Hummus is an Arabian dish that has been historically adopted by the Jews in Israel (1). Hummus is traditionally made with chickpea – as its Arabian etymology implies. However, the mashed chickpea is typically blended with other ingredients for flavor such as tahini, lemon juice, or garlic. Hummus is typically eaten as a dip for pita bread or crackers. While hummus is still predominantly consumed in Middle Eastern countries, it has become globalized and is available throughout the world.
With the traditional ingredients that make up hummus, the food item is probably vegan. The main ingredients that makeup hummus are chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, and garlic. All ingredients are vegan which makes the end result vegan as well. However, there are still things to look out for because companies can still add other ingredients to enhance the flavor of their products – ingredients that might not be vegan such as sugar and dairy.
While the origins of hummus cannot be specifically pinpointed, the essential ingredients that make up hummus can all be found in ancient Egypt and the Middle East. Hummus is a food item commonly produced through traditional methods at home and industrial methods still follow the basic principles in its production.
The first step in hummus production begins upon the arrival of dried chickpeas. The chickpeas are then set on the assembly line where it undergoes multiple processes. Firstly, the dried chickpeas are placed on a vibrating tray that helps remove heavier contaminants such as sediment and pebbles. While the contaminants fall down a bin below, the chickpeas bounce off the vibrating tray and onto some water to be rinsed. Properly cleaned, the chickpeas are then transferred to a holding tank.
The holding tanks are then filled with water to soak the chickpeas for several hours (i.e., approximately 14 hours). The soaking process allows the chickpeas to soften up. After several hours of soaking, the chickpeas also swell up twice their original size. The softened and swollen chickpeas are then placed in trays that are placed in steamed cookers. The cooking process softens the chickpeas even more and gives the chickpeas a darker color.
The cooked chickpeas are then transferred to a large hopper where other ingredients are added. Once the chickpeas are in the hopper, ingredients such as water, olive oil, salt, garlic, and lemon juice. With all the ingredients added, the hopper then feeds all the ingredients to a grinder that turns all the ingredients into a paste. Tahini, or a thick paste made with ground sesame seeds, is then added to the chickpea mix.
When all the ingredients are added, the mixture is transferred to large mixing tanks where steel blades rotate to make sure all the ingredients are effectively mixed together. Additional ingredients are also added at this point for creating different flavored hummus.
Companies check the quality of each batch of hummus before they receive approval. Parameters tested include taste and microbial load. Once batches are approved, they are poured into containers and prepared for shipping.
Since the essential ingredients that make up hummus and the processes involved do not include any animal part or derivative, hummus is probably almost always vegan. It is a nutritionally dense food item that vegans can truly benefit from (2). Aside from being an excellent protein source, hummus also has a notable amount of dietary fiber, polyunsaturated fatty acids, vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin C, folate, magnesium, potassium, and iron.
However, vegans could still benefit from checking the ingredients label when choosing hummus from the shelves. Although the essential ingredients that make up hummus are vegan, it is not uncommon for companies to add other ingredients to influence the taste or texture of the product. Unfortunately, some of these additional ingredients may be non-vegan.
Two common ingredients that vegans should look out for when purchasing hummus are sugar and dairy. While one is blatantly not vegan, the other is considered a gray area ingredient which means that some vegans are fine with it while some vegans are not.
Dairy is the term used to describe milk and other products that use milk as a principal ingredient such as yogurt, cream, cheese, butter, whey, and so on. While plant-based milk is available nowadays, milk and dairy still typically refer to the products that come from mammals such as cows, goats, and sheep.
Although milk and dairy are highly nutritious food items, these products cannot be considered vegan since they are directly obtained from animals.
Milk and dairy are especially unethical according to vegans and animal rights activists because of the inhumane treatment of cows in the milk industry (3). Female cows are purposely impregnated to induce lactation or milk production. Once the cows give birth, the offspring are also commonly separated from them to maximize the amount of milk that can be collected. It is also common for dairy farms to subject the cows to terrible living conditions as a way to maximize profits such as cramped spaces.
Unfortunately, some hummus products can possibly have dairy products in them for flavor and texture. The dairy products that can be found in hummus include milk, Greek yogurt, cheese, and such. Thus, it is still important to check the labels to make sure that the hummus being chosen is truly vegan or not.
Sugar, also known as table sugar, is a common food additive in many food items and beverages because it is an effective sweetener. It is understandable to assume that sugar is vegan since it is produced from plant-based sources such as sugarcanes and sugar beets. However, sugar is considered a gray area ingredient for a reason. It is possible for sugar to be non-vegan depending on how it was produced.
Once the sugar has been extracted from a certain plant source, it is already edible and fit for human consumption in its crude form. However, sugar companies would typically subject the sugar to further refinement processes to make the sugar more appealing to consumers. These additional refinement processes make the sugar whiter and finer.
One process in particular is filtration. The sugar juice is passed through a filter to remove non-sugar components, thus increasing the purity of the sugar. Different companies can use different filtration methods. However, the problem is that some companies use bone char (4). Bone char is the charred skeletal remains of animals. Although bone char is an effective filter, it is still an animal product. Thus, sugar that has been processed with bone char cannot be considered vegan.
The problem with bone char being used in the sugar industry is that it is not easy to determine if whether the sugar being used in products has been filtered with bone char or not. It is even more difficult when a large food company has multiple sources of sugar to meet its demands. Thus, sugar is considered by many as a gray area ingredient and they would rather avoid it altogether than accidentally consuming non-vegan sugar.
Fortunately, vegans from other parts of the world can consume sugar without much worry because the practice of using bone char in the sugar industry is more prevalent in the US than it is anywhere else.