The dip that took over

Rel­a­tively ob­scure a gen­er­a­tion ago, hum­mus is now a global busi­ness. By Judi Rose

The Jewish Chronicle - - FEATURES -

PLATO WAS par­tial to it, as was Socrates. The Phoeni­cians plied the seas and the Egyp­tians fed slaves on it. It is ar­guably West­ern civil­i­sa­tion’s first su­per­food, and no self-re­spect­ing Is­raeli, Greek, Turk­ish or Mid­dle East­ern restau­rant would be seen dead with­out it on the menu. It is, of course, hum­mus.

The pre­cise ori­gins of this mélange of chick­peas, tahini, lemon and gar­lic are lost in the prover­bial mists of time. But one thing is cer­tain: nowa­days it is as likely to be served in Jewish homes as chicken soup or chopped liver.

So it may come as no sur­prise that this week­end sees Bri­tain’s — and pos­si­bly the world’s — first fes­ti­val of hum­mus, hosted by the JCC at Hamp­stead Town Hall on Sun­day.

Par­tic­i­pants can en­ter a hum­mus­mak­ing com­pe­ti­tion (in­gre­di­ents will be sup­plied by the or­gan­is­ers). The win­ner will see their hum­mus for­mula in­cluded in a spe­cial dish for a week at Hum­mus Bros in Soho, who will be do­nat­ing £1 per por­tion to a char­ity of the win­ner’s choice. The Hum­mus Bros (who are not in fact brothers) will be among the judges, along with the JC’s own Silvia Nacamulli, and restau­rant critic Vic­to­ria Pr­ever. Says Nacamulli, who lived in Is­rael for sev­eral years, “I will surely look for a hum­mus that is whisker-lick­ing good and that re­minds me of the sim­ple plea­sure of the Le­vant, and Is­rael in par­tic­u­lar.”

“I’ll be look­ing for some­thing creative, but not too creative,” says Pr­ever. “Choco­late-chip hum­mus is just too weird for me.”

For such an an­cient and high­lyesteemed food, hum­mus has taken a sur­pris­ingly long time to make its way into the lime­light. The nu­tri­tious lit­tle legume on which it is based has been cul­ti­vated for some seven mil­len­nia: they have ac­tu­ally dug up a 7,500year-old chick­pea in Turkey, though whether it was des­tined for a plate of hum­mus we shall never know.

Un­til 10 or 15 years ago, how­ever, hum­mus in Bri­tain was largely the prov­ince of Sephardim and veg­e­tar­i­ans, al­though I do re­call see­ing cans in the Jewish deli when I was lit­tle. Then sud­denly, like crois­sants and fresh pasta, hum­mus was “dis­cov­ered”. In­evitably, su­per­mar­ket prod­uct de­vel­op­ers soon felt the urge to push the en­ve­lope. Twenty-first cen­tury hum­mus is now likely to be “en­hanced” with the likes of caramelised onion, slow-roasted tomato, or avo­cado and jalapeno.

And that’s noth­ing. In Amer­ica, pop­u­lar hum­mus va­ri­eties in­clude spicy chipo­tle and chunky kala­mata. I have even come across pineap­ple and curry flavoured hum­mus over there.

Hum­mus is now big busi­ness. Its rep­u­ta­tion as a healthy, low-fat food has helped boost sales of su­per­mar­ket hum­mus in Amer­ica ten­fold in the last three years, and de­spite re­cent sal­mo­nella scares, the UK mar­ket seems equally buoy­ant.

So who first thought of this an­tique su­per­food? Some say it was the Arabs, al­though the Greeks would beg to dis­agree. Sup­pos­edly, how­ever it was Sal­adin — by all ac­counts a great cook — who, un­der the guid­ance of his court physi­cian, Moses Mai­monides, took hum­mus to a whole new level by adding a ju­di­cious com­bi­na­tion of spices.

His sig­na­ture “40-spice mix” was said to en­hance viril­ity. This may ex­plain why to this day, tra­di­tion­ally re­li­gious fam­i­lies in the Mid­dle East are renowned for the high gar­lic con­tent of their hum­mus, which ap­par­ently orig­i­nated as a way to keep young men and women sep­a­rated. Hum­musfest com­peti­tors with nu­bile daugh­ters, take note. For more in­for­ma­tion on the JCC Hum­musfest, phone 020 7431 9866 or visit jc­clon­don.org.uk/Food.html

Recipes for hum­mus vary de­pend­ing on where you are in the world. In Amer­ica, prac­ti­cally any­thing goes

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