Humous has made its way from being a Mideastern favorite to a regular dip at house parties abroad. International consumers concerned about making healthy food choices are increasingly turning to the puree as a healthy appetizer and snack. But not all blends can provide the benefits linked to the Mediterranean diet.
Chickpeas, the main ingredient in the spread, are a good source of magnesium, vitamin B and iron, says Ayelet Weinstein, a registered dietician and head of the Ribstein Center for Research and Sport Medicine at the Wingate Institute in Netanya. Though a Mediterranean diet has been linked to heart health, you need to do your homework on this staple food to reap the benefits.
"It can be a healthy vegetarian meal," she says, but warns that ingredient quality makes all the difference. Chickpeas, like most legumes, are low on the glycemic index and full of fiber, so the sugar is absorbed slowly into the bloodstream, which helps maintain a feeling of fullness longer.
However, filling up on store-bought brands means, well, a lot of filler. There is a large difference between humous made at home from whole ingredients and the highly processed product you buy in the store, she says. Most premade humous has a lot of additives like wheat or oat starch, fats, and artificial preservatives.
While the traditional recipe mixes the bean paste with olive oil, producers usually add soybean oil, boosting the ratio of calories from fat to over 50 percent, Weinstein says. "These aren't the fats that we want to add to our diet."
If made at home, humous is healthy enough to eat alongside a salad as a well-balanced vegetarian meal, Weinstein says. "The problem is in the restaurants. You need to know if they put in real humous and olive oil."
Sabra, the leading humous brand in the US and owned by Strauss Group, expects sales of about $90 million this year. The company has seen its sales quadruple since 2005, according to an Associated Press report.
At home, Weinstein's husband, Dr. Yitzhak Weinstein, is in charge of preparing the humous. A long soaking and cooking process are key to extracting the most nutrients and taste, says Weinstein, an exercise physiologist at Ohalo and Tel Hai colleges. "The less you add to it, the better it is."
Using precooked canned beans may cut down on time, but it also shortcuts the amount of vitamins and minerals and boosts sodium. Instead, Weinstein suggests soaking a large amount of dried chickpeas at a time and then freezing the unused portion for future use.n
While the best humous is made at home, for those a little more pressed for time, Arab restaurants tend to stick to the more traditional, healthier recipes and make it fresh daily. "They soak the beans all day and cook all night long," according to Dr. Weinstein. Among the country's best places to find whole-ingredient humous, he recommends Sa'eid's Humous in Acre, Abu Salah at the Amiad junction in the North, and Ali Caravan in Jaffa.