Hummus in Tel Aviv, Israel. Photo credit: thepumpernickel/Tumblr
Sabra, the hummus producer, is thrilled that the chickpea-and-tahini spread has taken off in America. Thah-rilled. Director of marketing Greg Greene tells us the hummus category has grown by 75 percent in the last five years, and that Sabra dominates with about 65 percent of the market share.
What Sabra is not particularly thrilled about is the proliferation of “hummus” products lacking any trace of chickpeas or tahini. Trader Joe’s Edamame Hummus, for instance, contains zero chickpeas. Same with Eat Well Enjoy Life Sweet & Spicy Black Bean Hummus. And Trader Joe’s Tahini-Free Hummus Dip has, well, no tahini.
In February, Sabra decided enough was enough and took action, filing a citizen’s petition to the United States Food and Drug Administration for a standard of identity for hummus. “Standards of identity” are legal definitions for specific products, and the FDA has already approved a ton of them: ketchup; peanut butter; fruit preserves, jams, and butters; and white chocolate.
"Why not hummus?" Sabra wondered.
"What we want is to make sure that when people hear the word ‘hummus’ in the U.S., they understand what they’re getting," Greene told us. "If you call a peanut butter ‘almond peanut butter,’ you would expect there to be peanuts in it." It’s the same with chickpeas and tahini in hummus, he said.
The petition’s requests are fairly basic: “Chickpeas should be the predominant ingredient by weight, except water.” And quite precise: “Tahini (sesame seed paste) shall comprise not less by weight than five percent of the finished product.” Other ingredients—such as the spinach and artichoke in Sabra’s Spinach and Artichoke Hummus—should make up less than 20 percent of the finished product. (Should the petition be accepted, Greene stressed, all of Sabra’s products would pass muster.)
It’s unclear if and when the petition will be accepted, though Sabra representatives told us it could take a few weeks or longer to find out. For now, Sabra will continue churning out hummus at its 248,000-square-foot production facility in Richmond, Virginia, which Greene said is the largest hummus factory in the world.
Despite this fact, he noted, hummus is in only 28 percent of U.S. households. "We feel we’re really at a tipping point as far as where hummus is going nationwide," Greene continued. As far as definitions go, he’s convinced it’s "better to get in early."