American tastebuds growing for Hummus

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 25th September 2012

An Australian documentary has reignited the debate in theMiddle Eastconcerning the true origin of hummus. However, the real news is that hummus, in a reinvented fashion, is becoming a staple part of many diets in the United States.

Trevor Graham’s film ‘Make Hummus Not War’ was featured in the 2012 Melbourne International Food Festival, and highlights hummus as a common thread which links many Middle Eastern heritages. While Graham may have had fun making the documentary, the real news is that hummus appears to becoming big business in theUnited States.

Hummus is created using a combination of mashed chickpeas, olive oil, tahini, garlic and lemon juice, and has experienced substantial growth in Western markets in recent years.

Hummus and US Market

In 2010, the New York Times and the BBC noted that hummus had expanded from being a $5 million-a-year US market in 1995 to one worth $325 million in 2010.  

The growth of this industry has spurred ripple effects for American farming trends, with the U.S.A Dry Pea and Lentil Council indicating that export of chickpeas has decreased from 90% in 2000 to 40% in 2010, because of the huge increase in demand for chickpeas in the domestic market.

This growth is especially pertinent for Australian growers of chickpeas inQueenslandandWestern Australia.

The Expansion from the Middle East to United States

In theUnited States, industrial production of packaged hummus is dominated by businesses that originated inIsrael

The Sabra brand has held 48% of the North American hummus market. In 2006, Sabra was bought by StraussGroup, which formed a joint partnership with PepsiCo in 2008.

The other prominent hummus manufacturer, Tribe, was bought out by Osem in 2008, which in turn is majority-owned by Swiss-based multinational food giant Nestle.

Potential Growth for Hummus

Hummus seems to be treading a similar path in the United Statesto that of the humble pizza from Naples, which was reinvented in the United Statesas a product that evolved to cater for the diversity of tastes across the spectrum of the American population.

The exponential growth of the hummus industry has occurred partly because of its perception as a health food. It is also an inexpensive food to manufacture, and some would argue it has marketing appeal to those who are environmentally-conscious. Arguably it has a less environmentally adverse impact than animal protein foods such as meat, dairy, fish or eggs.
American consumers are also adopting hummus as a ‘squeeze-food’ for convenience, in the same manner as other foods sold in tubes and tubs.  While this has appeal to many, it may also lead to over-consumption.  

Hummus has been adapted for American tastes in some dramatic ways – ranging from Mexican-spiced varieties to sweetened dessert flavours.

InAustralia, the consumption of hummus has mostly retained its traditional Middle Eastern form. However, if the American markets are an indicator for potential growth, we may expect to see further changes in consumer habits. Australia, as a major producer of grains, pulses and other dry land crops, will be a potential beneficiary of new opportunities to produce more of the world’s chickpeas to meet growing demand for protein and the hummus market in particular.