The Picture Pantry
Show Hide image

In the Middle East, the hummus wars rage on. One Arab-Israeli restaurateur mounted an offensive with four tonnes of the stuff

Future generations will want to know how you coped during the great hummus shortage of 2017.

Forget news of Brexit and the Trump presidency – all that future generations will want to know is how you coped during the great hummus shortage of 2017. For those spared the horror, I refer to that difficult week in April when the space between the taramasalata and the tzatziki in most UK supermarket chains stood sadly empty, save for short notices announcing a temporary lack of stock “due to a production issue”.

According to social media, the mass recall – “taste issues” were blamed – signalled “the end of the world”; or, at the very least, a pressing issue for the next election. “If the Lib Dems don’t make the hummus crisis a centrepiece of the campaign they don’t really care about Remainers,” as one tweet put it.

Though it sounds like the stuff of right-wing parody, the hummus war is real. Hostilities began in 2009 when a Lebanese delegation at a French trade fair claimed to have heard Israeli exhibitors promoting the dish as an old Israeli speciality. Enraged, they organised an assault on the world record for the largest dish of hummus.

“We want the whole world to know that hummus [is] Lebanese, and by breaking [into] the Guinness Book of World Records, the world should know our cuisine, our culture,” the then minister of tourism declared at the ceremony where Guinness presented Lebanon with its award.

The record didn’t stand for long: a furious Arab-Israeli restaurateur hit back early the following year with a four-tonne response – and though there has as yet been no comeback to Beirut’s successful counterattack four months later (“Whether it’s with hummus, tabbouleh or weapons, our struggle continues,” as one participant put it, somewhat ominously), the war goes on. At one point the Association of Lebanese Industrialists even announced plans to apply for protected status for Lebanese hummus within the EU (status of the kind that prevents English winegrowers from calling their fizz champagne, or German cheese producers using the name feta). But these plans never got off the ground – probably for the best, according to the Middle East historian Ari Ariel, given the “huge legal battle” that would result.

Ariel is not entirely sure that the hummus war is the light-hearted antidote to deeper divisions it is often painted as. “It is part of the military conflict, in a way,” he told Heritage Radio Network’s A Taste of the Past. “There’s this idea that by sharing foods we can reconcile . . . but it doesn’t seem to be true.”

The matter is divisive even within Israel. Early Jewish settlers were slow to develop a taste for the Arab speciality, and though wartime rationing forced them to adapt to more local ingredients, it was still often sold as Mizrahi Jewish fare, though that community largely originated in North Africa, Iraq and Yemen – places with no great hummus culture.

It wasn’t until the 1980s that the dish’s Arab identity began to be acknowledged and celebrated. But these days, according to the Jerusalem-born chef Yotam Ottolenghi, “When push comes to shove, nobody seriously challenges the Palestinian hegemony in making hummus, even though both they and the Jews like calling it their own.”

Instead, the debate now is over who makes the best: “Jews in particular, and even more specifically Jewish men, never tire of arguments about the absolute, the one and only, the most fantastic hummusia [hummus café],” he says.

They can all agree on one thing – you definitely won’t find it at the supermarket. l

Next week: Nina Caplan on drink

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 11 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why the Tories keep winning

Photo: Channel 4
Show Hide image

Who will win Great British Bake Off 2017 based on the contestants’ Twitters

An extremely serious and damning investigation. 

It was morning but the sky was as dark as the night – and the night was as dark as a quite dark rat. He walked in. A real smooth gent with legs for seconds. His pins were draped in the finest boot-cut jeans money could buy, and bad news was written all over his face. “I’m Paul,” he said. “I know”. My hooch ran dry that night – but the conversation never did. By nightfall, it was clear as a see-through rat.   

Some might say that going amateur detective to figure out which contestants win and lose in this year’s Great British Bake Off is spoiling the fun faster than a Baked Alaska left out of the freezer. To those people I’d say: yes. The following article is not fun. It is a serious and intense week-by-week breakdown of who will leave GBBO in 2017. How? Using the contestants’ Twitter and Instagram accounts, of course.

The clues are simple but manifold, like a rat with cousins. They include:

  • The date a contestant signed up for social media (was it during, or after, the competition?)
  • Whether a contestant follows any of the others (indicating they had a chance to bond)
  • A contestant’s personal blog and headshots (has the contestant already snaffled a PR?)
  • Pictures of the contestant's baking.
  • Whether a baker refers to themselves as a “baker” or “contestant” (I still haven’t figured this one out but FOR GOD’S SAKE WATSON, THERE’S SOMETHING IN IT)

Using these and other damning, damning, damning clues, I have broken down the contestants into early leavers, mid-season departures, and finalists. I apologise for what I have done.

Early leavers

Kate

Kate appears not to have a Twitter – or at least not one that the other contestants fancy following. This means she likely doesn’t have a book deal on the way, as she’d need to start building her social media presence now. Plus, look at how she’s holding that fork. That’s not how you hold a fork, Kate.

Estimated departure: Week 1

Julia

This year’s Bake Off began filming on 30 April and each series has ten episodes, meaning filming ran until at least 9 July. Julia first tweeted on 8 May – a Monday, presumably after a Sunday of filming. Her Instagram shows she baked throughout June and then – aha! – went on holiday. What does this mean? What does anything mean?

Estimated departure: Week 2

James

James has a swish blog that could indicate a PR pal (and a marketing agency recently followed him on Twitter). That said, after an April and May hiatus, James began tweeting regularly in June – DID HE PERHAPS HAVE A SUDDEN INFLUX OF FREE TIME? No one can say. Except me. I can and I am.

Estimated departure: Week 3

Tom

Token-hottie Tom is a real trickster, as a social media-savvy youngster. That said, he tweeted about being distracted at work today, indicating he is still in his old job as opposed to working on his latest range of wooden spoons. His Instagram is suspiciously private and his Twitter sparked into activity in June. What secrets lurk behind that mysteriously hot face? What is he trying to tell me, and only me, at this time?

Estimated departure: Week 4

Peter

Peter’s blog is EXCEPTIONALLY swish, but he does work in IT, meaning this isn’t a huge clue about any potential managers. Although Peter’s bakes look as beautiful as the moon itself, he joined Twitter in May and started blogging then too, suggesting he had a wee bit of spare time on his hands. What’s more, his blog says he likes to incorporate coconut as an ingredient in “everything” he bakes, and there is absolutely no bread-baking way Paul Hollywood will stand for that.

Estimated departure: Week 5

Mid-season departures

Stacey

Stacey’s buns ain’t got it going on. The mum of three only started tweeting today – and this was simply to retweet GBBO’s official announcements. That said, Stacey appears to have cooked a courgette cake on 9 June, indicating she stays in the competition until at least free-from week (or she’s just a massive sadist).

Estimated departure: Week 6

Chris

Chris is a tricky one, as he’s already verified on Twitter and was already solidly social media famous before GBBO. The one stinker of a clue he did leave, however, was tweeting about baking a cake without sugar on 5 June. As he was in London on 18 June (a Sunday, and therefore a GBBO filming day) and between the free-from week and this date he tweeted about bread and biscuits (which are traditionally filmed before free-from week in Bake Off history) I suspect he left just before, or slap bang on, Week 7. ARE YOU PROUD NOW, MOTHER?

Estimated departure: Week 7

Flo

Flo’s personal motto is “Flo leaves no clues”, or at least I assume it is because truly, the lady doesn’t. She’s the oldest Bake Off contestant ever, meaning we can forgive her for not logging onto the WWWs. I am certain she’ll join Twitter once she realises how many people love her, a bit like Val of seasons past. See you soon, Flo. See you soon.

Estimated departure: Week 8

Liam

Liam either left in Week 1 or Week 9 – with 0 percent chance it was any of the weeks in between. The boy is an enigma – a cupcake conundrum, a macaron mystery. His bagel-eyed Twitter profile picture could realistically either be a professional shot OR taken by an A-Level mate with his dad’s camera. He tweeted calling his other contestants “family”, but he also only follows ONE of them on the site. Oh, oh, oh, mysterious boy, I want to get close to you. Move your baking next to mine.

Estimated departure: Week 9

Finalists

Steven

Twitter bios are laden with hidden meanings and Steven Carter-Bailey’s doesn’t disappoint. His bio tells people to tune in “every” (every!) Tuesday and he has started his own hashtag, #StevenGBBO. As he only started tweeting 4 August (indicating he was a busy lil baker before this point) AND his cakes look exceptionally lovely, this boy stinks of finalist.  

(That said, he has never tweeted about bread, meaning he potentially got chucked out on week three, Paul Hollywood’s reckoning.)

Sophie

Sophie’s Twitter trail is the most revealing of the lot, as the bike-loving baker recently followed a talent agency on the site. This agency represents one of last year’s GBBO bakers who left just before the finale. It’s clear Sophie’s rising faster than some saffron-infused sourdough left overnight in Mary’s proving drawer. Either that or she's bolder than Candice's lipstick. 

Chuen-Yan

Since joining Twitter in April 2017, Yan has been remarkably silent. Does this indicate an early departure? Yes, probably. Despite this, I’m going to put her as a finalist. She looks really nice. 

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.