FDA, Food

What The Hell Is ‘Hummus’ Anyway?

That might sound like a stupid question. I mean, there’s a package right there in the refrigerator that says “hummus” on it. That guy from Arrested Development tells me it’s real hummus. If this country can allow defamation suits over suggesting that “pink slime” is not “ground beef,” why would anyone think to look further than face value on a foodstuff’s name?

But when it comes to hummus — a product that’s spurred legal battles before — the FDA is being dragged into the debate over what it really means to be a vegan’s replacement for protein delightful Mediterranean dip….

It seems that despite hummus being the official dip of the NFL, the hummus industry isn’t even sure what the stuff really is, as filed documents suggest:

The 11-page proposal filed by Sabra, calls for “standards of identity,” which Yahoo explains is a legal term for specific products like ketchup, peanut butter, fruit preserves, jams, and butters; and white chocolate.

Sabra chief technology officer Tulin Tuzel said in the statement about the company’s action, “As the popularity of hummus has soared in the United States over the past decade, the name has been applied to items consisting primarily of other ingredients. From black beans and white beans to lentils, soybeans, and navy beans, everyone wants to call their dip ‘hummus.'”

Sabra is behind this move, eh? With 65 percent of the hummus market, I think we can safely characterize the part-Pepsi-owned venture as “Big Hummus.” And whenever the market leader wants something, it’s definitely not a cynical business move to maximize its advantage. For the record, Sabra thinks that, regardless of what the supposed impostors say, hummus should really be “the semisolid food prepared from mixing cooked, dehydrated, or dried chickpeas and tahini with one or more optional ingredients.” While this may be a very traditional definition, what’s the real harm in allowing variations on a theme? It’s how most great things get invented, like the chimichanga or the vodka martini or Spaghetti Westerns.

On the other hand, it probably beats having Trader Joe’s Edamame Hummus right about now.

This whole affair brings to mind the Mexican government’s efforts in the 1990s to ban the term “Margarita” for anything without imported Mexican tequila. While both efforts really boiled down to controlling the market, both were steeped in high-minded rhetoric about cultural imperialism sullying a culture’s staple product — in the case of hummus, Israel’s. Or Lebanon’s.

Because this isn’t the first time using the word “hummus” inspired legal saber-rattling. Back then, Lebanon was going after Israel — the home of Pepsi’s partner in owning Sabra — for claiming to produce hummus, which it felt was Lebanon’s cultural dish. As retaliation, Israel sued Hamas for creating negative market confusion.

In any event, the legal tussle over the ONE TRUE HUMMUS rages on. For a food that everyone wants to claim as exclusively their own, you’d think more people would be eating it.

Sabra’s 11-page proposal for how we should define hummus is on the next page….

(hidden for your protection)

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