Everything You Need to Know About Falafel

This guide will answer all your questions about falafel.

Falafel has been around for over a thousand years. While we modern-day folks love a fast-food pizza, hamburger, and fries, many of our ancestors were enjoying falafel. This traditional Mediterranean dish has been enjoyed for centuries and has become hugely popular in the United States in recent years. 

falafel balls and dipping sauce on a plate

Here’s some good news for you! Falafels taste good and they are good for you too. Now, that’s a rare combination but certainly a winning one. But, the question still lingers – what exactly is falafel? Well, the name “falafel” can refer to the whole dish but, in more accurate terms, it relates to the main ingredient – falafel balls. 

Falafel balls were originally made from fava beans, chickpeas, or a combination of both. However, times have changed a little. Today, falafel balls are usually only made out of chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans. Nevertheless, there remain some variations of falafels depending on where you purchase them. 

Let’s find out more about falafel. Read on as we delve deeper into what falafels really are, what they taste like, and much, much more. 

How is Falafel Made? 

Modern-day falafel is typically made from chickpeas. This is especially popular in the West and Middle Eastern countries such as Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Palestine. The Egyptian variety of falafel tends to mainly use fava beans.

raw chickpeas

When chickpeas are used, they are soaked before being ground up and then seasoned with onions, scallions, and various spices such as garlic, parsley, cumin, and coriander. The mixture is then shaped into balls before being deep-fried in a very large vat. 

The oil must be hot enough for the falafel balls to become crispy on their outside as soon as they are dropped in. However, their insides should not get too oily meaning a delicate balance between the two is often required for the best quality falafel balls. 

Despite its “ball” namesake, falafel can be made into other shapes with one of the most popular being doughnut-shaped falafel balls. When you look inside falafel, you will usually see a green color from the herbs used such as parsley or green onion. 

Serving Falafel 

Falafel can be served in a range of ways. Falafel balls are often wrapped in a hollow pita shell. This is then garnished with different ingredients such as cucumbers, tomatoes, pickles, and, on some occasions, French fries. 

falafel in a pita wrap

Falafel restaurants tend to offer up some other garnishes as well. These include shredded beets, eggplant seeds, or pickled vegetables. When served as a sandwich, falafel is regularly wrapped in flatbread or served with flat and unleavened bread. This whole sandwich is typically coated with hummus and accompanied with a drizzle of tahini sauce. And, if you’re looking for a little more flavor, you can top the falafel sandwich off with a spicy sauce as well.

You can also enjoy falafel as an accompaniment to meat in many restaurants. This is known as “shawarma.” This meat is usually lamb but chicken or turkey works well too. The meat tends to be on a spit and then shaved for sandwiches. 

Nutritional Value of Falafel 

When falafel is made from chickpeas, it is extremely high in protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates. The key nutrients found in falafel are:

  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Potassium
  • Iron
  • Copper
  • Zinc
  • Manganese 
  • Thiamine
  • Vitamin B
  • Vitamin C
  • Folate
  • Pantothenic acid 

Falafel is also high in soluble fiber which has been found to have beneficial effects when lowering blood cholesterol. 

When we consider chickpeas, they have many health benefits. They are low in fat and contain no amount of cholesterol. However, during the frying process, a significant amount of fat is absorbed by the falafel balls. If you’re a little uneasy about this frying method, you can reduce the high-fat content by baking falafel balls instead. 

While chickpeas are low in sodium and saturated fat, it doesn’t mean falafel is as healthy as a green salad. Same falafel pita bread can contain as much as 750 calories, 30 grams of fat, and a colossal 1,500 milligrams of sodium. This is why you should only eat falafel in moderation. And, of course, be fully aware of the toppings you choose and how they can affect the overall calorie count.

Nevertheless, as a meatless option in many dishes for vegetarians, falafel provides a lot of nutrients like protein, fiber, and folate that can be hard to come by otherwise. 

What Does Falafel Taste Like? 

The taste of falafel can vary depending on the ingredients that have been used to make it. More often than not, falafel has a slightly crunchy texture accompanied by a rich, herby, and savory flavor. 

a falafel ball torn open

The more herbs that are included in falafel, the fresher and more herbal it will taste. As for its appearance, it will be greener and brighter. The fewer herbs you use, the richer and more savory you can expect the falafel to taste, especially from the chickpeas or fava beans. 

Falafel’s taste can also depend on how it’s cooked. If fried in oil, you may experience a hint of the oil. Therefore, neutral oil is often used so you can taste the spices, herbs, and aromatics sufficiently. As for traditional falafel, it will have a crunchy yet dense, savory, and herbal flavor to it. 

How to Make Falafel 

If you want to make your own falafel, you will need some time and a little bit of patience. Apart from that, the process is pretty easygoing!

Here’s how to make your very own falafel:

  1. Soak your beans (chickpeas and/or fava beans) overnight.
  2. Once they have been soaking, mash the beans with a fork or a food processor. Just make sure you do not blend the mixture in a paste. 
  3. Next, it’s time to add the aromatics. If you want a more traditional falafel, add garlic, onion, mint, parsley, cumin, cilantro, coriander, and black pepper. These ingredients will have a huge impact on the overall taste. 
  4. Blend the herbs and spices with the beans until everything has been combined. 
  5. Once the mixture has been made, cover it, and store it in your refrigerator for at least 1 hour. This helps the entire mixture cool down and allows for a much easier frying process. 
  6. Once it has cooled, form the mixture into small balls or patties in preparation for cooking. 
  7. Now, it’s time to cook! Here, you have two options: fry or bake. If you fry your falafels, you need to place them into oil that yields a high smoke point such as canola, sunflower oil, or avocado. Fry them for 3 to 5 minutes on either side. For baking, place the falafel onto a baking sheet and brush their tops with oil. Bake in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 to 20 minutes. Or, you can check them and stop baking once the falafel has turned into a dark golden brown. 

Can You Freeze Falafel? 

You can store both cooked and uncooked falafel in your freezer. For uncooked falafel, you should store it in an airtight container for 1 month before cooking it. For cooked falafel, you can store it in your freezer for 3 to 6 months.

You can also eat falafel cold as well as warm if you like. All of the ingredients in falafel are edible without cooking so there is no risk of eating cold. 

Final Thoughts

Now that you know all there is to know about this delicious food, don’t be afraid to order it the next time you go out to eat and see it on the menu or to make it at home for a healthy, tasty meal.

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Written by Rocco Smith

Rocco is a recent graduate of Florida State University with a Bachelor’s in Editing, Writing, and Media. With seven years’ experience in the restaurant industry as a cook, server, bartender, and more, he is deeply passionate about intertwining his fondness for food with his love of language.