One of the leading manufacturers of hummus in the United States wants the federal government to mandate what ingredients (and what proportion of them) are necessary to label your creamy chickpea spread as such. This is, of course, to protect the consumers, not the company, food spread magnate Sabra claims. If people go around eating things labeled hummus that aren't really hummus, all sorts of … things … could happen. Disappointed party guests, for example! What if you bring impure hummus to an office luncheon and everybody realizes it, including your boss? It could cost you your promotion!
Rather than quietly pushing behind the scenes for federal regulations designed to harm competitors like many businesses do, Sabra boldly put out a press release declaring its intent to try to get the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to determine under what circumstances a spread may refer to itself as hummus:
According to the petition, hummus must be comprised (by weight, besides water) predominately of chickpeas, and must be no less than 5% tahini. Sabra defines hummus as, "the semisolid food prepared from mixing cooked, dehydrated, or dried chickpeas and tahini with one or more optional ingredients," some of which are specified in the 11-page petition.
"A food item that is not made of chickpeas… is not hummus," said Ronen Zohar, Sabra's CEO. "It is a testament to the popularity of hummus that companies are interested in labeling a variety of dips and spreads as 'hummus.' As the category leader, we have introduced hummus to the market; we are driving continued adoption rates and we do see it as our responsibility to support the growing community of hummus lovers by protecting the purity of hummus in the marketplace."
Yes, that's right: an 11-page petition to describe what hummus is. Sabra also notes that the FDA has established standards of identification for things like peanut butter, ketchup, mayonnaise, and cream cheese. This information is used as justification for their own push and not yet another reason why the FDA is just the worst.
Over at Jewish news outlet Tablet, Stephanie Butnick notes the rise and Americanization of hummus as a popular product spreading beyond its Middle Eastern roots. As is typical whenever anything gets Americanized, this has caused some concerns by purists. One Middle Eastern deli owner complained that all those popular hummus variations with basil and black beans aren't real hummus. His comment is amusing because those are exactly the kinds of variations on hummus Sabra produces.
We don't need the government to tell us what hummus is. Anybody wanting to be that much of a purist about hummus can make it easily at home in 10 minutes or so.
(Hat tip to Megan McCardle's Twitter feed)