Gyros and shawarmas are two similar — yet distinct — dishes that have become popular street foods around the world.
They’re both inspired by the cooking technique of the Turkish doner kebab developed during the Ottoman Empire.
The technique consists of stacking meat on a vertical skewer or rotisserie to form a cone, which slowly rotates next to a heat source to allow the meat to cook.
As such, gyros and shawarmas are similar in that they’re cooked on a vertical rotisserie, often prepared with the same meat, and served on pita bread.
However, these two dishes are staples of two different Mediterranean cuisines, and therefore, they’re different from one another.
This article takes a closer look at the similarities and differences between gyros and shawarmas.
One main difference between a gyro and a shawarma is the dishes’ origins.
History of gyro
A gyro is a dish of Greek origin. In fact, the word gyro is actually the Greek word for “round,” which refers to the vertical rotisserie in which the meat is cooked.
Furthermore, gyros are prepared and topped using fresh ingredients traditionally used in Greek cuisine.
Gyros are usually made with lamb, beef, pork, or chicken, and the meat is seasoned with thyme, oregano, and rosemary.
Once the outer layers of the meat are cooked, they are shaved into thin slices and served on pita bread spread with hummus.
A gyro is then topped with tomato, red onion, lettuce, french fries, and tzatziki — a traditional Greek dip or sauce made with yogurt, cucumber, olive oil, garlic, and herbs like dill, mint, or thyme.
History of shawarma
Shawarma is a dish of Middle Eastern origin, and a lot can be learned through its name and ingredients.
The name shawarma derives from the word çevirme, which is Turkish for “turning” — which also refers to the meat’s cooking technique.
While shawarmas are also served on pita bread or wrapped in a flatbread spread with hummus, they’re traditionally made with lamb, chicken, veal, or turkey, and sometimes a combination of meats.
However, the meat is seasoned with spices like turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and garlic.
It’s topped with tabbouleh (a traditional bulgur-based salad), pickled veggies, and tahini — a Middle Eastern condiment made of ground sesame seeds.
Gyros and shawarmas are both made in a vertical rotisserie and served on pita bread with hummus. However, gyros have a Greek origin, and shawarmas are Middle Eastern. Each is made using traditional ingredients.
Below is a comparison of gyros and shawarmas’ main differences and similarities:
While gyros and shawarmas share multiple ingredients and look very much alike, they each have unique flavor profiles, which are predominantly determined by the way the meat is prepared before being cooked.
Common ingredients in gyro vs. shawarma
Gyros and shawarmas are sandwich-like dishes that share many ingredients, including:
- Pita bread: Whether it is cut into a pocket and stuffed with the ingredients or used as a flatbread, pita gives both dishes their characteristic structure. It is also their main source of carbohydrates (
- Meat: Lamb and chicken are often used in both gyros and shawarmas. While lamb is a type of red meat and chicken is a white meat, they’re both high quality protein sources that provide all essential amino acids — the ones you must get from foods because your body can’t produce them (
- Hummus: Hummus is a Middle Eastern spread made from cooked, mashed chickpeas blended with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, and spices. It is a nutrient-dense ingredient rich in fiber, healthy fats, vitamins E and C, folate, magnesium, potassium, and iron. As such, it has been linked to multiple health benefits (
Flavor profiles of gyro vs. shawarma
Despite sharing most of their main ingredients, gyros and shawarmas taste quite different.
On the one hand, gyros have a classical Mediterranean flavor due to the use of fresh raw vegetables, such as red onions and tomatoes, and the yogurt, cucumber, and dill from the tzatziki.
In addition, the meat is seasoned right before being stacked into the skewer, and the choice of spices gives it a fragrant, light, and slightly minty taste.
On the contrary, shawarma’s ingredients and seasonings give it a spicier, warmer, and more complex flavor profile, which is highlighted by the variety of flavors provided by its typical toppings.
For instance, the pickled veggies, which often include carrots, cabbage, and onions, add a bit of tanginess to the dish. Meanwhile, the tahini and tabbouleh — made from chopped tomatoes, onions, parsley, mint, bulgur wheat, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt — deliver an earthy yet fresh taste.
And unlike gyro meat, shawarma meat is marinated at length — often overnight — to allow for a richer flavor profile.
Gyros and shawarmas share some of their main ingredients, such as the type of bread, meat, and hummus. However, gyros have a fresh flavor profile, while shawarmas are spicier, warmer, and more complex.
Gyros and shawarmas are both complete meals that provide all three macronutrients: carbs, proteins, and fats.
Generally speaking, gyros tend to have a higher carb count due to the addition of french fries. In contrast, shawarmas’ increased fat content may be due to the tahini, which is composed primarily of heart-healthy fats (
Furthermore, one potential explanation for shawarmas’ higher protein content might be that there’s room for more meat without the french fries.
Nonetheless, keep in mind that the nutritional profile of both gyros and shawarmas will depend on size and what meat and toppings you select.
Gyros and shawarmas provide all three macronutrients. However, their nutritional profiles may vary depending on the selection of meat and toppings.
Gyros and shawarmas have become increasingly popular street foods and, thus, are often consumed by themselves on the go or with a side of french fries.
However, if you’re planning on serving a Greek- or Middle Eastern-inspired meal, you can pair gyros or shawarmas with numerous delicious side dishes.
Since both of them already provide their fair share of proteins, carbs, and fats, you may want to focus on serving them with veggie-rich sides.
For example, gyros pair nicely with:
- roasted vegetables like bell peppers
- a classic Greek salad made with tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, onions, kalamata olives, and feta cheese
- a hearty moussaka (a Mediterranean eggplant lasagna)
As for shawarma, it can be served with:
- a mezze platter: an assortment of traditional Middle Eastern appetizers, dips, and spreads that often include hummus and baba ganoush — an eggplant dip — feta or mozzarella cheese, olives, artichoke hearts, raw and roasted vegetables, dried fruits like dates and figs, and fresh fruits like grapes
- extra pickled veggies
When it comes to drinks, both gyros and shawarmas pair well with beer and red wine.
But consider keeping that alcohol intake light. The latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend 2 drinks or fewer in a day for men and 1 drink or fewer in a day for women to prevent harm to your health (
Alternatively, mint tea is a traditional non-alcoholic Mediterranean beverage that you can enjoy either hot or cold with your meal.
Gyros and shawarmas can be enjoyed by themselves on the go, or you can add to the meal by serving them with traditional veggie-rich side dishes.
Gyros and shawarmas have multiple similarities, including most of their ingredients and their main cooking method.
The primary differences come down to their origins and flavor profiles. Gyros are Greek and have a fresh taste, while shawarmas are Middle Eastern with a spicier and more complex flavor.
Both gyros and shawarmas provide all three macronutrients and are often consumed by themselves on the go. However, you can make the most out of both by pairing them with veg-heavy side dishes.