Written By: Lindsey Earl, Dietetics Graduate Student, Eastern Michigan University
As Rebecca’s intern, I had the privilege of attending a “hummus summit,” if you will, held by the popular hummus makers, Sabra. This gathering marked the opening of their “pop-up” restaurant “Hummus House” in Georgetown, Washington D.C. First, if you don’t know what a pop-up restaurant is (I certainly didn’t), it’s a temporary restaurant available for a limited time. In the case of Hummus House, it will be open just four weeks, for lunch and dinner, through October 26th. During this gathering, a collection of very knowledgeable Sabra representatives met with a diverse group of nutrition and food experts to discuss (and eat) hummus.
I’ll be honest, when I heard I was attending a meeting to talk about hummus, I wasn’t expecting a riveting and heated debate over the present state of the chickpea. What I was pleased to find was a very colorful and passionate sharing of information and ideas on a topic we all love. Hummus was simply the reason to talk about it. So while we munched on (shocker!) hummus, we learned a little more…actually a lot more…about this nutritious but sometimes unfamiliar food.
What the heck is hummus anyway?
The basic formula for hummus includes primarily ground cooked chickpeas, oil, tahini (ground sesame seeds), and is typically seasoned with garlic and a bit of salt. Chickpeas carry the most weight for making hummus what it is, so our discussion went on to help familiarize us with this vegetable…um, protein, er, grain? Wait…what is it anyway?
Every member of the panel was asked to give their opinion on what category the chickpea fell into and, it turned out, the vote was split! 8 people thought it was a vegetable, 8 thought it was a grain, and 8 thought it was a protein. Guy Johnson, Ph.D. put our confusion at ease by explaining that nutritionally, it actually falls under several categories, including the ones we chose. He went on to reveal quite the nutritional wrap sheet, which included (in ½ cup serving) 7.5 grams protein, 50% of daily fiber requirements, 250 mg potassium, appreciable amounts of minerals magnesium and manganese, and a significant proportion of resistant starch, to name a few.
Sabra Speakers Take the Floor
A Food Scientist Helps us with the Science – Guy Johnson, Ph.D.
As a former biology major and current nutrition student, the science-y portion of Guy’s presentation was what I really “geeked out” about. Recent research has shown a low glycemic response from chickpeas and apparent correlation to decreased LDL (bad cholesterol). Further, studies have also shown that those who eat hummus are also increasing their vitamin and mineral, fiber, and polyunsaturated fatty acid intake. This isn’t solely from the hummus, this is also from the vegetables these people are eating WITH the hummus. So, incorporating hummus into someone’s diet can actually help them eat more vegetables, which is almost always a good thing.
A Counseling Dietitian’s Perspective – Rebecca Scritchfield, MA, RD, LD
Cue Rebecca. Sharing the real-life and counseling view of hummus’s role in an American’s diet, she shed some light on not only its nutritional benefits, but its convenience, versatility, and simplicity as well. Assuring her clients they “can’t mess it up,” hummus is a nutrient-dense food that can be taken to work or school with vegetables as a snack, used in place of peanut butter for peanut allergies, and can replace cheese or mayonnaise to healthy-up just about anything you could think to put it on. In short, it’s an easy addition to healthy eating habits that doesn’t require significant time, effort, or thought.
I think this convenience aspect is hugely important. How often do we hear “I don’t have time for that” as a reason for just about anything? In a current world where it takes a lot more money to fill up the gas tank, and a second (or third, or fourth…) job to put food on the table, the last thing you should have to say this about, is your health. As a future dietitian in today’s busy world, my responsibilities have grown to emphasize how to fit achievable healthy eating into someone’s lifestyle. The Sabra panel proved this point yet again.
The Possibilities are Endless – Chef, Mary Beth Albright
The chef behind the Hummus House dishes, Mary Beth Albright, shared her mission in creating the restaurant’s menu. She wanted to open visitor’s minds to the limitless faces of hummus. We learned that in Mediterranean communities, hummus restaurants are open early, as this food is no stranger to breakfast. Topping their morning oatmeal with hummus, Mediterranean people are consuming a hearty nutrient-packed meal that can keep them satiated for hours. She wanted to illustrate how much just changing the temperature can alter a food. Serving hummus warm, instead of the typical refrigerated form, can change the flavor profile completely. Our eyes lit up as the conversation explored the many delicious possibilities for this already tasty food.
Food and nutrition reaches out to such a diversity of communities, it’s difficult for a single entity to anticipate and comprehend all of their opinions and needs. So why not bring people from a variety of communities together for each to share their unique viewpoint. This was what we did! Internet bloggers, chefs, and food service experts alike, shared how they have observed hummus to be represented and perceived in their respective communities.
This turned out to be just as fascinating as the science for me. It seems that as Americans, we have a bit of hummus-fear. This is a food well seated in Mediterranean cultures, but not so much in the land of steak and potatoes. Most understand hummus to be a dip, and that’s about as far as their knowledge goes. So, those at Sabra learned more about something they already knew. They, as the hummus experts, need to educate the unfamiliar public about the possibilities for this emerging food. What I learned, is that it’s part of our job too. As dietitians, we know this is a food our clients can benefit from. From salad dressings, to oatmeal, grilled cheese paninis, and stuffed fruit, this panel certainly taught me how to help them do that.
Sharing Their Passion – Laurie (from Sabra)
I mentioned earlier that this was a passionate group of people. One of the big highlights of the panel included a presentation on chilies by Laurie (from Sabra), to introduce the relatively new salsas Sabra has developed. Learning quite a bit of facts about different types of chilies (pre-dates the apple in the Americas!), we also learned that certain recipes of these salsas were developed specifically for those people who are proud “heat addicts.” This is going to get Bill Nye for a second, but it turns out capsaicin, the chemical in chili peppers that gives them their “heat,” stimulates the Trigeminal nerve in the brain. This nerve then creates what is known as a feedback loop, allowing us to feel pleasure in response to a sensation that burns. Thus…a heat addict is born! It was a pleasure to be in the presence of so many people who share the same passion and positivity about what they do. I believe this is where amazing things come from.
The Hummus House in Georgetown is meant to be a pilot restaurant. With success will come additional pop-ups, maybe even in your own town! In the meantime, take a trip to the Sabra Hummus House in Georgetown, and experience for yourself what the people at Sabra are so passionate about!
To read more from Rebecca about Hummus House dishes and nutritional benefits, check out her blog entry, Sabra Pop-Up Restaurant “Hummus House” Opens in Georgetown.
Follow the fun and keep up on social media updates with Twitter hashtag #sabrahummushouse.