What Is Hummus? Or Hommus? Or Houmous?

It’s hard to believe that only 15 years ago, many U.S. grocery stores didn’t even carry hummus, let alone have shelves full of different hummus brands. But now hummus is everywhere, from snooty dinner parties to the lunchboxes of kids who secretly just want Lunchables. But what exactly is hummus? And how did it become the most popular food for slathering on a baby carrot while you tell your book club you never actually finished the book? 

What is hummus made of? 

Hummus is a vegetable spread that is traditionally made with mashed or pureed cooked chickpeas, blended with garlic, lemon juice, salt, and tahini—a paste of crushed and cooked sesame seeds. 

Where is hummus from?

Hummus is a staple food of the Mediterranean and Middle East, with each country boasting their own recipes and preparations. In Mediterranean countries like Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus, it’s typically served as an appetizer with bread. While in countries in the Levant region of the Middle East, like Israel, Lebanon and Palestine, it’s served as a main dish. And in America, it’s used as a veggie dip for when ranch just isn’t “fancy” enough. 

Wait, is it “hummus” or “hommus” or even “houmous?” 

It’s all of them! They’re all variations on the English pronunciation of the Arabic word for chickpea, so all of them are acceptable. Typically, Americans tend to favor “hummus” or “hommus,” while the Brits go for “houmous.” So, keep that in mind the next time you’re hitting a Buckingham Palace snack table.  

Is all hummus the same? 

Nope! As hummus is popular throughout the world (with conflicting arguments about who invented hummus, exactly), this deceptively simple sounding dish has a wide range of variations, with each country boasting multiple versions. And while we can’t list them all, here are just a few notable variations on the “standard” hummus recipe: 

Greek hummus: Greek hummus recipes are similar to your everyday “basic hummus,” but tend to have more garlic and often include yogurt. I guess Greece has enough of the stuff lying around, so why not chuck it in there? 

Jaffa hummus: This thicker Israeli style of hummus includes olive oil and is topped with pine nuts and often spiced with cumin and paprika. This shouldn’t be confused with “Jaffa Cakes,” which are just orange-flavored U.K. biscuits pretending to be cakes for tax purposes. (It’s a long story.)

Hummus bil lahme: If you could use more protein in your hummus, you should check out this version, which literally means “chickpeas with meat.” Popular in Syria and Lebanon, it combines hummus with spiced meat (typically spiced lamb or beef), toasted pine nuts, and pomegranate seeds for a warm, savory treat. It’s perfect for anyone who’s a fan of chickpeas AND eating animal flesh!

American hummus: If one country is pushing the frontiers of hummus, it’s America! U.S. brands are putting out some extremely unique and unexpected hummus flavors like chocolate hummus, Buffalo style hummus, and even Cake Batter Hummus. Hey, do you ever get the feeling that scientists are so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should? That quote’s about hummus, right? 

About the Author

Jon Gutierrez

Jon is an L.A.-based comedy writer who's spent 95 percent of his life trying to decide which Ramen flavor to buy, only to go with "chicken." The other 5 percent? Mushroom.

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