Is That “Hummus” Really Hummus?

March 11, 2014

By Ricardo Carvajal

Sabra Dipping Co., LLC ("Sabra") submitted a citizen petition (Dokcket No. FDA-2014-P-0259) asking FDA to establish a standard of identity ("SOI") for hummus.  The proposed SOI would define hummus as “the semisolid food prepared from mixing cooked, dehydrated, or dried chickpeas and tahini” with one or more of several designated optional ingredients.  Chickpeas would have to be “the predominant ingredient by weight, except water,” and the finished product would have to contain at least 5% by weight tahini. 

As noted in the petition, FDA tentatively identified general principles for food standards in a notice of proposed rulemaking issued in 2005, and the petition frames it statement of grounds in accord with those principles.  The petitioner argues that the proposed SOI is needed to promote honesty and fair dealing in light of the growing popularity of hummus in the U.S., and “the introduction of dips and spreads that are not based on the traditional ingredients of chickpeas and tahini but nevertheless are labeled as ‘hummus.’”  The petition includes exhibits listing examples of such products.  The petitioner maintains that the SOI would eliminate “the potential for economic fraud and deception through the substitution or addition of ingredients that destroy the basic nature and essential characteristics of hummus.”  In support of the proposition that chickpeas and tahini are the essential characteristics of hummus, the petition points to recipes dating back to the 13th century, and to the fact that “hummus” is the Arabic word for “chickpea,” among other factors.  Although not noted in the petition, common dictionary definitions of “hummus” include references to chickpeas and sesame seeds (see, e.g., here).

The petitioner also maintains that the proposed standard would improve the nutritional quality of the food supply because the combination of chickpeas and tahini results in a product with improved protein quality.  The petitioner also notes that the proposed SOI would be consistent with food standards established in certain Middle Eastern countries, the EU, and by Codex.