Hummus is a Levantine Arab dip or spread made from cooked, mashed chickpeas, blended with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and garlic. It is a popular food throughout the Middle East.
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Chickpeas and sesame, the crops from which hummus's main ingredients are taken, were known and cultivated in the ancient Mediterranean and Middle Eastern worlds. Chickpeas are hummus's principal ingredient, and have been a human food item for over 10,000 years. The chickpea was used as a food item in Palestine before 4000 BC, was one of the earliest crops cultivated in Mesopotamia and was a common street dish in ancient Rome; indeed the famous Roman orator, Cicero, was named for an ancestor who had a wart on his nose shaped like a chickpea. Archeological evidence identifies chickpeas in the Sumerian diet before 2500 BC. They are noted in a 13th century work by Muhammad bin Hasan al-Baghdadi of Persia for a "simple dish" of meat, pulses and spices. It is unknown whether chickpeas were commonly mashed in any of these cultures. Tahini (sesame paste) likewise lacks any clear historical context. Sesame was grown as a crop in ancient Assyrian and Babylonian gardens and is mentioned by Columella. It was common in Roman and Persian kitchens in the form of sesame oil but not as the tahini paste of hummus-bi-tahini.
Other ingredients are used in sundry recipes of hummus-bi-tahini. The olive originated in Syria and Palestine, where it was being cultivated by the fourth millennium BC. A variety may have been indigenous to Crete, where olives were being cultivated by 2500 BC. The Bible mentions olive oil many times and it was exported from Palestine to places such as Egypt. Several Roman writers indicate that salt was used in extracting the oil. Garlic was grown in the gardens of King Merodach-Baladan II of Babylon and probably was in Greece by the early Bronze Age. The lemon was last to arrive in the Middle East and Mediterranean world, originating in India. However, depictions of lemons have been found at Pompeii and Tusculum, so this fruit must have reached the Roman world, at least as a luxury import, by the first century.
Hummus is high in iron and vitamin C, and also has significant amounts of folate and vitamin B6. The chickpeas make it a good source of protein and dietary fiber. Depending on the recipe hummus carries varying amounts of monounsaturated fat. Hummus is useful in vegetarian and vegan diets and like other combinations of grains and pulses, when eaten with bread it serves as a complete protein.
As an appetizer and dip hummus is scooped with flatbread (such as pita). Hummus is also served as part of a meze or as an accompaniment to falafel, grilled chicken, fish or eggplant. Garnishes include chopped tomato, cucumber, cilantro, parsley, sautéed mushrooms, whole chickpeas, olive oil, hard-boiled eggs, paprika, ful, olives and pickles. Outside the Middle East it is sometimes served with tortilla chips or crackers.
Hummus ful is topped with a paste made from fava beans boiled until soft and then crushed. Hummus masubha/mashawsha is a mixture of hummus paste, warm chickpeas and tahini.
In Vegetarian Dishes from the Middle East, Arto der Haroutunian calls hummus "one of the most popular and best-known of all Syrian dishes" and "a must on any mezzeh table." Syrians in Canada's Arab diaspora prepare and consume hummus along with other dishes like falafel, kibbe and tabouleh, even among the third and fourth-generation offspring of the original immigrants.
For Palestinians hummus has long been a staple food, garnished with olive oil and "nana" mint leaves, paprika, parsley or cumin. A related dish popular in the region of Palestine and Jordan is laban ma' hummus ("yogurt and chickpeas") which uses yogurt in the place of tahini and butter in the place of olive oil. The chickpeas are first boiled alone before the other ingredients are added and it is served hot.
Hummus is a common part of everyday meals in Israel. Many restaurants run by Mizrahi Jews and Arab citizens of Israel are dedicated to hot hummus, which may be served as chick peas softened with baking soda along with garlic, olive oil, cumin and tahini. One of the fancier hummus versions available is traditional hummus masabacha, made with lemon-spiked tahini garnished with whole chick peas, a sprinkling of paprika and a drizzle of olive oil. Hummus is eaten in restaurants, supermarkets and hummus-only shops called humusiot.