When you think of Mediterranean dishes, one that immediately comes to mind is probably falafel. Made from ground chickpeas, fava beans, or a mixture of the two, falafel is typically served as deep-fried balls or patties. Some prefer to eat their falafel alone for a tasty snack and others like it with all of the fixings, including pita, salad, and tahini-based sauces. No matter how you take yours when you visit your favorite falafel restaurant, all falafel has the same fascinating — and slightly controversial — history.

Falafel’s Origins

While the exact origins of falafel are unknown, there are many popular theories. Most of these theories agree that falafel was developed in Egypt. However, the subject of when and by whom is rather contested. Some maintain that it dates back about 1,000 years to the Egyptian Copts, who brought it with them from the Middle East. Others say that falafel can from India in the 6th century.

One of the more accepted theories places the invention of falafel in more modern times, in the late 19th century. This is about the time when the dish started appearing in Egyptian literature, right after the British occupation in 1882. According to this theory, British officers enjoyed fried vegetable croquettes when they were in India and asked their Egyptian cooks to prepare a version with local ingredients.

It is believed that falafel first emerged in Alexandria, the principal port of Egypt and the city with the largest concentration of European troops. Unlike many of the popular versions served in today’s falafel restaurants, this first falafel was made with fava beans. As the name for fava beans in Egyptian is ful, it is believed that the word falafel comes from these original Mediterranean recipes.

Falafel Disputes

Despite plenty of evidence pointing to falafel originating in Egypt, a number of other countries claim falafel as their own. Israel is perhaps the most steadfast in its claim, even advertising falafel as one of their national dishes and putting it into songs. However, it is almost certain that falafel spread from Alexandria to Jewish communities in Palestine. These communities integrated the dish into their own cuisine, but it was still not widely accepted.

In 1948, Israel became an independent state. Jewish people from Yemen, Turkey, and North Africa soon starting immigrating to Israel, bringing with them a taste for falafel, which had already successfully spread to their countries from Egypt. After falafel’s popularity exploded in Israel, it began to spread to Europe and the United States in the late 20th century as immigrants brought a bit of home with them to their new countries.

While other countries — such as Palestine, Lebanon, and Yemen — dispute Israel’s claim and name falafel as their own, what isn’t disputed are the health benefits of Mediterranean food. For instance, the Mediterranean diet can help improve glycemic control and protect against type 2 diabetes. To see these healthy perks at the best falafel restaurant around, order online or visit Aladdin today.