Does US need federal regulations on hummus?

America’s love affair with mashed chickpeas and tahini has led to a flooding of the market with phony hummus brands, according to one company now asking regulators to create a federal standard for the Middle Eastern treat.

In a petition filed with the Food and Drug Administration (and first reported by the news outlet Vox), the firm Sabra said many of the dips marketed as hummus bear little similarity to traditional recipes.

ADVERTISEMENT
In fact some don’t even contain chickpeas or tahini, the spread’s two crucial ingredients, Sabra argues. That, the company says, is akin to passing off a product without avocados as guacamole. 

“A standard of identity for hummus is not only necessary to promote honesty and fair dealing in the interest of consumers and hummus manufacturers, but it would also be consistent with FDA’s proposed general principals for food standards,” Sabra said in its appeal.

The hummus market has exploded since products based on the ancient delicacy began hitting U.S. supermarket shelves in the 1980s. U.S. sales, totaling roughly $100 million in the early 2000s, ballooned to more than $600 million last year, according to figured cited by Sabra.

The spike in popularity has also led to an increase in variations, some bearing little resemblance to traditional hummus, according top Sabra, whose own hummus flavors include “luscious lemon,” “chipotle” and “roasted pine nut.”

However, unlike those, some brands of “hummus” are made from legumes other than chickpeas, including black beans, white beans, lentils or edamame.

This, Sabra says, cannot be allowed to stand. Under the standard proposed by the firm, any product peddled as actual hummus must be made predominantly from chickpeas, and contain at least 5 percent tahini, sesame seed paste, by weight.

In a letter to Sabra, the FDA acknowledged receipt of the petition in March, but has yet to formally act on the request.