The delicious chickpea dip hummus that graces the tables of households throughout the Middle East and is increasingly found in American and European supermarkets is at the heart of a legal battle pitting Lebanese industrialists against Israeli producers.
A Lebanese industrial official accused Israel of “stealing” traditional Lebanese recipes and announced that Lebanon will sue Israel in international court because the Jewish state has been exporting Lebanese trademark canned food for several years.
Fady Abboud, head of the Lebanese Society for Industrialists, told AlArabiya.net that Israel's “premeditated exportation” of Lebanon's traditional recipes, under the same trademarks, has caused huge losses to Lebanon that might have exceeded tens of millions of dollars.
Tabbouleh, fattoush, kebba, falafel, babaghanouj and many other “famous Lebanese dishes” that form an integral part of the Lebanese ‘mezza’ -- or appetizer course -- were known to belong to the Lebanese people hundreds of years before Israel even existed, he said.
"Israel doesn't only export the Lebanese recipes under the Lebanese names, but it makes use of the same constituents used by Lebanon in the preparation of those ready-to-eat canned food," Abboud said.
Consumers who buy these mezza in small plastic cans at supermarkets throughout Europe and the United States and come away thinking that they were traditional Israeli recipes, he said.
Although Lebanon had never registered the names and constituents of those recipes internationally, Abboud said he figured Lebanon could follow the line of argument laid out by Greece in its 2002 feta cheese battle and attempt to prove that mezza recipes have historic Lebanese backgrounds and are part of a traditional Lebanese heritage.
In 2002, Greece won the legal right to exclusively label goat and ewe milk cheese as feta. The battle pitted Greece against France, Denmark and Germany, which produce more than 12,000 tons of feta-style cheese per year, in several court cases that finally played out in the European Court.
Abboud said that the court based its decision on the fact that the term 'Feta' was a traditional Greek name linked to Greek history and that Greece had been producing the cheese for more than six thousand years. The economic committee at the European Parliament decided to grant Greece the exclusive right to use the name 'Feta' in both production and exports.
Whether such food is indeed Lebanese is up to debate, though, with Egyptian laying claim to falafel and Syria to tabouleh. Some cookbooks attribute the origin of hummus to Saladin with one of the earliest descriptions coming from 18th century Damascus.
The Hummus Blog, dedicated to all things related to the chickpea dip, reports that hummus was even mentioned in the Bible.
Abboud, however, was optimistic that Israel would lose its battle in international courts and accordingly be prevented from “stealing” such products and passing them off as authentically Israeli.