What Exactly Is Falafel, Anyway?

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Falafel is a menu staple in Meditteranean restaurants, a popular street food in the Middle East, and widely considered to be Israel’s national dish. But what is falafel, exactly?

Falafel History

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The history of falafel is a murky, and rather controversial, one. Though the dish is now undeniably a huge part of Israeli culture, its origins aren’t clear. Many Palestinians believe that Israel stole falafel, a traditional Arab food, according to a New York Times article from 2002. 

It’s a widely held belief, though, that the dish was invented in Egypt about 1,000 years ago. Alexandria was a port city, according to the theory, so falafel easily spread to other parts of the Middle East. 

Other theories suggest that it’s even older than that—some experts speculate that its origins can be traced back to Ancient Egypt, while some say that it’s originally from Yemen. 

What Is Falafel Made Of?

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When we say “falafel,” we’re referring to falafel balls—deep-fried balls or patties of ground chickpeas or fava beans (or a blend of both). Basically, they’re savory bean fritters. 

Falafel is often seasoned with traditional Middle Eastern spices like cumin and ground coriander. A versatile street food, there are plenty of ways to enjoy falafel: in a pita with pickled vegetables, on a salad, or by itself. It's often served with hummus or tahini. 

Is Falafel Healthy?

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Falafel is a popular vegan option that’s packed with protein and fiber. However, it’s important to remember that falafel is still deep-fried and isn’t short on calories, fat, and sodium. One falafel pita can have up to 750 calories, 30 grams of fat, and a whopping 1,500 milligrams of sodium. If your falafel is fried in a heart-healthy oil (olive or grapeseed, for instance), it can definitely fit into a healthy lifestyle—just don’t overdo it. 

How to Make Falafel

Falafel balls aren’t as hard to make at home as you might think. We’ve rounded up some of our best falafel recipes here to get you started. 

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