I associate it with Damascus in the 18th century because it was the largest city with a sophisticated ruling class."

Hummus is traditionally served in a red clay bowl with a raised edge
Hummus is traditionally served in a red clay bowl with a raised edge | Source

And the Health Benefits?

We've talked about the origins of hummus, and how many thousands of years it has been a staple of Middle East dining, but is it really "amazingly healthy?" Let's take a look:

  • Plant-based protein
  • Low in calories
  • High in fiber that promotes good gut bacteria
  • Olive oil is rich in antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory benefits
  • Sesame seeds (tahini) also reduces inflammation
  • Low on the glycemic index, so may help control blood sugar levels
  • Heart-healthy
  • Gluten-, nut-, and dairy-free

 
 
Calories
166
Fat
9.6 grams
Protein
7.9 grams
Fiber
6.0 grams
Manganese
39% of RDI
Copper
26% of RDI
Folate
21% of RDI
Magnesiium
18% of RDI
Phosphorus
18% of RDI
Iron
14% of RDI
Zinc
12% of RDI
Thiamin
12% of RDI
Vitamin B6
10% of RDI
Potassium
7% of RDI
A 100-gram (3.5-ounce) serving of hummus

Easy Peazy Lemon Squeezy?

With just five ingredients (chickpeas, tahini, garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice) one would think that hummus would be virtually fool-proof. However, if you peruse the deli section of most major grocery stores, you will find that the concoctions that wear the name bear little resemblance to real, authentic hummus. Sundried tomatoes, soybeans, jalapeños, and avocado have no place in our chickpea spread.

The ideal hummus is smooth and creamy (not grainy or watery), with the buttery flavor of chickpeas. The earthy toasted-sesame taste of tahini balances out the sweetness of the chickpeas and just a touch of lemon and garlic lend brightness and bite. Let’s examine each component.

The Components

Chickpeas
Chickpeas | Source

Chickpeas

As with any other dried legume, dried chickpeas should first be spread out in a single layer on a cookie sheet and examined for debris, small stones, or beans that are withered or damaged. Then place them in a wire mesh strainer and rinse under cool running water to remove any dust.

If you are short of time, you can substitute canned chickpeas. Unlike other processed vegetables, there is little difference in the nutritional value of dried vs. canned beans. Three-fourths of a cup of dried beans is about 1 1/2 cups cooked, the equivalent of one 15-ounce can, drained and rinsed.

Tahini
Tahini | Source

Tahini

Although chickpeas get all of the attention, it's the tahini that gives hummus that rich, luxuriant flavor we know and love. Tahini is a paste made from hulled sesame seeds. It can be purchased in most large supermarkets, but we are making the best hummus and so need the freshest ingredients.

Inspired Taste provides an easy recipe and video to show you exactly how to make your own tahini.

Olive oil
Olive oil | Source

Olive Oil

There are some things that improve with age—a fine red wine, a robust cheese, dry-aged beef, Virginia hams (and perhaps Carb Diva's), but olive oil is not one of these.

When buying olive oil look for the harvest date; you should strive to find an oil that was made in the last 2 to 3 years. Beyond that, it will begin to taste rancid. If there is no harvest date, look for (and abide by) the "best if used by" date.

Once opened olive should be used within 3-5 months as repeated exposure to oxygen will cause it to degrade in flavor.

Where the olives were grown is also important because soil, climate, and cultivar of olive will affect the flavor profile. Oil produced from Northern Italy olives (Liguria and Lombardia) will be buttery, mellow, soft, and delicate. These are the flavors that will enhance but not overpower the other tastes in your hummus.

Garlic
Garlic | Source

Garlic

Long before garlic was used as a culinary herb, it was used to treat and prevent a number of diseases and conditions. The Greek physician Hippocrates used it to treat respiratory problems, digestive upsets, and to rid one of parasites. Greek athletes were given garlic as a "performance enhancing" agent.

Don't buy a collection of garlic bulbs in a sack. Choose garlic cloves sold in bulk so that you can examine them. Keep in mind that local fresh garlic season runs from mid-summer through early fall. At other times of the year, the garlic in the store is probably coming out of storage. Here's what to look for:

  • Select bulbs that don’t have sprouts forming.
  • The ideal bulb will be plump and compact with unbroken skin.
  • Avoid garlic bulbs with damp or soft spots.
  • If the bulb feels light or gives under your fingers, the contents may have dried to dust.

Lemon juice
Lemon juice | Source

Lemon Juice

You are cooking your own chickpeas, perhaps making your own tahini, and using fresh garlic and the best olive oil. Why would you use bottled lemon juice? Please don't. Buy a fresh lemon.

The juiciest lemons are always going to be the ones that give a little when you squeeze them. These softer citrus fruits will have less pith, and therefore more juice than their less-giving bin mates. Look for a lemon that has a deep yellow color and feels heavy for its size.

Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dried chickpeas
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda, divided
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2/3 cup tahini (homemade is best)
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil for garnish

Instructions

  1. Place the chickpeas and one teaspoon of the baking soda into a large covered saucepan. Add enough water to bring the level of the water 2 inches above the chickpeas. Soak overnight, at least 12 hours. (If your kitchen is warm, store the chickpeas in the refrigerator).
  2. The next day, rinse and drain the chickpeas. Return them to the saucepan and cover again with water 2 inches above the level of the chickpeas. Stir in the remaining 1 teaspoon of baking soda.
  3. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to simmer. Cover and cook until the beans are soft and beginning to fall apart (about 60 minutes). As the beans cook skins will loosen and float to the surface; skim them off and discard.
  4. When the beans are tender (you want them almost falling apart), allow them to cool in their cooking liquid, stirring them from time to time to loosen the skins; strain off any that float to the top.
  5. While the chickpeas are cooling, blend the garlic with the lemon juice and salt in a food processor and let sit for 10 minutes.
  6. Add the tahini and continue blending until smooth, light, and fluffy. If the mixture seems too stiff, add 1 tablespoon of ice water.
  7. When the chickpeas are cooled, drain them, discarding the skins that separate from the peas, and add them to the food processor. Blend until completely smooth, 3-4 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add a little more salt or lemon juice as necessary.
  8. Serve with a generous drizzle of olive oil on top.

Did you notice that I mention three times that you should remove the skins from the chickpeas? For the creamiest hummus, you will want to seek out those skins and whisk them away. However, if you are the type of person who enjoys a hummus with a chunky texture you can ignore my pleadings.

Adapted from a recipe by Bon Appétit.

Creative Ways to Use Hummus

Sure you can use hummus as a dip for chips and fresh vegetables, but let's use our imagination. Here are some other ideas:

Hamburgers

  • Mix 1/2 cup of hummus into one pound of ground beef before forming into hamburger patties.

Sesame Noodles

  • Thin hummus with chicken broth, stir in a tablespoon or so of rice vinegar and use to coat cooked rice noodles.

Chicken Salad

  • Make a salad with shredded rotisserie chicken, feta cheese, diced red bell pepper, and hummus in place of the traditional Greek yogurt or mayonnaise.

Greek Pizza

  • Make pizza. Brush pita bread rounds with olive oil and bake in a 400° F. oven until browned and crisp. Remove from oven and spread on hummus. Top with diced tomato, Kalamata olives, cucumber, and fresh arugula tossed with olive oil and a little lemon juice.

Source

Hummus-Crusted Chicken

Ali makes an easy and healthy hummus-crusted chicken that is a sheet pan meal (everything cooks together). She adds summer squash and zucchini and uses boneless skinless chicken breasts. The chicken is flavored by and kept moist with a thick coating of hummus. Genius.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Linda Lum

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      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        3 days ago from Washington State, USA

        Eric please keep me updated. I care.

      • Ericdierker profile image

        Eric Dierker 

        3 days ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

        Marvelous, thanks for referring me back. I am sending this off to my fellow cancer patients. We will compare notes on Friday. How fun is that? We will do some gentle yoga and then gather round. Food and camaraderie is just the best!

        I hope to remember fill you in.

      • lawrence01 profile image

        Lawrence Hebb 

        3 days ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

        Linda

        Hummus was the first Middle Eastern food I converted my wife to! Nowadays we demolish at least one pot every weekend, and usually not a small one.

        I was in Jordan when I was introduced to it, and the Jordanians used to say it was to Jordan 'What fish and chips are to England!'

        One thing though, if you ask for Hummus in Egypt you'll get whole chickpeas in live oil.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        3 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Denise, if you don't make your own, there is one commercially made that I would recommend. Look for Sabra.

      • PAINTDRIPS profile image

        Denise McGill 

        3 weeks ago from Fresno CA

        Hummus is new to me and now that I'm a vegetarian I've tried several and just don't like it. I have to admit I haven't made it from scratch like in this recipe so maybe that's the difference. It does sound like it would be good over noodles. I'll keep trying before I give up entirely.

        Blessings,

        Denise

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        4 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Patricia, thank you for your visit. Your comments always warm my heart. Blessings to you.

      • pstraubie48 profile image

        Patricia Scott 

        4 weeks ago from sunny Florida

        All I have to say is love me some hummus!!! My friend introduced it to me and I totally love it. I did not know all of the history though so reading this filled in the gaps for me. Thanks for sharing Angels are on the way today ps

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        4 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Sha, the more I hear from you, the more I think we're twins from different mothers. I love hummus on whole-grain toast.

      • bravewarrior profile image

        Shauna L Bowling 

        4 weeks ago from Central Florida

        I love hummus, Linda. I often use it as a spread on a sandwich rather than mustard or mayo. Of course, hummus and pita chips make for a delicious, healthy snack, too.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        4 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Genna, thank you for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment. I always appreciate hearing from fellow hubbers. I hope you have a wonderful week.

      • Genna East profile image

        Genna East 

        4 weeks ago from Massachusetts, USA

        Hi Linda..

        I just loooove hummus; we eat it here at home, often. So I was delighted to see and read your hub, and learn of its history and health benefits, along with some recipes. Thank you.

      • lambservant profile image

        Lori Colbo 

        5 weeks ago from Pacific Northwest

        Linda, I miss my carbs, especially cereal in the morning, and crackers and popcorn. But I can make my own crackers out of casava and eat eggs and bacon in place of cereal, and I eat a lot of plain yogurt with berries and a smidgen of truvia and it's delicious. I had it for dinner last night. lol. I love all the veggies but I wish there was more choices for fruit. I miss bananas and oranges.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        5 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Linda, it really is good, especially on this hot summer days when you don't feel like eating something heavy.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        5 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Lori, you're so very welcome. I'm not sure I could do the keto diet (I love my carbs). I hope it works for you and I'm glad I posted something that might help.

      • Lisa Jane39 profile image

        Lisa Jane 

        5 weeks ago from Washington

        Your welcome. I will be back and I am going to make my own hummus.

      • AliciaC profile image

        Linda Crampton 

        5 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

        I buy hummus in the supermarket and enjoy its taste, but I'm sure it's not as good as the version in your recipe. Thanks for sharing the recipe and the tips. The Greek pizza sounds delicious.

      • lambservant profile image

        Lori Colbo 

        5 weeks ago from Pacific Northwest

        I Love hummus but did not discover it until almost 40. I just started Keto which is low carbs, high fat, and protein. It sounds like something I could have. I love the history as well as the recipes. Thanks a bunch.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        5 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Lisa Jane, once you make your own, you'll never want to buy it from the deli again. Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment. I hope you will visit again. I've been writing on Hub Pages for 8 years and have over 400 food-related articles.

      • Lisa Jane39 profile image

        Lisa Jane 

        5 weeks ago from Washington

        This is a great article

        I love hummis and now I know the origin.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        5 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Angel, it's good to hear from you again. You will not be disappointed if you make your own hummus. The flavor is amazing and there are health benefits. Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment.

      • Angel Guzman profile image

        Angel Guzman 

        5 weeks ago from Joliet, Illinois

        Hmm hummas...I should really consider adding this to my diet. Great interesting nutritious read Linda.

      • Ericdierker profile image

        Eric Dierker 

        5 weeks ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

        Linda my first marriage was in Phoenix during the blooming period (on purpose) Mother in law and I would pick the lemon and grapefruit and tangelos and near run inside to make the morning fruit salad. Tree to mouth in mere minutes. My neighbor now throws them at me across the fence.

        My wife went all in on my hummus deal. What will they have at my farmer's market - whahoo!!

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        5 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        RTalloni, I really like hummus, and eat it for the taste. But on second thought, I should continue to use it in my diet for the sake of my bones. Thanks for that reminder.

        I appreciate the link--I enjoy history and will set aside a block of time to read this one.

        My daughter works at Wal-Mart and tells me that Whisps are available there. I'll give them a try.

      • RTalloni profile image

        RTalloni 

        5 weeks ago from the short journey

        Have been taking a closer look at tahini for bone health, which made this post catch my eye. Since chickpeas have so many nutrients that help us absorb calcium paring it with tahini may make it a must eat when a person has a broken bone.

        Thanks much for this look at hummus. The history is interesting stuff, for sure, causing me to take a look at this site that you might enjoy: https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/damascus-jewi...

        Appreciate the recipe and other tips on how to incorporate it into our diets. We just discovered a parmesan cracker-styled snack (Whisps), made of 100% parmesan (high in calcium) and I plan to try hummus with it, thanks to your article.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        5 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Bill, I could have bet money that you'd say that. Not a problem; that just means there's more for the rest of us. Have a great rest of the week.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        5 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Oh Mary, I love babaganoush. I don't like eggplant any other way, but that smoky taste is simply wonderful. How lucky that you have an authentic source nearby.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        5 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Eric, I still have memories of being in Phoenix (I know you don't live there) and seeing the lemon trees. They were beautiful, and the aroma of the blossoms was unforgettable. You live in a little bit of paradise.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        5 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Hi Flourish. Those pics of the enormous hummus plates are just crazy, aren't they? (I wonder how and if the hummus was eaten afterwards?)

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        5 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Thank you Pamela. I even spread hummus on my breakfast toast (I'll take savory salty flavors over sweet jam any day of the week).

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        5 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

        What do you think the odds are of me ever eating hummus?

        Not in this lifetime, thank you very much. lol

        Have a superb Tuesday, my friend!

      • aesta1 profile image

        Mary Norton 

        5 weeks ago from Ontario, Canada

        I love hummus and we have a Syrian restaurant very close to where I live and we buy our babaganoush and hummus there so it's authentic. I have not, however, used hummus with chicken. I will certainly try that.

      • Ericdierker profile image

        Eric Dierker 

        5 weeks ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

        Linda if someone does not like Hummus I have doubts of sanity. However it is acquired. Let me see here; fresh lemon, awesome olive oil, "fresh" garlic and peas that don't taste like peas and super healthy.

        Around here local grown garlic and lemon is pretty near year 'round.

        Other than Sesame seed and Cumin in these parts we add the ground pepper, Kind of a sauce added on top - Gabe can avoid it. We use tortillas.

        Loved this one and will be more careful with my garlic.

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 

        5 weeks ago from USA

        I sure did not know people were fighting over hummus like this. I guess you could say “food fight.” The tips on selecting garlic were helpful.

      • Pamela99 profile image

        Pamela Oglesby 

        5 weeks ago from Sunny Florida

        I would have never thought of using hummus in some of the ways you listed. I like hummus, but I actually never even tasted it until about 10 years ago. I have had in restaurants and purchased it, but never attempted to make it. This article is very thorough in hummus facts. Have a good week Linda.

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