History of hummus (and your other favourite Middle Eastern dishes)

Anyone who has ever tasted hummus must have marvelled at its creation. How did someone create something so flavourful, so satisfying, and so beautifully smooth? 

I know I have. 

But that’s just the thing with Middle Eastern food – it’s so good you have to wonder how it came to be. 

Here’s what we know about the history of hummus and a few of your other favourite Middle Eastern dishes. 

Hummus

Here in Australia, the debate rages around which country invented the pavlova first (Australia, right?). For us, the debate is around hummus and whether it was the Arabs or the Greeks who were the first to create this incredible dish (but obviously, it was the Arabs!). 

In fact, the word hummus is derived from the Arabic word for chickpea, which I think settles it. 

Chickpeas are common across the Middle East, but it is believed that hummus first originated in ancient Egypt. A kind of hummus has been found to have been enjoyed in Cairo as far back as the 13th century, although it wasn’t the exact recipe of mashed, cooked chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, and garlic like we know and love it today. 

Baba ghanouj

Baba ghanouj is hummus’ eggplant-based cousin. Made from pureed roasted eggplant with tahini and garlic, this tasty spread is traditional Arabic food that is hotly contested as to its origins, like hummus. 

Some say Turkey, and some say Lebanon, some say Egypt, some say Jordan  – many countries have slight variations on the exact spices and ingredients, but that only makes this dish even more interesting. 

Baba ghanouj is not simply a translation of the main ingredient this time, but more of an odd one. ‘Baba’ may sound familiar to anyone with young kids in the family – just think ‘papa’ or ‘dada’. Yet ‘ghanouj’ is a term that means pampered or coquettish. Together, you might translate it as ‘pampered daddy’, although no one is exactly sure how it came to earn that name.

Mezze

Mezze, also known as Meze and Mazza, has just as mysterious in history as most Middle Eastern food. 

It is just as common in the Mediterranean as in the Middle East, so the jury is well and truly out on where it came from. The word translates loosely as ‘appetisers’, although Mezze is not typically viewed as an appetiser – it is, in fact, the whole meal. 

Mezze is a variety of small dishes, including hummus and baba ghanouj, hot and cold dishes, breads, olives, fruits, and even sweets. The beauty is in the variety, allowing diners to satisfy their diverse cravings all from the same plate. 

As you can see, the history of hummus and other traditional Arabic food isn’t always clear. So much of it has been lost to time, but what is clear is that each dish is more delicious than the last, and if you haven’t yet tried them at Alma’s, now’s the time. Make your booking today to secure your seat at my table.

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Alma's Kitchen - Middle Eastern Steakhouse