The use of the term sabra has a number of meanings, depending on location and culture. Here are examples of the most common usage of the word sabra and the reasoning behind the usage.
Perhaps the single most common use of sabra has to do with the identification of a person who is both Jewish and also a native-born Israeli. While many Jews reside in the country of Israel today, many citizens were born elsewhere and thus may not be referred to as a sabra by purists. Originally coined as a derisive term for a Jew who was born on Israeli soil, sabra is derived from a Hebrew word, tzabur.
Tzabur actually refers to a cactus plant that is indigenous to the area, which is sometimes called a prickly pear cactus. The tzabur has the ability to grow in extremely adverse conditions and is known to have a comprehensive system of thorns that protects an interior that is extremely sweet and tender. Referring to a native born Israeli Jew as a sabra tended to focus more on the tough exterior and the seeming unwillingness to bend. Over the years, the once derisive term has begun to be accepted as playful slang, with more emphasis on the tough exterior that protects a tender and congenial interior.
A number of different foods and drink recipes carry the name of sabra, owing to their origin in the country of Israel. In fact, there are companies that manufacture sabra hummus that is used to make such delicacies as sabra chicken and sabra chutney. While not having anything to do with the cactus plant that inspired the name, the dishes are viewed as having a distinct connection to the culture of Israel.
However, there are some foods that do trace their origin directly back to the sabra cactus. Owing to the nature of the meat of the cactus, a number of delicious dishes can be prepared using the cactus. In some cases, the meat is cured, dried, and made into a powder that can be used as a paste or a seasoning in various dishes. In other situations, it is chopped and used in salads, just as sections of fruit would be used. The result is a number of different types of Mediterranean style dips and sauces that incorporate sabra into the name of the dish to indicate the use of the prickly pear cactus in the recipe.
Generally speaking, sabra refers to primarily to persons who are of the Jewish faith and also are native-born citizens of Israel. However, in its broader sense, sabra is a term of that has to do with the culture and society of the land of Israel. Keep this in mind if you attend a party and are offered a helping of sabra hummus.