Mutabal and Baba Ghanoush: Which is Which?

Gastrogeek, a fellow food blogger, published a recipe of Bengali Moussaka. A small discussion followed her post confirmed a long standing theory I have that people outside Damascus, Arabs and Westerners alike, don't know the difference between Mutabal and Baba Ghanoush. Even Wikipedia puts them under one title.

Being a man of science I decided not to accept anecdotal evidence from my discussion and put my theory to scientific scrutiny (If I was going to accept anecdotal evidence I would be selling herbs, Riekei, homeopathy, reflexology or some other kind of nothing-to-do-with-science-or-even-therapy-hocous-pocus-kind-of-rubbish).

So, I took a random sample of two groups of restaurants through a google search:
1. Restaurant in Syria or Syrian restaurants overseas (n=14).
2. Other Levantine restaurants outside Syria (n=13).
Since both dishes are Syrian, I set my study criteria that correct Syrian terminology should be used.
I checked the menu in each of these restaurants and recorded if they got their Mutabal/Baba Ghanoush right or wrong.
The results came back as group one got it right in 92% of the cases while group two in only 46%.
But is it a coincidence or do I have true results? I applied t-Test to my results and the two group showed a significant statistical difference with a P value=0.0085.

Hoorah!! My theory is proven (and my very boring on-call shift is about to finish). In case you are wondering what the hell was that last paragraph about, this is the kind of stuff I have to read on daily basis. I thought I will share the joy.

So after all of this what is the difference between the two? Both these dishes have the same main ingredient, smoky baked aubergine, but that where similarities end. Mutabal is the one with yogurt, Tahini and Garlic. Baba Ghanoush is the one with pomegranate molasses, tomatoes, parsley and walnuts.

Aubergine for both dishes is traditionally cooked in an unorthodox way. You put the aubergine whole directly on open flame and you cook it till it is charred on the outside and soft on the inside. This gives the dish its characteristic smokiness. No other method of cooking can give you that exact flavour. I tested my friend method and cooked my aubergine on the halogen hub. It actually works. Not as smoky but very close.

After you cook the aubergine, cover with cling film for 20-30 minutes. Remove the charred skin, it should come off easily, then mash the aubergine with a fork.

Add the rest of your ingredients and season to taste. There is no exact amount to the rest of the ingredients. Add more or less to get a taste you like. Spread on a plate and drizzle with olive oil.

I hope I answered the question once and for all.


Anonymous said...

Wow Kano!! Thanks so much for the intensive research you've carried out, and for the clarification. The question has certainly been answered once and for all. I agree with you about the gas flame over the halogen hub, it's not the same is it? However, I must say I do love a nice aubergine however it's cooked.

P.S. Who is this "foodgeek"?! ;)

Kano said...

whoops!!!! honest mistake.

Regarding the extensive research, it was a long boring on-call.

Thanks for coming by and for following my blog. This Green Tea Noodle looks great.

Anonymous said...

Ha ha! No worries. BTW your blog is awesome! I love the historical/political anecdotes with your recipes - truly fascinating stuff.

Abu Kareem said...

Ya Hakeem, It must have been a long night on call. Clearly, you forgot do this in a double-blinded fashion, since as a Syrian, you are a biased observer. Your Baba Ghanoush sounds delicious. I have to show it to my wife who is a Lebanese foodie and an aubergine fanatic.

Kano said...

I tried to double blind it but the only study design I could come up with involved fifty blindfolded people half Syrian and half non with loads of small servings of either dish. Unfortunately that facility was difficult to acquire in my on call room.

Regarding the Syrian bias, I couldn't agree with you more. But, to give myself some credit, I am really impressed with how neutral and PC I am managing to keep myself writing this blog. Can you imagine how touchy the subject of Syrian/Lebanese/Levantine cuisine could be?

Anonymous said...

Hi Kano,
Your blog is getting famous now, that is just, Great!

One point, is it Babaghnoush or Babaghanouj? at home and even wen you go out we always say J not SH? do you know why is that?

Thanks in advance and have a great day.

Kano said...

I am really glad that I am getting more visitors to my blog . The best thing is the number of regular and retearning readers is improving. I am trying to do my best to give our cuisine justice.

Regarding the spelling, I think it should be "J" instead of "sh" because that how we pronounce it, but for the benfit of non arabic speaking readerds I decided to use the spelling used in Wikipedia. This will make it easier to google if needed.

Same thing applies to "Mulukhiya" instead of "Mlokhieah".

Anonymous said...

You've truly inspired me. I'm going to make Mutabal tonight!

Kano said...


That is great, Let me know how it goes.

I am trying to think of other ways to use grilled aubergines. I tried a dish on my last visit to Syria, Aubergine stuffed Kebbeh but the excution of the dish was awful. I might try to do something on that line.

If you have any ideas share them with me.

Anonymous said...

That sounds quite delicious. I often like them stirred into dhal, they add an extra layer of intensely smoky flavour. Also, I've heard that in some parts of the Mediterranean they use grilled aubergine instead of tomato sauce as a base on pizzas.

Allie said...

Very, very interesting post. Thank you. I had no idea what the difference was, and in fact simply thought the different names were related to dialect rather than ingredients. And no, the math didn't bore me. :)

Kano said...

Hi Allie

I am so glad you left a comment here. I really like your blog. The recipes your post looks great.

By the way, do you have any links to Syria? I noticed you have few Syrian blogs listed on your blog roll.

Allie said...


Thanks! I'm glad you like the recipes! I really do need to start cooking more often these days. The end of my semester and then the following vacation really ground it to a stop.

I like your blog equally - I really enjoy the research you put into everything and the methodical approach to both the research and the writing.

No links to Syria other than a couple IRL Syrian friends. I'm actually Jewish, but have an obsession with Levantine seasonings and food, as well as an interest in the diversity of Syrian culture.

Kano said...

Hi Allie

I was kind of hoping you will say you are "Jewish Syrian form New York" or something like this. Lately I've been very interested in Syrian Jewish culture, food, history....

It is part of our Syrian heritage that we lost unfortunately.

Allie said...

Hey Kano,

I'm really interested in Syrian Jewish culture, food, etc., also. My own family background is half Russian Jewish (father's side), and the other half and odd mixture of Turkish, Spanish, Italian and French Jews (mother's side). My family genealogy only shows people from Syria from so long ago I can't reasonably count it. I was born in Los Angeles though, and though my father's from New York, my mother came to America from Canada.

My understanding is the Syrian Jews eat similarly to non-Jewish Syrians, though some of the names of the foods are changed. The difficulty in researching these things are that at least in the States, Syrian Jews are so very wary of outsiders (including other Jews; so much so that they often prohibit marriage between a Syrian Jew and a Jew of any other variety) that it's difficult to really get to the heart of such matters.

Here are a few links, however:

And here's a book on the subject:

Perhaps as more people become interested, we can eventually reach a point where these traditions and heritages are shared with those who want to carry them forward. That's my hope, anyway.

Kano said...

Hi Allie

I know Syrian Jewish cuisine is no different to the rest of Syria. With some differences to accommodate kosher traditions.

Thank you very much for the links. You didn't do that while camping, did you?

Do you know the excellent book of Poopa Dwick "Aromas of Aleppo"?

Allie said...

Oh, always the kosher thing. I can't do it. Even if I could avoid eating cheese with meat (and really, with something as glorious as feta, who can?), bacon would get me every time. I'm totally addicted!

Do you mean all the cooking while camping? Oh yeah - I cooked everything except the steak, potato and onion soup meal, and one bacon and eggs meal. I can tell you that cooking for 50 on a little camping grill is BRUTAL. It took 5 or 6 hours just to grill all the veggies! But I bought the pita and the majority of the sauces. I considered making the hummus, but I don't think it's as good 3 days after it's made (for homemade; commercial seems to sail through 3 days with no trouble) so I didn't end up making it.

No, I don't know the book, but I'm definitely putting it on my Amazon wish list. Thanks for the recommendation!!

Kano said...

I am really impressed. Next time I go camping, you will be first on my guest list :)

Regarding hummus, I am not sure I agree. I never eat it the day I make it (my wife actually is the hummus maker in our house). We leave it till next day so the flavours develop and the consistency improves.

Allie said...

I do agree it's better the second day. But I worry when I'm going to be taking it to a super-humid place where there's no refrigeration and it won't get eaten until 3 days after the fact. Things get moldy so quickly when it's humid!

I'm very excited. I have loads of beans cooling both for hummus and leblebi right now. I cannot wait to eat them!

And I'm down for any camping trips, certainly!

Reeshiez said...

I love this post. I am from Bahrain and all my life, we called mutabbal the dish with tahini and sometimes yogurt, and baba ganouj the dish without. When I moved to the US for university, I noticed that every single restaurant called mutabbal baba ganouj. The Arabs living here also do the same thing. I don't understand why this is so widespread. In book on Mediterrainian food, Clifford Wright says that Palestinians and Jordanians call the dish mutabbal and Lebanese and Syrians call it baba ganouj. I also asked summer, from Mimi Cooks the same question and she gave me the same answer. See

However, when I went to Lebanon, I noticed that they called it mutabbal. And now you, a Syrian, says the same thing! So I am as confused as ever.

Kano said...

@ Reeshiez

Welcome to my blog. glad you like it.

No need to be confused, both are Syrian dishes so Syrian names should be the ones used :)

Gastro1 said...


I thought Moutabel was Syrolebanese and Baba Ganoush Egyptian in fact the latter is very similar to Melizanoslata a greek dish which like all those mentioned are in one way or another of Turkish origin ! Both Baba Ganoush and Melitzanoslata have no Tahini.

Kano said...

Hi Gastro1

Baba Ganoush is a stable dish on the Syrian mezze menu. We especially like to eat it with Kebbeh Meshoyeh (Grilled Kebbeh) as the sour fruity taste of baba Ganoush gives an excellent contrast to the fatty kebbeh.

Regarding the Turkish origin, that is a very interesting point. It is widely acceptable that many dishes of the Levant, Greece and The Balkans are of Turkish origin since all these areas were under the Ottoman rule for 400 years. It is very easy to relate these dishes to a similar or very close Turkish dish and automatically assume the Turkish version is the original.

I like to think of it differently, The area was for a long period of time a single political unit. There was an active and passive movement of people, cultures and influences in the region. I believe modern Leventine, Turkish and to a degree Greek cuisine is a descendant of the Arabic cuisine of the middle ages that was eaten in The Levant and Andalusia in the Middle Ages. This single cuisine of the Ottoman era developed in this Eastern Medeterranian region as a whole and the differences between the three cuisines is related to what is locally available.

I might need to do more historic research but I prefer this theory of the origin of the East Mediterranean cuisine rather than simply "invented in Turkey and exported"

Fouad @ The Food Blog said...

Hi Kano

Maybe a bit late to comment on this post :)

In Lebanon, we have the same ambiguity. The confusion for me lies in other dishes we have like mutabbal fasoulia, which is broad beans with garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and parsley. What gets to me is that the word mutabbal doesn't include tahini based dishes, except possibly in the case of mutabbal batinjen (our name for your mutabbal. Baba ghannouj is such a useless name, isn't it?

Do you have other mutabbal dishes?

Kano said...


It is never late for intellictual debate!

In Syria we have few other dishes called mutabbal and they are more or less the same as muttabal betenjan but with a different base vegetable. They all use tahini.

Mutabal Shawander (beetroot) is the most common

Others like Mutabal Kousa (courgettes) and mutabal zahra (cauliflower) are great dishes although less known.

pmur70 said...

Someone asked me about the difference at a buffet in Doha tonight. Not only was this the first link I checked after a google search, but I do educational research so I actually understood the bit about the p values and all. Nice to have things explained in a language you understand :)

Kano said...


I am so glad I have been of help. Welcome to my blog. I hope you find other stuff to interest you apart from the P value :)

pmur70 said...

@ Kano. Thanks, I was hoping to go taste Syrian food in Damascus over the Eid break, but couldn't get the visa in time. I'm sure that the Baba Ghanoush from the Lulu Hypermarket here doesn't compare. I guess now I have time to try out some of your recipes.

Kano said...


Welcome to my blog!

Even if you cooked my dishes you still need a visit to Syria. That is one holiday you will not regret.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the clarification. After coming back from vacation in Jordan, we've been discussing the difference between the two and as novises when It comes to Middle Easten cooking it feels good to be able to know what's right from the start rather then going around thinking it's the same thing, which was our theory for a while. Regardless of which, they are both delicious! /Sofia

Kano said...


I am glad I have been of help!

Welcome to my blog.

karla yanina said...

How great it is to find an informative site that will help me become more educated on my passion: all things Lebanese and Syrian. Had the honour to visit both 2 years ago and fell in love, my dream is to go back. Now i know what to do with those eggplants in my fridge. I respect your approach as a person. For willing to share information and for your thorough way of analizing things. However it is very insulting and even racist for you to call Reflexology hocus pocus. I would like to think that your comments stem from being uneducated on the subject. My roommate is an R1 and he has been just as brainwashed by the pharmaceutical school of thought as you have been. Naturally a multibillion dollar industry will do whatever it takes to keep the competion out. I have an inquiring mind and as your blog goes you are doing a great job at informing us lay people, I appreciate it immensely. Thanks again and take care.

Loren Dacanay said...

Unfortunately, you cannot use a t-test for these data. This statistical test can be used only if the data are continuous, that is, there is direction between points and there are meaningful and regular distances between points. Your data are counts and as such need to be analyzed as frequencies (nominal data). Use a chi-square test instead.
Good points though.
Sincerely, a MS degree in Food Science, Sensory Evaluation

Kano said...

@Loren Dacanay

You are absolutely right. Was a very long oncall!

Sincere apology for the very very late reply.

The Yum List said...

Great article. Thank you! I love both.

rglater said...

Personally I like leaving the skin on before a quick processing pulse. Even smokier, I like my Szechuan Eggplant nearly burnt as well. But that's me not attempting anything close to original. I am making Baba Ghanoush not Mutabal for a potluck this weekend.

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