What Is Falafel And Is It Vegan?

It's a fried snack that's not only served at many restaurants and street stalls across the Middle East, but in big cities around the world too. Falafel is a regional favorite that is so beloved, it is claimed as a national dish by Israelis, Palestinians, Lebanese, and Yemeni. But History Today says no matter what these nations say, falafel is almost certain to have come from an Egyptian kitchen.

Because there are no historical records that contain a description of a falafel, History Today says we can only assume that it was not first enjoyed by the pharaohs, because cooking oil would have been too expensive to use. Instead, it posits that falafel is a slightly more modern dish and that they came about in the late 1800s, when British soldiers who missed their Indian vegetable croquettes asked their Egyptian cooks to prepare something similar, using local ingredients. Falafel likely came from the port city of Alexandria, where they subsequently spread across the country.

What ingredients are used to make falafel?

Falafel today are usually round and are deep-fried. When they are made in a traditional way, falafel patties are both vegetarian and vegan since they are made entirely out of plant-based ingredients: chickpeas or fava beans are blended with spices to make the patty, which is then deep-fried. It's either served on its own, or stuffed in a sandwich and served along with lettuce, tomato, and tahini inside pita bread. It can also be served with hummus and tahini as an appetizer.

To make falafel, you only need to mix a cup of canned or dried chickpeas (or fava beans) that have been soaked overnight with onions and spices like ground coriander and cumin, as well as parsley. The mixture is then passed through a food processor and minced, before it is shaped into a golf ball or a small puck and then deep-fried. Baking powder is also added to falafel to make them fluffy (via The Guardian). No binders like eggs are used to keep the chickpea patty together, because chickpeas contain proteins, which helps the patty or golf ball hold its shape, according to Your Vegan Journey.

What does falafel taste like?

The type of bean you might use to make a falafel will depend on where the falafel recipe comes from. Chickpeas are the main ingredient of choice in the U.S., as well as in Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Palestine, while fava beans, either alone or combined with chickpeas, are usually used in Egypt (via Your Vegan Journey). Falafel in Love says both types of falafel taste similar, although there is a difference in texture between the green bean and the chickpea falafel. Fava bean patties are seen as being a bit chewier, while canned chickpea falafels are smoother.

How flavorful a falafel can be depends on the type and quantity of spice a cook decides to add, although The Guardian says both types of beans are at their best when they are given a generous amount of seasoning. While the Guardian is not a fan of adding yellow onion ("too harsh"), they're more than happy to throw in an excess amount of garlic. Falafel also benefits from having a generous addition of salt.

Is falafel nutritious?

Falafel can either be served on its own, or as a side dish, and because they can be quite more-ish, diners can be forgiven for wondering whether falafel is nutritious. 

Healthline says a 100 gram serving of six small falafel patties can pack 333 calories, of which 13.3 grams are protein, 31.8 grams are carbs, and 17.8 grams are of fat. Falafel also packs nearly five grams of fiber, as well as nearly a day's worth of vitamin B6, which helps your body use the energy drawn from protein and carbs and helps in the formation of hemoglobin. This is an element of a red blood cell that helps carry oxygen to different parts of your body (via NHS). The only downside to this snack is that it is deep-fried in oil, which is why it is high in both calories and fat.