Falafel or felafel[1] (/fəˈlɑːfəl/, /-ˈlæf-/;[1] Arabic: فلافل‎, [faˈlaːfɪl] (About this sound listen), dialectal: [fæˈlæːfel]) is a deep-fried ball, doughnut or patty made from ground chickpeas, fava beans, or both. Falafel is a traditional Middle Eastern food, that most likely originated in Egypt.[2][3][4] It is commonly served in a pita, which acts as a pocket, 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 are topped with salads, pickled vegetables, 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 (assortment of appetizers).

Falafel is a common food eaten in the Middle East. The fritters are now found around the world as a replacement for meat[5] and a form of street food.


The word falāfil (Arabic: فلافل‎) is the plural of filfil (فلفل), meaning "pepper". The word itself spread and is used in other languages such as[6] Persian pilpil (پلپل),[7] from the Sanskrit word pippalī (पिप्पली), meaning "long pepper"; or an earlier *filfal, from Aramaic pilpāl, "small round thing, peppercorn," derived from palpēl, "to be round, roll". Thus in origin, falafel would be "rollers, little balls."

One Coptic dictionary proposes a Coptic origin via the unattested phrase *pha la phel (Φα Λα Φελ), meaning "that which has lots of beans";[8] however, the Coptic Etymological Dictionary does not contain an entry for the word.[9]

The Egyptian Arabic word falāfil has been globalized into many other languages and spread around the rest of the world as the general name for this food. In English, it is first attested in 1941.[10][11]

Falafel is also known as taʿamiya (Egyptian Arabic: طعميةṭaʿmiyya, IPA: [tˤɑʕˈmejjɑ]) in many parts of Egypt; the word is derived from a diminutive form of the Classical 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".[12][13][14] Nevertheless, in Alexandria, it is called falafel.[15]

The word falafel can refer to the fritters themselves or to sandwiches filled with them.[16]


The origin of falafel is controversial.[16] A widely held theory is that the dish was invented in Egypt about 1000 years ago by Coptic Christians, who ate it as a replacement for meat during Lent.[17][18][19][2] As Alexandria is a port city, it was possible to export the dish and name to other areas in the Middle East.[20] The dish later migrated northwards to the Levant, where chickpeas replaced the fava beans.[21][22] It has been speculated, with no concrete evidence, that its history may go back to Pharaonic Egypt.[23] Other theories propose that it came from the Indian subcontinent, where deep-frying was common, and brought west by Arabs or Turks; or that the chickpea-based food came from Yemen.[2]

A pita filled with vegetables and fritters on a plate
Falafel sandwich

Middle East

Falafel grew to become a common form of street food or fast food in the Middle East.[24] 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.[13] Falafel became so popular that McDonald's for a time served a "McFalafel" in its breakfast menu all over Egypt.[25] Falafel is still popular with all Egyptians, who eat it on a daily basis along with ful medames and even cook large volumes during religious holidays.[26] Debates over the origin of falafel have sometimes devolved into political discussions about the relationship between Arabs and Israelis.[21] In modern times, falafel has been considered a national dish in Egypt,[27] also in Palestine,[28][29] and of Israel.[30][31] Resentment exists amongst many Palestinians for what they see as the appropriation of their dish by Israelis.[32][33] Additionally, the Lebanese Industrialists' Association attempted to claim Protected Designated Origin status, partly to prevent Israeli use of the word.[21][22][34]

Falafel plays an iconic role in Israeli cuisine and is widely considered to be the national dish of the country.[32] While falafel is not a specifically Jewish dish, it was eaten by Mizrahi Jews in their countries of origin.[16] Later, it was adopted by early Jewish immigrants to Palestine.[32] Due to its being entirely plant based, it is considered pareve under Jewish dietary laws and gained acceptance with Jews because it could be eaten with meat or dairy meals.[35] According to Jonathan Kis-Lev, falafel and hummus are often used as symbols for peace,[clarification needed] as well as tools for bridging Israelis and Palestinians.[36][page needed]

In 2012, one of the hotels in the capital of Jordan, Amman, prepared the world's largest Falafel disc weighing about 75 kg – breaking the previous record set at a Jewish food festival In California, United States.[37] [38][39]

North America

Despite the frying process, the inside of a falafel ball remains soft.

In North America, prior to the 1970s, falafel was found only in Middle Eastern and Jewish neighborhoods and restaurants.[5][35][40][41] Today, the dish is a common and popular street food in many cities throughout North America.[42][43][44]


Germany has seen an increase in the popularity of falafel since the last decades of the 20th century.[45] In Berlin, the areas of the former West Berlin play a special role, as they host a comparatively large Arab community. However, falafel shops have been located mainly in areas undergoing gentrification, rather than being chiefly part of an Arab subculture. While the operators are usually Arabs, the customers are predominantly middle-class Germans.[45][46] Some restaurants associated with the thriving Jewish and Israeli community in Berlin also serve falafel.[47]

Falafel restaurants sometimes feature Middle-Eastern decor meant to give an impression of exotic authenticity. However, the food has been adapted. For example, a unique sweet mango sauce is used in place of the sour-salty amba found in the Middle East, and take-away sandwiches in pita bread typically contain assorted vegetables, pickles, and sauces, in contrast to simpler Middle-Eastern presentations.[48]


Falafel has become popular among vegetarians and vegans, as an alternative to meat-based street foods,[5] and is now sold in packaged mixes in health-food stores.[49] While traditionally thought of as being used to make veggie burgers,[50] its use has expanded as more and more people have adopted it as a source of protein.[51] In the United States, falafel's versatility has allowed for the reformulating of recipes for meatloaf, sloppy joes and spaghetti and meatballs into vegetarian dishes.[52][53]

Preparation and variations

 A man in a restaurant kitchen making fritters
A Palestinian man from Ramallah using an aleb falafel while frying falafel

Falafel is made from fava beans or chickpeas. The use of chickpeas is predominant in most Middle Eastern countries.[54] The dish is usually made with chickpeas in Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria.[26][55][56] This version is the most popular in the West.[26] In Egypt, fava beans, chickpeas, or often a combination of the two may be used.[54][57]

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.[26] Spices such as cumin and coriander are often added to the beans for added flavor.[58] The dried fava beans are soaked in water and then stone ground with leek, parsley, green coriander, cumin and dry coriander.[59][60] The mixture is shaped into balls or patties. This can be done by hand or with a tool called an aleb falafel (falafel mould).[12][54] The mixture is usually deep fried, or it can be oven baked.

When not served alone, falafel is often served with flat or unleavened bread[61] when it is wrapped within lafa or stuffed in a hollow pita.[62] Tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, and other garnishes can be added.[63] Falafel is commonly accompanied by tahini.[26]

Falafel is typically ball-shaped, but is sometimes made in other shapes, particularly donut-shaped. The inside of falafel may be green (from green herbs such as parsley or green onion), or tan.


Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 1,393 kJ (333 kcal)
31.84 g
17.80 g
13.31 g
Vitamin A 13 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 constituents
Water 34.62 g
Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database

When made with chickpeas, falafel is high in protein, complex carbohydrates, and fiber.[64] Key nutrients are calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese, vitamin C, thiamine, pantothenic acid, vitamin B, and folate. Phytochemicals include beta-carotene.[65] Falafel is high in soluble fiber, which has been shown to be effective in lowering blood cholesterol.[66][67]

Chickpeas are low in fat and contain no cholesterol, but a considerable amount of fat is absorbed during the frying process. Falafel can be baked to reduce the high fat content associated with frying.[5][63]

World records

Largest falafel ball

The current record, 74.75 kg (164.4 lb), was set on 28 July 2012 in Amman, Jordan.[38] The previous record was 23.94 kg (52.8 lb), 1.17 m in circumference and 0.3 m in height, set at the Santa Clarita Valley Jewish Food and Cultural Festival (US), at the College of the Canyons in Valencia, California, US, on 15 May 2011.[68]

Largest serving of falafel

The record, 5,173 kg (11,404 lb 8 oz), was set by Chef Ramzi Choueiri and the students of Al-Kafaat University (Lebanon) in Beirut on 9 May 2010.[69]


See also

  • Vada (food): Parippu vada is a similar-tasting south Indian preparation using lentils (toor daal)


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External links