Falafel (/fəˈlɑːfəl/; Arabic: فلافل, [fæˈlæːfɪl] ) is a deep-fried ball or patty-shaped fritter of Egyptian origin, featuring in Middle Eastern cuisine, particularly Levantine cuisines, and is made from broad beans, ground chickpeas, or both.

Falafel balls
Alternative namesFelafel
Place of originEgypt
Region or stateMiddle East
Serving temperatureHot
Main ingredientsBroad beans or chickpeas

Falafel is often served in a pita, samoon, laffa, or wrapped in a flatbread known as taboon; "falafel" also frequently refers to a wrapped sandwich that is prepared in this way. The falafel balls may be topped with salads, pickled vegetables, and hot sauce, and drizzled with tahini-based sauces. Falafel balls may also be eaten alone as a snack or served as part of a meze tray (assortment of appetizers).

Falafel is eaten throughout the Middle East and is a common street food. Falafel is usually made with fava beans in Egyptian cuisine, with chickpeas in Palestinian cuisine,[1] or either just chickpeas or a combination of both in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.[1][2][3] It is popular with vegetarians worldwide.[4] The Palestinian chickpea version of the falafel has been adopted into Israeli cuisine, where it features prominently and has been called a national dish of Israel, which Palestinians and other Arabs have criticized and characterized as cultural appropriation.[1][5]


The word falāfil (Arabic: فلافل) is Arabic and is the plural of filfil (فلفل) 'pepper',[6] borrowed from Persian felfel (فلفل),[7] cognate with the Sanskrit word pippalī (पिप्पली) 'long pepper'; or an earlier *filfal, from Aramaic pilpāl 'small round thing, peppercorn', derived from palpēl 'to be round, roll'.[8]

The name falāfil is used world-wide. In English (where it has been written falafel, felafel, filafel and filafil), it is first attested in 1936.[9]

Falafel is known as taʿmiya (Egyptian Arabic: طعمية ṭaʿmiyya, IPA: [tˤɑʕˈmejjɑ]) in Egypt and Sudan. The word is derived from a diminutive form of the Arabic word ṭaʿām (طعام, "food"); the particular form indicates "a unit" of the given root in this case Ṭ-ʕ-M (ط ع م, having to do with taste and food), thus meaning "a little piece of food" or "small tasty thing".[10][11][12]

The word falafel can refer to the fritters themselves or to sandwiches filled with them.

History and distribution

Falafel sandwich in pita
Despite the frying process, the inside of a falafel remains soft.
Falafel being fried in a scoop, Ramallah

The origin of falafel is uncertain.[13] The dish most likely originated in Egypt.[14][15][16][17][18] It has been speculated that its history may go back to Pharaonic Egypt.[19] However, the earliest written references to falafel from Egyptian sources date to the 19th century,[20][21][22] and oil was probably too expensive to use for deep frying in ancient Egypt.[22][23]

As Alexandria is a port city, it was possible to export the dish and its name to other areas in the Middle East.[24] The dish later migrated northwards to the Levant, where chickpeas replaced the fava beans, and from there spread to other parts of the Middle East.[1][25][26]

Middle East

Falafel is a common form of street food or fast food in Egypt, across the Levant, and in the wider Middle East.[2][27] The croquettes are regularly eaten as part of meze. During Ramadan, falafel balls are sometimes eaten as part of the iftar, the meal that breaks the daily fast after sunset.[11] Falafel became so popular that McDonald's for a time served a "McFalafel" in its breakfast menu in Egypt.[28] Falafel is still popular in the Coptic diet, and as such large volumes are cooked during religious holidays.[2] Falafel is consumed as part of Lent diet by Arab Christians.[29][30]


Waves of migration of Arabs and Turks took falafel through Europe to Germany in particular, where a large Turkish population had put down roots. At first it was a dish consumed principally by migrants. During the early 1970s, the appearance of Turkish food stalls and restaurants made falafel available to the Germans, resulting in a transformation of the recipe.[31]

North America

In North America, prior to the 1970s, falafel was found only in Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Jewish neighborhoods and restaurants.[4][32][33][34] Today, the dish is a common and popular street food in many cities throughout North America.[35][36][37]

Homemade falafel
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy1,393 kJ (333 kcal)
31.84 g
17.80 g
13.31 g
Vitamin A13 IU
Thiamine (B1)
0.146 mg
Riboflavin (B2)
0.166 mg
Niacin (B3)
1.044 mg
Pantothenic acid (B5)
0.292 mg
Vitamin B6
0.125 mg
Folate (B9)
78 μg
Vitamin B12
0.00 μg
54 mg
3.42 mg
82 mg
0.691 mg
192 mg
585 mg
294 mg
1.50 mg
Other constituentsQuantity
Water34.62 g

Percentages estimated using US recommendations for adults,[38] except for potassium, which is estimated based on expert recommendation from the National Academies.[39]


Falafel became popular among vegetarians and vegans as an alternative to meat-based street foods.[4][40] While traditionally thought of as being used to make veggie burgers,[41] its use has expanded as more have adopted it as a source of protein.[42] Falafel is used as a meat substitute in some vegetarian recipes for meatloaf, sloppy joes and spaghetti and meatballs.[43][44]

Preparation and variations

Falafel is made from fava beans or chickpeas, or a combination of both.[1] Falafel is usually made with fava beans in Egyptian cuisine, where it most likely originated, with chickpeas in Palestinian cuisine,[1] or just chickpeas or a combination of both in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria and the wider Middle East.[2][1][3][45] This version is the most popular in the West.[2]

When chickpeas are used, they are not cooked prior to use (cooking the chickpeas will cause the falafel to fall apart, requiring adding some flour to use as a binder). Instead they are soaked (sometimes with baking soda) overnight, then ground together with various ingredients such as parsley, scallions, and garlic.[2] Spices such as cumin and coriander are often added to the beans for added flavor.[46] The dried fava beans are soaked in water and then stone ground with leek, parsley, green coriander, cumin and dry coriander.[47][48] The mixture is shaped into balls or patties. This can be done by hand or with a tool called an aleb falafel (falafel mould).[10] The mixture is usually deep-fried, or it can be oven-baked.

Falafel is typically ball-shaped, but is sometimes made in other shapes. The inside of falafel may be green (from green herbs such as parsley or green onion), or tan. Sometimes sesame seeds are added on top of the falafel before frying it.

The pita falafel sandwich was popularized after Israel's independence and in the 1950s by Jewish Yemeni immigrants. An article in The Palestine Post from 19 October 1939 is the first mention of the concept of falafels served in a pita bread as a street food.[49] When served as a sandwich, falafel is often wrapped with flatbread or stuffed in a hollow pita bread,[50] or it can be served with flat or unleavened bread.[51] Tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, and other garnishes can be added.[52][53] Falafel is commonly accompanied by tahini sauce.[2]


Homemade falafel is 35% water, 32% carbohydrates, 13% protein, and 18% fat (table). In a reference amount of 100 grams (3.5 oz), homemade falafel supplies 333 calories and is a rich source (20% or more of the Daily Value, DV) of folate (20% DV) and several dietary minerals, particularly manganese (33% DV) (table). Falafel is high in soluble fiber, which has been shown to be effective in lowering blood cholesterol.[54] Falafel can be baked to avoid the high fat content associated with frying in oil.[4][52]

Politico-cultural implications

Arguments over the relative importance of the dish in various cuisines is an example of gastronationalism.[55] In particular, discussion centers around the adoption of the dish into Israeli cuisine as an example of cultural appropriation.[55]

While, according to author Claudia Roden, falafel was “never specifically a Jewish dish” in Syria and Egypt, it was consumed by Syrian and Egyptian Jews,[13][25] and was adopted in the diet of early Jewish immigrants to the Jewish communities of Ottoman Syria.[5] As it is plant-based, Jewish dietary laws classify it as pareve and thus allow it to be eaten with both meat and dairy meals.[32] Falafel features prominently in Israeli cuisine and has been called a national dish.[5]

Some Palestinians and other Arabs have objected to current identification of falafel with Israeli cuisine as cultural appropriation. Palestinian author Reem Kassis wrote that the term, "Israeli food" (including falafel) has become a proxy for political conflict.[56][5] Joseph Massad, a Jordanian-American professor at Columbia University, has characterized falafel and other Arab dishes description in American and European restaurants as Israeli to be part of a broader trend of "colonial conquest".[57]

Dafna Hirsch of the Open University of Israel, wrote: "Despite Khan Bar-Adon's lament, several ingredients from the Palestinian repertoire did penetrate many Jewish kitchens by the early 1940s, mostly vegetables like olives, tomatoes, eggplants, and squashes. Prepared dishes, however, were rarely adopted, except for falafel, which became a popular street food in Tel Aviv by the late 1930s. Excluding consumption by immigrants from Arab countries, both falafel and, later, hummus seem to have been adopted mainly by the first generation of Jews born in the country."[58] Some authors have disagreed on the politics of food and its relative merit as a topic in the conflict.[59]

The Association of Lebanese Industrialists in 2008 brought a lawsuit against Israel seeking damages for lost revenues, claiming copyright infringement regarding the branding of Israeli falafel, hummus, tabbouleh, and other foods.[25][26][60]



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