Danger – Renegade Hummus Among Us!

Only government can guarantee the purity of your hummus

If you are reading this then you clearly are a smart, well-informed and worldly individual (and probably darn good-looking, too). As a smart, well-informed and worldly individual, you no doubt have educated yourself about the recent technological transformation called the Internet.

The Internet carries with it many blessings. But every silver lining has a cloud, and one of the darker aspects of electronic communication is the proliferation of so-called news sources, whose fidelity to the truth is like a stripper's g-string: It is usually elastic, and frequently absent.

Traditional media take a dim view of these interlopers. Aggregators, blogs, e-mags, Facebook, etc. cut into the traditional media's revenue, often by doing things traditional media would not — from re-using content without attribution to reporting wild rumors as if they were fact.

What is to be done?

One possible answer: Get the government involved. Why not pass some federal rules to bring these mangy dogs to heel? For starters, the rules could forbid any Internet upstart to use the word "news" anywhere on its site unless the site employs actual reporters and subscribes to an actual news service. After all, if a site is not doing those things, then it is simply repeating information someone else already has uncovered. In which case the information can hardly be called news.

Of course, any traditional news outfit that tried to get such a rule passed would immediately become the object of widespread and well-deserved scorn. Everyone would immediately recognize that the proposer of said rule was acting out of the most naked self-interest, and that its professed concern for the public welfare — the people must be protected from unscrupulous operators! — was nothing but a tissue-thin ruse.

Which brings us to Sabra Dipping.

The company, whose Chesterfield, Virginia, plant produces millions of tons of hummus each month, is lobbying the Food and Drug Administration to write new rules governing who can claim to make the stuff. In a "citizen petition," Sabra has asked Washington to declare that only certain dipping sauces qualify as hummus, and only they may be labeled as such.

Specifically, Sabra wants Washington to forbid the use of the word "hummus" unless the dipping sauce is made out of chickpeas and contains at least 5 percent tahini, or ground sesame seeds. Hummus made from black beans? Or navy beans? Or lentils? A fraud! An abomination! A desecration of the noble word itself, and an insult to the memory of Daniel Webster!

By an amazing coincidence, the definition of hummus Sabra wants the government to impose just happens to coincide with the constitution of the hummus that Sabra currently makes. Products that "substitute the traditional chickpea with other legumes," says Sabra, "destroy the basic nature and essential characteristics of hummus." The horror.

To help federal bureaucrats further understand the profound gravity of the issue, Sabra draws their attention to a variety of imposters, such as a certain "red pepper lentil hummus" (made with lentils) and a certain "fat-free original hummus" (made — gasp! — without tahini). By another amazing coincidence, all of those products just happen to be made by companies not named Sabra.

Sabra also offers some fancy etymology of the word hummus, notes that the first recipe was recorded in 13th-century Cairo, and takes pains to explain what people in the Middle East mean by hummus when they say the word in "Arabic and Hebrew alike." But none of that is enough to disguise the fact that the company — the love child of PepsiCo and an Israeli conglomerate — is simply trying to cement its position as the leading market incumbent by using the government to squash the smaller competition.

Naturally, Sabra doesn't put it that way. It claims to want only "a level playing field." But as Tim Cavanaugh pointed out recently in National Review, "this is what politicians and lobbyists mean when they talk about a 'level playing field.' You and PepsiCo both get to deal with red tape, but only one of you has an army of lawyers and a host of administrators to deal with it." Lobbying like this illustrates the truism that support for business and support for free markets are often not synonymous but antonymous.

Sabra's dedication to definitional exactitude does have its limits. Last year Sabra became, and now proudly promotes itself as, the official dip sponsor of the National Football League. Minor detail: Throughout the rest of the world, "football" refers to the game we Americans call "soccer." Using the term to denote the game played by the Cowboys and the Broncos is just like — well, like calling something without tahini "hummus." Shouldn't the government put a stop to this?

This article originally appeared at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Certified Public Asskicker||

    Why dip with hummus when you can dip with guacamole?

  • Brandon||

    Exactly. Hummus is gross.

  • JW||

    Guacamole is delicious. Hummus is delicious. Guacamole hummus is gross. I actually saw this at a party this past weekend.

    It remained a virgin on the table; no one touched it.

  • Brett L||

    Never go full retard.

  • UnCivilServant||

    If no one touched it, how did they know?

  • Meerkatx||

    The press in our founding fathers day was anyone who could afford a printing press, some paper and garner some readers as far as I can tell.

    Why is today different?

  • SugarFree||

    Or just make your own damn hummus.

    #artisanalmayorage

  • Milton Friesman||

    Speak-easy humus making!? The FDA will hear of this!

  • SIV||

    Hummus is an Arabic word (حمّص ḥummuṣ) meaning "chickpeas," and the complete name of the prepared spread in Arabic is حمّص بطحينة ḥummuṣ bi ṭaḥīna, which means "chickpeas with tahini"

    So if hummus is by definition a preparation of chickpeas and tahini substituting or omitting one of those ingredients yet still labeling it hummus is fraud.

    Next Hinkle will argue that skim milk can be labeled whole, margarine as Grade A butter, and pork as veal. I'm holding him responsible for the fraudulent abominations mislabeled "Fat Free" sour cream and half and half.

    SLD: I would prefer these things be handled by trade associations and the courts but in our current regulatory state this is an example of petitioning the FDA to do exactly and specifically what it was originally created to do.

  • Hugh Akston||

    But if a company labels its product "black bean hummus" and lists the ingredients as they are required by law to do, how is that fraud?

  • SIV||

    In the same sense as labeling margarine "vegan butter".

  • Hugh Akston||

    I have no problem with that either. The ingredients list will say pretty clearly that it contains no dairy.

  • Swiss Servator, CH yeah!||

    "but in our current regulatory state this is an example of petitioning the FDA to do exactly and specifically what it was originally created to do."

    You have no problem with this "current regulatory state"?

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    substituting or omitting one of those ingredients yet still labeling it hummus is fraud

    What? You can't read an ingredients list?

  • SIV||

    Should it be "OK" to label a dyed white liquor made from sugar cane waste Bourbon?

  • Brett L||

    daveat emptor.

  • Brett L||

    caveat emptor. Et caveat commentor.

  • UnCivilServant||

    It would taste better than real bourbon.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Don't really care. But it's something that can be remedied in the courts if it is "fraud".

  • All-Seeing Monocle||

    Also, my "Coke" has no cocaine in it.

  • Swiss Servator, CH yeah!||

    Piss on you, Sabra. I've had the last of your products.

  • Plàya Manhattan.||

    Athenos is better anyway. I think I'm going to have some of their garlic hummus for lunch.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Lunch menu for 5/28/2014

    Pulled pork in gravy

    Cheddar mashed potatoes

    Chopped salad with vinaigrette

    Peppermint sweet tea

  • Plàya Manhattan.||

    Dang. I'm probably stuck with fast food at the airport.

    Wait, what kind of pulled pork?

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Braised pork shoulder in a simple pan gravy.

  • Brett L||

    I made some of that this weekend based on an ATK recipe (thanks, Playa). It was magical. It was so good I was pissed that friends came over and ate a bunch of it.

  • Plàya Manhattan.||

    Hummus? Is that one of those ethnic foods I've been hearing about?
    /my grandma

  • Cliché Bandit||

    Due to technical difficulties involving tree doweling rodents, I am force to post my comments all at once and out of context:

    I saw this and thought you SF...and our day in the light as a commentariat:
    tag?cc=gb"Blink me

    I saw this and thought of Nikki:
    The Worst

    I love and used to own ferrets.

    Did anyone make hummus from my recipe this weekend and if so what changes were beneficial?

    I need to stop thinking about you people.

  • Cliché Bandit||

    damn...killin me smalls:

    I saw this and thought you SF...and our day in the light as a commentariat:
    tag?cc=gb"Blink me

  • Cliché Bandit||

    *scream* *sigh*

    tag?cc=gb"Blinky Me

  • Cliché Bandit||

    lol this is fun...BUT I AM DETERMINED

    http://www.montulli.org/theoriginofthe LESS THAN blink GREATER THAN tag?cc=gb

    type it your damn selves.

  • anomdebus||

  • Cliché Bandit||

    showoff

  • JW||

    You can't quit us.

  • ||

    We let a pita with tomato paste and cheese on top be revered as New York-style 'pizza', I don't see the problem with allowing black bean dip with chickpeas thrown in being labelled hummus.

  • UnCivilServant||

    BURN, HERETIC!

  • sarcasmic||

    How can we be sure of what anything means unless it is defined by the government?

  • the other other alan||

    This could not be timed better:
    http://www.tabletmag.com/scrol.....lled-in-us

  • raymondshaw||

    "The company, whose Chesterfield, Virginia, plant produces millions of tons of hummus each month,...."

    With that much hummus to move, they would be better advised to emulate the dairy lobby. Who wouldn't want a drum of hummus every month along with their block of gummint cheese?

  • roth||

    SO funny, no stay out of it as long as there is a list of ingredients. Buyers can choose what to buy. They may prefer the other flavors. As long as the buyer is informed on the ingredients of the foods and if its organic ,GMO or whatever new that comes out that should be disclosed. let it be a free market.

  • guru||

    If I can call a turnip mash hummus, why can I not call turnips chickpeas.

  • DC_36||

    You can, and there should be no law against you saying as much - though it would still be wrong. And rightly subject to ridicule.

    These non-chickpea hummus-makers are not seriously trying to deceive consumers and "trick" them into buying something made of X-ingredient instead of chickpeas. The ingredients are on the box.

    There are companies who base their entire brand image and reputation on the fact that they are the "real deal" made "the traditional way". Sabras should use their competitors' infidelity to traditional hummus definitions to their advantage and call them out in advertising, and gain brand reputation.

    That would be the free-market solution.

  • mathew6221||

    Start working at home with Google. It’s a great work at home opportunity. Just work for few hours. I earn up to $100 a day. I can’t believe how easy it was once I tried it out www.Fox81.com

  • David Friedman||

    Hummus bi Tahini means chickpeas with tahini. "Hummus" simply means chickpeas. So if you take the linguistic argument seriously, something labeled "hummus bi tahini" ought to include tahini but something labeled "hummus" need not.

    I am, however, curious about the supposed 13th c. recipe. The nearest thing I know of is Hummus Kasa (from _The Description of Familiar Foods_, which is 14th c.) which contains chickpeas and tahini but also lots of other things, and is quite unlike the standard hummus bi tahini. Does anyone here know what that is a reference to, and in what source?

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