Buying Hummus- What you need to know

Hummus, enjoyed for thousands of years in the Levant, has only made it big in America in the last decade. It will soon be a billion dollar food category in the US, led by 2 big brands – Sabra and Tribe. Like Greek yogurt, hummus has its health halo to thank for its explosive growth in the US.

For those who aren’t familiar, hummus is a savory dip or spread whose primary ingredient is cooked garbanzo beans (chickpeas). Hummus is vegetarian, gluten free, and chock full of nutrients. A two tablespoon serving (1 ounce) is 70 calories and has 3 grams of protein, 2 grams of fiber, and 4 grams of heart healthy fats.

In traditional recipes, the garbanzo beans are cooked until tender, then ground into a paste. Tahini, lemon juice, garlic, and salt are added to turn it into a delightfully rich tasting dip/spread/porridge. Warm, freshly prepared hummus is enjoyed by millions in the middle east for breakfast or lunch with just a touch of olive oil drizzled on top.

The grocery version of hummus is constructed differently, due to shelf life requirements. You see, even when refrigerated, freshly prepared hummus only keeps for about a week. From a flavor perspective, the most you would want to keep fresh homemade hummus in your fridge is 3 to 4 days.

That’s why food manufacturers resort to the use of various additives meant to preserve flavor and increase shelf life. Take Sabra, which is partly owned by PepsiCo.

Ingredients: cooked chickpeas (chickpeas [garbanzos], water), tahini (ground sesame), soybean oil, garlic, salt, citric acid, potassium sorbate added to maintain freshness.

The third ingredient after garbanzo beans and tahini is GMO soybean oil. Many manufacturers use copious amounts of cheap oil instead of the more expensive tahini (sesame seed paste that is high in healthy fat content). No self-respecting hummus purveyor would ever add anything but olive oil to hummus.

The main preservative in Sabra is potassium sorbate, potentially toxic to human DNA. Other manufacturers use sodium benzoate, which may transforms into benzene, a known carcinogen and harmful to DNA.

This doesn’t mean you should stay away from store-bought hummus. Simply look to buy the brands that use more natural ingredients. Here is an example – Wegmans Hummus:

Ingredients: chick peas, filtered water, tahini (sesame seeds paste), olive oil, lemon juice, garlic puree (garlic, canola oil, citric acid), sea salt, citric acid, cayenne.

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