Only in America: Chocolate Meets Chickpeas in New Niche Hummus

U.S. food firms are trying to get a bite of the hummus market with some weird and wonderful variations of the Israeli staple – including one in the form of a dessert

Boar’s Head’s contribution to the dessert hummus section.
Haim Handwerker

The prepared, chilled hummus market in the United States has grown dramatically over the past decade and is expected to reach $1 billion a year, even as the price of the main ingredient, chickpeas, climbs.

Manufacturers are trying to get a bite of this burgeoning food market by developing new flavors and varieties, from the familiar ones sold in Israeli supermarkets to ones with additions such as olives, garlic, artichoke hearts, sweet red pepper, chipotle and other hot spices.

Now it’s time for hummus as dessert. The first American company to come up with the idea of hummus-based desserts was Delighted By. Representatives of the company competed on the ABC reality show “Shark Tank,” where budding entrepreneurs get to pitch their ideas to industry titans. In October, they persuaded Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks NBA team to invest $600,000.

Delighted By’s sweet hummus creations include flavors that appeal to the American palate, like Choc-O-Mint, Vanilla Brownie and Snickerdoodle, and since Cuban bought in, the firm’s sales have increased substantially.

For their part, however, a number of Israelis in New York say the idea of chocolate hummus is totally ridiculous.

Chocolate-mint hummus.
Haim Handwerker

Boar’s Head, a company better known in the United States for its cold cuts, recently came out with its own original hummus product — hummus with bittersweet chocolate — which it is marketing as a healthful snack. You can find it at quality supermarket chains like Fairway in New York, and locals who have tasted it say they really like it.

A Boar’s Head customer service representative noted that the product was launched just before Christmas, and recommended eating it with pretzels or fruit like bananas and strawberries. Those who have tasted the new chocolate-hummus creation fall in love with it, according to the representative, who added that anyway in America, hummus is not usually eaten with pita as in the Middle East.

Indeed, in America hummus is typically eaten as a spread with crackers.

I had to deliberate over whether to taste these new hummus products. No matter how you look at it, the idea of sweet hummus didn’t quite sit right with me, and the combination of mashed chickpeas and chocolate seemed hopeless. In general, I’m not crazy about flavors like chocolate-mint or vanilla brownie, but to mix them with hummus? Too weird.

In the end, I relented. To cut straight to the chase: These products aren’t so bad. The Boar’s Head chocolate hummus tastes like pudding, and in my opinion it’s the best of all the hummusdessert options. Delighted By’s sweet hummus was pretty good, too. Nevertheless, neither will be on my regular shopping list.

One can certainly understand where the sweet hummus idea came from. Americans by and large like sweet foods. Any number of local bakers, pastry chefs and chefs have admitted to interviewers that they add more sugar to dishes they prepare because that’s how Americans like them.

Although one can’t say yet that sweet hummus is taking America by a storm, one can certainly find it supermarkets here.

To date the success of hummus in America in general, and in New York in particular, comes from the perception that it’s a healthful food. Boar’s Head mixes its hummus with high concentrations of bittersweet chocolate, which is also considered to be quite healthful, in the hope that this will be a winning combination.

Hummus started to catch on in American supermarkets in the early 1990s. The first company to really break into the mass market in this realm was Sabra, which was eventually sold to Strauss-Pepsico-Frito Lay; it now dominates the market for hummus sold to households in supermarkets. Over the years, a number of other local companies have entered the field and now there are hundreds of different varieties of hummus in the United States — including, now, sweet ones.