Sabra's Odd Idea About What 'Real' Hummus Is

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Sabra hummus.Credit: Courtesy

In a bold marketing move, Sabra Dipping Co. filed a citizen petition to the Food and Drug Administration, urging it to adopt a standard for hummus.

The hummus giant, co-owned by PepsiCo and Israel's Strauss, is the NFL's official dip provider and controls about 60 percent of the American hummus market.

Now Sabra is asking the FDA to mandate regulations that will define hummus only as "the semisolid food prepared from mixing cooked, dehydrated, or dried chickpeas and tehina" with one or more optional ingredients listed in the petition, and that "chickpeas shall be the predominant ingredient by weight, except water. Tehina (sesame seed paste) shall comprise no less than five percent by weight of the finished product."

Makes sense. Similar standards are available for ketchup and mayonnaise. What Sabra wants to fight is not creations like sun-dried tomato hummus or spinach and artichoke hummus, which they themselves produce. Crazy Camel Chocolate Mousse Hummus is safe! Sabra is seeking to exclude dips made of other legumes, such as beans, lentils and edamame, or hummus that is yogurt-based, instead of tehina.

What bothers me is the list of optional ingredients the new standard, if adopted, will allow. Sabra lists ingredients such as sodium benzoate, nutritive carbohydrate sweeteners, sodium bicarbonate anti-foam agents, texturizers and buffering agents as acceptable in hummus. I'm not even sure what those things are, but I'm definitely not including those when I make hummus at home.

My family's preferred store-bought hummus is Asmar's, which my kids eat in a pita bread almost every day at school. Asmar's hummus, which is sold at Whole Foods and other supermarkets, includes nothing but chickpeas, tehina, lemon juice, garlic, salt, citric acid (I use it sometimes too) and olive oil, just to prove that real home style hummus can be sold commercially and has long enough shelf life.

Sabra's classic hummus contains potassium sorbate, their Tuscan herb garden hummus contains cultured dextrose, the spinach-artichoke hummus has locust bean gum. Sabra's reasoning for the standard, as it appears in their petition a few times, is to promote "honesty and fair dealing in the interest of costumers." I would have preferred to see their hummus more honest to its roots.

Homemade hummus will always taste better, and if you're not too lazy, the recipe is here.

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