An Israeli walks into an American supermarket looking for hummus, and discovers an entirely different product than she expects.
The refrigerated shelves are stocked with brownie batter hummus, blueberry and mango hummus, pineapple jalapeno hummus — a far cry from that familiar taste from home, and from the usual savory flavor of the chickpea paste.
“Chickpeas are a magical ingredient. It’s smart to use it in all kinds of things,” said Israeli food writer and chef Orly Peli-Bronshtein.
As the co-author of “On the Hummus Route” (2019) — a recently published illustrated book uniting recipes, photographs, and stories about the beloved local dish from chefs, researchers, and artists across the Middle East — Peli-Bronshtein is well-versed in the golden legume’s potential.
The term “hummus” has a very narrow definition. In fact, there is no difference in the Hebrew and Arabic languages between the word for the magical chickpea and the popular local chickpea-based paste.
“Hummus, as a dish, refers to cooked and blended chickpeas with tahini,” explained Peli-Bronshtein. “Other variations all have different names, like masabacha [hummus with whole chickpeas].”
(That said, there is no word yet, for chickpeas blended with vanilla beans and masala spice.)
At Shlomo ve Doron, a veteran family-operated hummus restaurant in Tel Aviv’s Yemenite Quarter, the mainstay recipe has remained constant for four generations.
“Hummus, as we know it, is a salty spread that contains at least five mandatory ingredients: chickpeas, tahini, garlic, salt, and lemon,” said Elad Shore, the current chef behind the family business.
These purist definitions of hummus do not seem to have made it to the United States, though, where a growing number of chickpea-based dishes have appeared in recent years under the adopted Middle Eastern umbrella term: hummus. Chocolate and buffalo-ranch flavored hummus spreads are sold at Trader Joe’s, pumpkin spice hummus can be found in bulk at Costco, and other products marketed as hummus are stocked elsewhere.
Sabra, one of the leading US brands, even ran a Super Bowl commercial, asking Americans “How do you muss?” to figure out their favorite flavors.
A newly released book by vegan influencer and author Catherine Gill, “The Complete Hummus Cookbook” (2019), stretches hummus quite a distance from its original status. The book includes recipes for hummus lasagna, fettucine hummus alfredo, a spicy peanut hummus noodle bowl, and for dessert, chocolate waffles with sweet almond hummus crème or hummus cannoli.
“I would never in a million years call [any of these varieties] a ‘hummus dish.’ I guess the only reason the companies do is for familiarity marketing,” said Inbal Baum, founder of Delicious Israel food tours that introduce local cuisine — and a lot of hummus crawls — to mostly American clientele. “Packaged chocolate hummus is just not the same sort of thing or category as regular hummus.”
(One wonders what the reaction might be if the beloved legume-based American spread, peanut butter, were combined with ingredients like shrimp paste, artichokes, and olives to make it more palatable to international clientele.)
Baum, like many others, has mixed feelings about how easily “hummus” is thrown around overseas.
Shore, the hummus chef who grew up eating and cooking hummus, is a little more understanding towards the desire to remix the culinary staple.
“Hummus is a boring dish, in my opinion,” he said. “I’m all for maintaining tradition while innovating, which is why the classic dishes are alive and well at our restaurant.”
He is also known for topping his hummus with unusual additives, like Balkan salad, shakshuka, and tortilla chips.
And so across the Atlantic, labeling products or recipes as hummus may just be a way to explain that chickpeas are included. Is the American hummus trend just a case of imitation being the sincerest form of flattery?
To accommodate the trend, therefore, have a peek at how American hummus is made.
S’mores Hummus (excerpted from “The Complete Hummus Cookbook”)
7 large vegan marshmallows
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained or equivalent cooked chickpeas
¼ cup chocolate chips, melted
1 large graham cracker, crushed
1 tablespoon sunflower seed butter
2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1-2 tablespoons water
If you are like me, then you love everything s’mores. There’s nothing quite like the sweet smells of roasted marshmallow, melted chocolate and graham crackers. Now you can have all this in a fiber-packed hummus!
On a non-stick baking sheet, place vegan marshmallows and broil on high until they are puffy and roasted in appearance (keep an eye on them). Using a food processor, blend marshmallows and remaining ingredients until the desired consistency is reached and hummus is well-combined. Add more water to make hummus less thick or more salt to taste, if desired.
Tip: This hummus is great with fruits, especially apple or pear slices, but it works especially well when you dip graham crackers or sweet pita chips in it.