It's an ancient food. A dip that dates back thousands of years. A basic blend of everyday ingredients. And yet the current popularity of hummus – that age-old mix of chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice and olive oil – is nothing short of staggering. From traditional mezze plates to the more on-trend grazing platters, supermarket shelves to high-end menus, hummus is, quite simply, everywhere.
But how would the snacking landscape look if our favourite Middle Eastern dip had never come to be or ceased to exist overnight? Yes, that’s right. On International Hummus Day, we’re asking the big questions, considering the unthinkable and pondering a life without hummus.
Finding a suitable substitute
Like a bolshy older sibling, hummus has long put other mezze in the corner. While the likes of muhammara, moutabel and baba ghanoush are well known and loved across the Arab world, they've never quite reached the same level of international acclaim. Take hummus out of the equation, though, and one has to wonder if any of these dishes would be propelled into the culinary limelight in quite the same way.
Let’s not forget that part of the appeal of hummus is its yielding, uncomplicated, customisable nature: easy to make, reassuring to eat (beetroot version withstanding). Hummus isn’t bland per se, but there’s something about its pliable nature that could just be key to the appeal.
Smoky baba ghanoush with its complex charred notes, punchy flavours and interesting textures might be an altogether more sophisticated appetiser, but does it appeal so universally to adults and weaning babies alike? We think not. It's a similar story with heavy-on-the-tahini moutabel. This is a dish that delights aubergine lovers, but leaves others resolutely unconvinced. What then of the assertively flavoured muhammara? A vibrant blend of toasted walnuts, Aleppo pepper paste, pomegranate molasses and breadcrumbs combines to produce a tangy-tart result that will always be more divisive than good old hummus.
Like vintage Levi's or an original pair of Converse sneakers, there's something about the simplicity of hummus that not only works, but endures. And in a parallel world bereft of said dip, we're just not convinced that there's another mezze quite suited to filling those large, universally loved shoes.
Escaping culinary crimes
Of course, thus far we’ve been discussing hummus in its pure, unadulterated form – chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, garlic, a touch of olive oil and little else. What can’t be ignored, though, are the different flavours and forms that hummus has been forced to take on in recent years.
From the relatively inoffensive (pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, edamame, sweet chilli) and the more obscure (peanut butter, beetroot, barbecue) to the downright wrong (Marmite-infused, apricot-jalapeno), hummus has been subject to it all in the name of food trends, cooking fads and general experimentation.
If you’re of the mindset that those variations might not exactly be echt, but can’t be that bad, then can we highlight that dessert hummus is a thing and a dark chocolate and mint variation exists (yes, someone went there. And someone else ate it).
If you need further clarity on why there's something not quite right going on there, perhaps we can point you in the direction of The National's columnist Kareem Shaheen, who has, shall we say, strong, views on the subject. "Pureed chickpeas 'infused with rich cocoa, organic sugar and vanilla' cannot in good conscience be called hummus," he writes, "particularly if they can be enjoyed in the form of sweet treats or s'mores. A base of white or black beans, edamame, pumpkin, pineapple, jalapenos, ground turkey or jelly beans does not constitute hummus … in the same way an apple is just an apple, not a lamb shank. In the same way Beethoven is not Ted Bundy."
So we’ll take the liberty of concluding that the need for sweet potato-buffalo cauliflower-Margherita pizza-hummus is very slim indeed.
Seeking other snacks
If hummus no longer exists, what should we pack into lunchboxes, serve with a rainbow of crudites, take on picnics and graze on as dinner cooks or while the barbecue heats up?
Before panic sets in, let’s turn this to our advantage. If hummus is the default choice that means it quickly becomes boring. Perhaps this might just be the push we all need to shake up our snacking routine – necessity being the mother of invention and all that.
Here are some no-fuss ideas that might (caveat, might) just be able to fill a hummus-shaped void.
- Creamy labneh flavoured with lemon zest, grated Parmesan and a touch of black pepper.
- Quick tzatziki: grated cucumber mixed with thick Greek yogurt, garlic and olive oil.
- Blanched frozen peas mashed with mascarpone, mint, lemon zest and tahini.
- Canned butterbeans drained and blended with rosemary, lemon, garlic and olive oil.
Putting chickpeas to other uses
High in protein, low in fat, inexpensive and easily accessible – chickpeas deserve to be celebrated and there are plenty of other healthy ways to utilise those legumes beyond hummus, should it ever cease to exist.
Snack on roasted chickpeas. Drain canned or pre-soaked dried chickpeas and shake well to remove as much moisture as possible – this is crucial for a crispy end result. Toss with olive oil, add spices (lime zest and chilli, cumin and coriander, smoked paprika, lemon zest and rosemary), tip on to a baking tray and roast in a preheated oven until golden and crunchy.
Drink chickpea milk. Stay with us on this one. After all, even uber-popular almond milk was met with a degree of reticence at one point. To make your own nutrient-dense, neutral-yet-slightly-nutty-tasting chickpea milk, blend canned or soaked dried chickpeas with water until you have a slightly thick, milk-like consistency. Pour into a saucepan set over a medium heat, bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Allow to cool completely before drinking.
Baking chocolate chickpea cookies. Don't knock adding chickpeas to a cake batter until you've tried it. For an easy start to your chickpea baking endeavours, blitz 250 grams of drained and washed canned chickpeas with 150g peanut butter, half a teaspoon of vanilla extract and four tablespoons of maple syrup until you have a thick, chunky mix. Stir in 90g of chocolate chips, then use wet hands to form into 10 to 12 small rounds. Arrange on a baking tray lined with baking paper and cook in a 180°C oven for 10 minutes.