Hummus is an ancient food that is more popular than ever. Once confined to middle-eastern market, this chickpea-based spread, seasoned with pungent garlic, tart lemon juice, fruity olive oil and nutty tahini (sesame seed paste), is now available in just about every supermarket in the country. A great source of protein and heart-healthy fats, it makes the perfect dip for pita chips, works well as a spread for veggie wraps, and even makes a great addition to sandwiches. Here’s what you need to know about this popular Mediterranean food.
Image used under Creative Commons from Whitney
You’ll often find hummus in the dry goods section of your local grocery store (though it’s also often in the refrigerated section). Like other canned and packaged foods, hummus (no matter how it’s stored during shipping and at your store) should be refrigerated after opening. This is because when you open the package, you naturally (and unavoidably) allow microbes to enter from the surrounding environment. The cold of the fridge will slow down these microbe’s growth. Also, if your fridge tends to freeze items stored at the back, keep the hummus out of those areas, as freezing will damage its texture.
Hummus lasts quite a long time when refrigerated. Garlic is a natural fungicide, lemon juice prevents the growth of certain bacteria, and salt (an natural flavor enhancer used in most traditional hummus recipes) dries out the cells of microbes, also prolonging the shelf life of hummus. Hummus often lasts well beyond it’s printed expiration date, but if you have any expectant mothers, young children, elderly individuals or anyone with immune system problems living in your home, it’s a good idea to throw away hummus once the expiration date has past.
Image used under Creative Commons from Stacy Spensley
Though most dangerous microbes can’t survive the acidic, salty, garlicky environment of hummus, there are a few microbes that can gain a foothold and grow in the spread. Also, if you dilute the hummus with water or another food (such as additional olive oil, as many recipes recommend), you’ll hamper the natural preservatives in your hummus. You can tell your hummus has gone bad if it develops a sour smell, odd color, or you see any spots that weren’t there when you bought it. Any visible mold, such as fuzz, green spots, or blue patches, is another key indicator that your hummus is rotten and should be discarded.
Though hummus is available pre-made in just about every supermarket, you can also make it yourself. If you can’t find tahini (which is often confined to middle eastern markets), smooth peanut butter makes a great substitute. Make sure to use freshly-squeezed lemon juice and freshly-minced garlic, as bottled juice imparts a sour flavor and dried minced garlic is too grainy to produce the silky-smooth texture you want. Though you can make hummus by hand-grinding cooked chickpeas with a motor and pestle, the easiest and most convenient way to make hummus is to use a food processor. A simple web search will turn up thousands of recipes, and you’ll be sure to find one you love. Enjoy your hummus!