Hummus, one of the most popular culinary items in the Middle Eastern diet, has become more and more mainstream (#nopunintended) in America. Its basic ingredient is chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans in Spanish. Tahini (ground sesame paste) and lemon juice (or similar acid) are also used in hummus. Sounds pretty simple, right? We visited Sabra's hummus manufacturing plant in Richmond Virginia, and it turns out that there is a lot more to this humble dip than many of us knew.

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Not all chickpeas are equal

According to Dr. Harbans Bhardwaj, a professor of agricultural research at Virginia State University, there are over 12,000 varieties of chickpeas (Amethyst, Kyabra, Jimbour, Moti, just to name a few). These generally fall under two broad categories: desi and kabuli. Sabra uses a single variety sourced within the United States, and they go through a whopping 40 acres worth of chickpeas a day at their factory!

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Chickpeas are very high in protein (there is 2g protein in 2 tbsp of hummus), so they're great for vegetarians to add protein to their diet. Like many other legumes, chickpeas also have a high fiber content, and may aid lowering cholesterol.

Not all sesames are equal

Tahini, a ground white sesame paste, is another key component to hummus. Like chickpeas, not all sesames are equal. The variety that is used for making sesame oil is bitter and not suitable for making tahini. Similarly, the sesame used on sesame buns are also not appropriate for tahini, since they'd also lead to extreme bitterness. Even with the right sesame, if the roasting is not right, the resulting tahini won't taste right, either. Of course, just like a good latte needs the perfectly frothed milk, a good hummus needs the right-tasting tahini!

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Have you wondered why store-bought hummus tastes different to the ones you order at a Middle Eastern restaurant? Does the latter taste creamier and less lemony? This is because store-bought, packaged hummus needs to meet a pH level of 4.6 or below due to food safety laws. By contrast, the creamier restaurant-style hummus will spoil in a short period of time. Food scientists and chefs are Sabra spend a lot of time balancing the low pH requirements with great tastes.

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During our time at the factory, we also got our hands dirty planting in Sabra's fruit and vegetable garden. Unbeknownst to us, Richmond, Virginia is one of the worst "food deserts" in the United States. The USDA defines food desserts as areas "vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods". In response, Sabra started an organic, employee-run workshare garden in 2016, supplying produce free of charge to its Richmond employees. We left Richmond with tummies full of hummus and even fuller hearts, knowing that the tomato vines we planted will eventually be on people's dinner table in Richmond, served with a side of hummus, perhaps?

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