Hummus or houmous is a Levantine and Egyptian food dip or spread made from cooked, mashed chickpeas or other beans, blended with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and garlic. Today, it is popular throughout the Middle East (including Turkey), North Africa (including Morocco), and in Middle Eastern cuisine around the globe.
Hummus is an Arabic word meaning “chickpeas,” and the complete name of the prepared spread in Arabic is ḥummuṣ bi ṭaḥīna, which means “chickpeas with tahini”.
Many cuisine-related sources describe hummus as an ancient food, or connect it to famous historical figures such as Saladin. Indeed, its basic ingredients—chickpeas, sesame, lemon, and garlic—have been eaten in the region for millennia.
But in fact, there is no specific evidence for this purported ancient history of hummus bi tahina. Though chickpeas were widely eaten in the region, and they were often cooked in stews and other hot dishes, puréed chickpeas eaten cold with tahini do not appear before the Abbasid period in Egypt and the Levant.
The earliest known recipes for a dish similar to hummus bi tahina are recorded in cookbooks published in Cairo in the 13th century. A cold purée of chickpeas with vinegar and pickled lemons with herbs, spices, and oil, but no tahini or garlic, appears in the Kitāb al-Wusla ilā l-habīb fī wasf al-tayyibāt wa-l-tīb; and a purée of chickpeas and tahini called hummus kasa appears in the Kitab Wasf al-Atima al-Mutada: it is based on puréed chickpeas and tahini, and acidulated with vinegar (though not lemon), but it also contains many spices, herbs, and nuts, and no garlic. It is also served by rolling it out and letting it sit overnight, which presumably gives it a very different texture from hummus bi tahina.
In a 100-gram serving, home-prepared hummus provides 177 calories and is an excellent source (20% and higher of the Daily Value) of vitamin B6, manganese and dietary fiber (table). It is a good source of protein, vitamin C, folate, phosphorus, iron, zinc, copper and sodium (table).
As an appetizer and dip, hummus is scooped with flatbread, such as pita. It is also served as part of a meze or as an accompaniment to falafel, grilled chicken, fish or eggplant. Garnishes include chopped tomato, cucumber, coriander, parsley, caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, whole chickpeas, olive oil, hard-boiled eggs, paprika, sumac, ful, olives, pickles and pine nuts (as photographed in the “History” section). 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. Hummus is a popular dip in Egypt where it is eaten with pita bread, and frequently flavored with cumin or other spices.
For Palestinians and Jordanians, hummus has long been a staple food, often served warm, with bread for breakfast, lunch or dinner. All of the ingredients in hummus are easily found in Palestinian gardens, farms and markets, thus adding to the availability and popularity of the dish. In Palestinian areas, hummus is usually garnished, with olive oil, “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 and is topped with pieces of toasted bread.
One author 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.
In Cyprus, hummus is part of the local cuisine in both Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot communities where it is called “humoi”. In Turkey, hummus is considered as a meze and usually oven-dried with pastırma which differs from the traditional serving.