What Exactly Are Falafels?
Falafel is a middle-eastern food, a type of fritter that is essentially a ball of deep-fried vegetables, heavily flavored with a variety of spices and herbs.
There are a great variety of ways to make falafel, but the vast majority of recipes will be vegan, containing no animal products.
The biggest and most consistent ingredient across all falafels will be the presence of chickpeas, otherwise known as garbanzo beans.
These provide a lot of flavor, texture and protein to falafel, but the most important purpose of the bean is to bind the falafel together because of its sticky base.
What Goes Into A Falafel?
Falafel has a great variety of regional recipes and variations depending on where in the middle-east you look, but much of the process is always the same.
The base is always formed of crushed or blended garbanzo beans, with herbs and spices added, which commonly include garlic, coriander, cumin, parsley, and paprika.
This forms a richly flavored wet mixture that will bind together very well, allowing it to be formed into a ball without the presence of dairy products like eggs.
The ball is deep-fried in oil to give it a crunchy texture and then served.
This is only the very basic formula of a falafel, however. Various vegetables are often incorporated into the batter, with onion being a very common inclusion.
Sometimes, other elements are used instead of garbanzo beans, including broad beans or wheat flour.
Sesame seeds are often sprinkled on them, and some commercial options incorporate baking powder to give the falafel a fluffier texture.
Many bake falafels at home in the oven, rather than frying them. This saves oil and gives the falafel a denser, less crispy texture.
Additionally, while most falafel nowadays is deep-fried in oil, some places may still use the traditional method of frying it in lard – a pork byproduct – or another type of animal fat.
To avoid cross-contamination, you can always check with the restaurant or on the packaging to check its safety for vegans.
So Is All Falafel Vegan?
There will be situations where falafel will be made with animal products, though it is rare.
The most likely event is that it will be served alongside something containing animal products, for example in a pita bread made with honey.
Falafel is also often topped with a variety of foods, many of which may contain animal products.
Most notably, falafel is traditionally served with tzatziki in many places, a sort of yogurt sauce flavored with spices, and as such is a dairy product.
As for the actual falafel itself, it is extremely rare for it to contain animal products. Some falafel may contain feta cheese.
Other types of cheese are used in non-traditional settings on very rare occasions, but these should always be signed and are far outside the norm.
To ensure you’re eating vegan falafel, all you need to do is keep an eye on the toppings and ask for any that contain animal products to not be included in your order.
Is Falafel Good For You?
There is often a prevalent misconception that foods containing no animal products are not healthy on their own.
Many believe you cannot get enough nutrients from non-animal sources, especially protein.
So does falafel fall into this category, or is it more nutrient-dense than one might think?
For the most part, falafels are a very healthy source of nutrition. It is mostly garbanzo beans, with some vegetables, herbs, and spices.
Garbanzo beans contain a lot of protein, iron, and fiber, and the vegetables and spices will give you plenty of vitamins.
The only downside to falafels is that they are fried in an excess of oil, giving them a lot of fats.
Some falafel is also quite high in salt, especially store brands, as it’s often used as a preservative in premade mixes.
The exact nutrient levels of falafel are highly dependent on its preparation, however as a general rule, you can assume all falafel are high in both protein and fats.
That said, falafel is rarely eaten on its own, and if eaten as part of a meal, it will often be served with a broader mezze platter.
So while falafel may be quite healthy on its own, be sure to pay attention to what it’s being served with if you’re concerned about a healthy meal.
Where Is Falafel From?
Falafel is a type of food that originated in the middle-east, but the exact place of its creation is a topic of heavy debate.
Most accounts suggest that it originated in Egypt, with the earliest recording sources dating back to the 19th century, over a thousand years ago.
While Egypt might have the strongest support in its claims of being the birthplace of falafel, Israel, Palestine, and Yemen claim to be the creators of this dish.
In Israel, it is also considered the national dish. Each of these places has its own variation of the falafel, and all have different methods of serving it.
You will often be able to find pre-made mixes that are labeled with the country variation they were based on.
For example, you’ll often see Lebanese falafel mixes, due to their popularity. Moroccan falafel mixes are also incredibly popular.
Can Falafel Contain Eggs?
- Falafel will pretty much never contain any egg since the garbanzo bean already acts as a binding agent, meaning the addition of egg is unnecessary and would create too wet and sticky a mixture.
A lot Of The Falafel I See Is Served With Tahini, Is That Vegan?
- Tahini is a sort of butter made from sesame seeds and is often served with falafel. You can rest assured that tahini is perfectly vegan, and pairs great with falafel.
Should I Have Falafel With Hummus?
- Falafel and hummus are a very popular pair that is also completely vegan. You should feel free to enjoy falafel however you want, however, be aware that both hummus and falafel contain a large amount of fat, and often salt, so it may not be the healthiest option for a snack.
Altogether, Falafel is a super tasty, healthy, protein-dense food that can be had as a snack or as part of a good meal, all while being totally vegan! You can rest assured on your next night out that the falafel will be a good option for you if you’re a vegan as long as you keep an eye on those toppings!