MY TURN

Katherine's Corner

Exploring Middle Eastern cuisine and culture with an American twist

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Hummus among us: America’s favorite healthy snack and its roots as a traditional breakfast

In the U.S., hummus is a popular snack, something we dip our carrots and celery in, something we reach for as the healthy option in a world of sour cream and mayonnaise-based dips. In Jordan and other countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), hummus is part of a traditional breakfast—not just a dip, but instead the focal point of the morning meal. 

While researching this edition of Katherine’s Kitchen, I came across a blog dedicated to all things hummus; in fact, it’s called “The Hummus Blog.” I found a post from the early 2000s; the topic is America’s newfound fascination with hummus. In the post, the blog’s writer calls out a commenter who says hummus is the next salsa.

“When coming across statements like ‘hummus is the next salsa,’ I am truly appalled,” reads the post.

Is the writer rightfully appalled? I don’t think so, but let me explain why. In the U.S., we take all sorts of traditional foods and beverages and put our spin on them, salsa being just one example. Hummus is marketed as a dip in the U.S., and for us, dips aren’t the main dish. In my opinion, the “next salsa” is very much what hummus became.

I can remember my first taste of it. I was in high school and hanging out at my friend Samantha’s house. I fell in love with that creamy texture and smoky flavor.

Apparently, Samantha had an adventurous palate, because at that point Americans hadn’t fully embraced hummus and it wasn’t stocked to the brim at food stores the way it is now. At that point in time, hummus was hard to find. Americans had to seek it out at specialty shops and health-food stores.

Hummus was brought here in 1986 by Zohar Norman, the creator of Sabra Hummus. At first, it was marketed toward Israelis who wanted a taste of home here in the U.S. Hummus made its American debut right here in New York City, specifically Brooklyn and Long Island.

By the early 2000s Sabra was only doing $7 million a year in sales—now it does about $800 million a year. Think about it this way: Sabra is only one of the many brands of hummus in the U.S. today. Go into the hummus section at the food store and you’ll see how popular it is now. You’ll see chocolate hummus, red pepper hummus, everything bagel hummus and a bunch more.  Guess how many types of hummus are stocked on the supermarket shelves in Jordan? I’ve only ever seen three: original, with pine nuts and with red pepper. In others words, hummus is now a part of American cuisine. We’ve adopted it and made it our own.

What was—and still is—a very traditional breakfast in Jordan is now an incredibly popular snack here in the U.S.—and much like pizza from Brooklyn vs. pizza from Naples, Italy, we do it a little differently here. I hope you enjoy my hummus recipe, given to me by my mother-in-law in Jordan, Sahtein (Bon Appetit!)

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