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Petition Filed in US Over Definition of 'Hummus'

What is 'hummus'? Apparently, not just a matter of taste.
By Tova Dvorin
First Publish: 5/26/2014, 8:51 PM / Last Update: 5/26/2014, 9:10 PM

Hummus (illustration)
Hummus (illustration)
Thinkstock

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is processing an important petition - and this time, it's all a matter of taste. 

Sabra Dipping Co., a prime hummus manufacturer in North America owned by Strauss (the same company which produces Achla hummus here in Israel), has demanded a standard definition for the word "hummus," according to Yahoo! News

The petition, which was submitted in February, addresses a marketing phenomenon in the US whereby many natural products are labelled as "hummus" despite lacking the hummus bean, or chickpea, as an essential ingredient. Several companies have begun marketing other bean dips - from black beans to edamame - as "hummus," irking the major corporation. 

"Some products labeled as 'hummus' are made entirely from legumes other than chickpeas," Sabra wrote. "Because these products substitute other legumes, the marketing of these products as "hummus" undermines honesty and fair dealing."

"What we want is to make sure that when people hear the word ‘hummus’ in the U.S., they understand what they’re getting," Sabra Marketing Director Greene told Yahoo!. "If you call a peanut butter ‘almond peanut butter,’ you would expect there to be peanuts in it."

Chief Technology Officer Tulin Tuzel told The Slate that the loose definition also “truly does cause confusion for retailers and consumers." 

Along those lines, the petition calls for a legal definition for the word "hummus," known in the FDA as a "Standard of identity." 

“Chickpeas should be the predominant ingredient by weight, except water," the petition reads.“Tahini (sesame seed paste) shall comprise not less by weight than five percent of the finished product.”

Another clause calls for all hummus products to contain less than 20% of a different ingredient - e.g. roasted peppers - to retain the name  "hummus." 

A very select list of optional ingredients could be added to the hummus as well - vegetable oil, garlic, acidifying agents, salt, sodium benzoate, spices, sodium bicarbonate and buffering agents - but additional ingredients must fall under the 20% mark. 

Greene said that the company, overall, is doing well; hummus is now a household item for 28% of American homes, and Sabra has 65% of the market share. "We feel we’re really at a tipping point as far as where hummus is going nationwide," he said.