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Middle Eastern cuisine or West Asian cuisine is the cuisine of the various countries and peoples of the Middle East (Western Asia). The cuisine of the region is diverse while having a degree of homogeneity. Some commonly used ingredients include olives and olive oil, pitas, honey, sesame seeds, sumac, chickpeas, mint and parsley. Some popular dishes include kibbeh and shawarma.

Contents

History and influences

The Middle East was where wheat was first cultivated, followed by barley, pistachios, figs, pomegranates, dates and other regional staples. Fermentation was also discovered here to leaven bread and make beer. As a crossroads between Europe, Asia and Africa, this area has long been a hub of food and recipe exchange. During the Persian Empire (ca. 550–330 BCE) the foundation was laid for Middle Eastern food when rice, poultry and fruits were incorporated into their diets. Figs, dates and nuts were brought by Arabian warriors to conquered lands.

These were only the first influences on the area. During Turkey's Ottoman Empire the sweet pastries of paper thin phyllo dough and the dense, sweet coffee was brought to the area; coffee is now consumed throughout the Middle East.

The area was also influenced by yoghurt from Russia; dumplings from Mongol invaders; turmeric, cumin, garlic and other spices from India; cloves, peppercorns and allspice from the Spice Islands; okra from Africa; and tomatoes from the New World, via the Moors of Spain. Religion has also changed the cuisine as neither Jews nor Muslims eat pork, making lamb the primary meat. In addition, the Qur'an forbids alcohol, so consequently the region is not generally noted for its wines.[1][2]

Elements

Many Middle Eastern dishes are made with a paste called tahini. Tahini is a sesame paste made with hulled seeds, unlike its Asian counterpart. It is used to make such popular meze, or appetizers, as baba ghanoush and hummus along with pungent dipping sauces served with falafel, keftes or kofta and vegetables.[3] Hummus is made from chickpeas, which are staples of the diet.n

Beverages

Aside from the ever-popular Middle Eastern coffee, there is also a popular alcoholic drink called arak. Arak has a high alcohol content, so water and ice is almost always added, producing the drink nicknamed "the milk of lions."[4]

Health effects

The diet is often cited as beneficial for being low in saturated fat and high in monounsaturated fat and dietary fiber.

One of the main explanations is thought to be the health effects of olive oil included in the Middle Eastern diet.

Some of the health benefits may include:

Longer Life. A clinical research study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that a diet closely resembling the Middle Eastern diet was “associated with a more than 50% lower rate of all-causes and cause-specific mortality.”

Decrease Risk of Diabetes. Diabetes rates are increasing, in part due to the rise in obesity. A Middle Eastern diet, can with an emphasis on natural plant foods prevent the blood sugar “spike” inherent in high glycemic index foods. A 2008 British Medical Journal study found that individuals that closely adhered to this type of diet had a decreased risk of developing type two diabetes of 75%.

Lower Weight. Although not necessarily always low fat, a Middle Eastern style diet helps people lose weight effectively. Researchers in Israel randomly assigned 300 people who had struggled with weight loss to either follow a typical low fat diet, or a Middle Eastern style diet. Those that followed the Middle Eastern diet lost twice the weight of those sticking to the old fashioned low fat dieting approach.

Decreased Risk of Heart Disease. Heart disease, also known as cardiovascular disease, is the number one killer in the world. In fact, the American Heart Association found that one third of all deaths can be pinned on cardiovascular disease. The Middle Eastern diet attacks heart disease in a myriad of ways, reducing body fat and weight, decreasing the incidence of diabetes and lowering cholesterol.

Etiquette

In some areas in the Middle East, it is common for people to take their food from a common plate in the center of the table. Rather than employing forks or spoons, people may scoop up hummus and other foodstuff with pita bread. Among Muslims in particular, the left hand is reserved for bodily hygiene and considered unclean. Thus, the right hand should be used for eating; shaking hands or handing over an item with one's left hand is an insult.

Geographical varieties

See also

References

  1. ^ Middle Eastern cuisines: gain ground, Bnet UK, January 2003
  2. ^ The Middle East: Background, Global Gourmet.com, January 2007
  3. ^ Tahini: The Taste of Healthy Middle Eastern Cuisine, The New York Times, October 19, 2009. Last visited January 29, 2010.
  4. ^ Arak: Middle Eastern Alcoholic Beverage, About.com,
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