The Hummus War has Begun

Last Sunday, the Hummus Was has finally began. Unlike other wars, this one is going to be fairly harmless, because the fighting will be done by means of marketing, advertising, giveaways and special prices.

Calcalist is the #3 business publication in Israel, a relatively new and small newspaper. It’s a very mainstream, nevertheless, so it usually deals with mainstream business news – nothing like that main headline on August 3rd. The headline said: The Hummus War.

מלחמות החומוס, כלכליסט

It’s seems like a very common news item: two major local companies fighting over a market. The point is that these two companies, Osem and Strauss, are fighting over the American hummus market.

Strauss owns Sabra, an American manufacturer founded by former Israelis. Earlier this year Pepsico also bought a piece of the company, and the two are working together to market hummus to every American household. In Israel, Strauss is the #1 manufacturer of store bought hummus under the brand of Hummus Achla.

Envious of it’s success, Osem – who owns Hummus Tzabar, is Strauss’s main competitor in Israel – is about to buy Tribe, the #2 hummus manufacturer in the states. Ironically, “Tzabar” means “Sabra” in Hebrew, by the way.

Currently, the American hummus market estimated value is around 250 million dollars, and growing. That’s after a 78 percent growth in the past year.

Now, it’s true that store bought hummus is a very poor substitute for the real thing, but for many in the middle-eastern diaspora it’s the closest thing they can put hands on. Besides, when there’s demmand for hummus, new hummus places are established. So corporate money going into hummus marketing is bound to make room for real hummus too.

Comments

19 Responses to “The Hummus War has Begun”

  1. JSinger on September 2nd, 2008 5:25 pm

    Tribe barely even qualifies as hummus. It’s basically flavored hummus-based dips. Sabra, on the other hand, is as good as any commercial hummus sold in Israel.

  2. This Guy on October 7th, 2008 4:05 pm

    One would think an arab company will market hummus. Kinda like a Russian selling spaghetti.

  3. nicolas on January 19th, 2009 3:12 pm

    I am really astonish to read such comments namely the one of this guy moking from arab companies though we do not consider ourselves as arabs but hummus is a lebanese renowned dish for ages in our menus and tradition with taboule kebbe and other mezza dishes
    regards

  4. Freidenker on January 27th, 2009 1:43 am

    Oh noes! Chickpeas fight!

  5. Hummus Wars - Osem Strikes Back | ISRAELITY on April 22nd, 2009 9:06 am

    [...] on some market competition intensification overseas, The Hummus Blog estimates that the American hummus market is currently worth some $250 million annually, and [...]

  6. David Sternlight on August 12th, 2009 1:31 pm

    You can buy Sabra Hummus, which is excellent, in big buckets at Costco’s new business warehouses, at amazing prices. I add garlic powder, ground dried African birds-eye (piri piri) pepper, and eat it in sections of Vidalia onion as I learned to do from my favorite Boston Arab restaurant (I think Egyptian) during my college days, for a real feinschmecker treat. That restaurant, “The Nile”, long gone to make room for urban development, was my 1950′s education in good Arab cooking.

    Tribe is crap; end of story. So is almost every other major label commercial Hummus other than Sabra, in the US. Osem just doesn’t seem to understand quality, or just doesn’t care in pursuit of the Shekel/Dollar. The same remark applies to Osem crackers and sesame munchies, compared to Beigel and Beigel, which is marvelous

    David Sternlight, Ph.D.
    Los Angeles.

  7. Alex on October 26th, 2009 2:55 pm

    watch out all you false marketers out there…just like Champagne was always from Champagne, France, Hummus and Tabbouleh are from Lebanon!

  8. David Sternlight on March 14th, 2010 10:04 am

    I just discovered a source of many more brands of Israeli/Middle Eastern Hebrew-labelled Hummus in Los Angeles, at the Glatt Mart on Pico, In addition to Sabra and Miki they have Achla from Israel, and something called “Hafla–The Hummus Factory” made in LA.

    My ratings:
    1. Homemade from Jean Nathan’s recipes (either original or latest one), or from The Hummus Blog recipe.
    2. Achla
    3. Sabra
    4. Hafla
    5. Miki

    Tribe is horrible, Osem or not. Costco’s business warehouses have apparently stopped carrying Sabra in huge buckets and now carry Tribe. Too bad. But Costco’s regular warehouses still carry Sabra in larger sizes than the normal Supermarket size. Trader Joe’s Hummus doesn’t cut it, nor do the various Arab and Greek sounding brands widely carried in major US supermarket chains.

    When making your own I imported a jar of Karawan Tehina from Israel at an exorbitant price, based on the reputation as Israel’s best (it’s actually made by Israeli Arabs in their village the old-fashioned way). The reputation is well deserved and it makes extraordinary Hummus. A second choice is Al Wadi, widely available in ethnic markets in the US, though made in Lebanon.

    Many Arab Hummus recipes and most packaged Hummus use Citric Acid (Sour Salt) instead of Lemon Juice, probably for preservation reasons. Homemade is better with Lemon Juice.

    On the Westside of LA, Alcazar Express on Westwood Blvd. has excellent
    Hummus; Sunnin’s is ok but not addictive. In the valley the Hummus Bar and Grill has the best, though I have not tried the Encino branch of Israel’s Itzik Hagodol. It is rather pricey compared to the Hummus Bar and Grill. The Hummus Bar and Grill also has a pretty good chopped liver to take away. The best way to eat it is 50:50 with the Hummus Bar and Grill’s egg salad, perhaps with some fried onion or onion powder added.

  9. Trevor Graham on July 7th, 2011 9:56 am

    Hi all you hummus lovers and those who like a good argument over food.

    I am about to start the hmmus war all over again and maybe find a peaceful resolution as well. But I am interested in a good fight about hummus one of my favourite foods.

    I am producing and directing a film called, Make Hummus Not War. It’s looking for awswers to who can claim to own hummus. Is it Isreali, Lebanese or indeed Palestinian? Maybe it comes from Syria?

    And I am declaring the chick pea war with a missile that says that the best ever hummus is not be found in Israel or the West Bank or in East Jerusalem as so many of you claim. The most delicous mouth watering hummus is definitely to be found just about everywhere in Beirut. it has better taste and texture than anything I’ve had in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem or Amman. By far.

    So i suggest that we all better Make Hummus Not War and that hummus led peace talks can ensue so that all those Israeli hummus lovers can go to Beirut and find true hummus heaven.

    But in the meantime I want to know where humus comes from?

  10. David Sternlight on July 7th, 2011 3:26 pm

    There is some biblical text which has been interpreted by some to show Hummus was well known to the ancient Israelites. I don’t recall the details but perhaps someone else will.

    [ Shooky: ] You probably referring this on. Keep in mind though that this is a brilliant, yet very speculative, interpretation.

  11. Karen on July 7th, 2011 5:09 pm

    I’m new here and would first like to say “hi” as well as “thank you” to Shooki for this blog. I’m passionate about good food and have loved Middle Eastern food since Lebanese friends cooked for me as a teen many years ago in Detroit, after which I married into an old (by Ashkenazi standards) Israeli family.

    I thought I’d pass along my thoughts on two tahinis I use, specifically Al Wadi vs. Al Arz, both of which are available here in NYC. I find it interesting that despite the fact that Al Arz is so delicious you can eat it out of the jar (NO bitterness whatsoever) and that it makes most excellent tahini for eating, Al Wadi–despite being somewhat more bitter and, I think, less delicious (tastes kinda mass-produced)–seems to taste better in hummus than Al Arz; it’s cheaper as well.

    Ala Tamam, I hope you work out your export situation. Just add an extra, stick-on label (don’t change your own!) with the information the FDA requires and we’ll all be happy!

  12. shooky on July 7th, 2011 5:44 pm

    No, thank you Karen :)

    I didn’t know you had Al-Arz in the states. It’s actually a very good product, that is used in Israel mostly by Bahadunas which is a very famous and popular hummus place in Ramat-Gan (recently, they also have a dozen franchisers, some of which are good).

    True, Al-Wadi is far better for some hummus recipes. Keep in mind that every Israeli or Palestinian hummus place (and I guess it’s no different in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria) has it’s own recipe, and different combinations of chickpeas and tahini take you to surprising place.

    In Israel and the territories, you have good hummus places that use Karawan, Semel Hayona, Al-Gamal, Al-Hillal, Al-Amir (The Prince) and more. Note, that these are all Palestinian brands. There are also a few Israeli brands that are decent, but none of them is popular in hummus places as far as I know.

  13. Trevor Graham on July 8th, 2011 12:29 am

    David,

    i belive the author of that biblical reference was Israeli novelist and journalist Meir Shalev. He wrote an article which apeared in the newspaper he writes for Yedioth Aharonot saying that the Book of Ruth from the Old Testament includes hummus or hommetz (hope that spelling is correct) thereby indicating that hummus is referred to in the bible. Meir Shalev has told me that his article caused a minor stir in Israel and beyond when it was published.

    But this story has spread like wild fire. Many people (hummus lovers) told me recently in Israel that hummus is an Israeli originated food because it is mentioned in the bible. Here was proof.

    It shows the power of a good story (I am rfeffering to both the bible and Meir Shalev’s article here) and is interesting as both speculation and interpretation over the history and origins of hummus. One well known hummus restaurant owner said to me, “Show me in the Koran where it mentions hummus?”

  14. shooky on July 8th, 2011 10:15 am

    I think most Israelis will tell you it’s an Arab dish. Also, I think the idea of owning a food or the revelry over it’s invention, is a bit silly.

  15. R6hottie on July 8th, 2011 11:17 pm

    I’ve found that the addition of a small amount of plain yogurt to thick hummus makes it more creamy than just adding more olive oil…anyone else ever try this?

  16. shooky on July 9th, 2011 1:58 pm

    Tried it, but it’s really not necessary.

    You shouldn’t add olive oil to the hummus in the first place. What makes the hummus creamy is: a) proper cooking of the right chickpeas, and b) using a lot of tahini.
    Adding olive oil is something people usually do when prices of tahini are unbearable. Yogurt is legitimate, but it changes the taste significantly. And if you’re hummus is too thick, you should try adding WATER.

  17. Karen on July 9th, 2011 3:40 pm

    I don’t think I’d ever add dairy to hummus, nor would I add oil (yet another element of Sabra that baffles me) other than to dress it.

  18. Trevor Graham on July 10th, 2011 1:42 am

    If only we could time travel to see who it was that decided to mash chick peas and add tahina, garlic and lemon juice with a pinch of salt, definately NO olive oil except as a ganish.

    Persoanlly I think the answer to the question “Who owns or invented hummus” is best left as a toatl unanserable mystery. I just enjoy eating it.

    BUT people are people and they can get very nationalistic about all manner of things including the tasty dish made from the humble chick pea. History is in part about analysing claims and counter claims. So as much as I enjoy eating hummus I also enjoy a good arguemnt about its origins. Better to throw chick peas at each other than bombs! Also as Claudia Roden in her wonderful book Arabesque says, “A dish is more than a dish. It has a story”.

  19. David Sternlight on July 10th, 2011 2:44 am

    ” Better to throw chick peas at each other than bombs!”

    As long as they’re cooked. You have just inadvertently revealed the Israeli’s latest secret weapon, the raw chickpea cannon,

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