Saturday, 29 April 2017

Dietary matters - cisis in the food industry!

According to wikipedia, hummus is a "Levantine dip or spread made from cooked, mashed chickpeas or other beans, blended with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and garlic. (Tahini, by the way, is made from roasted and ground sesame seeds. This takes me back to my macrobiotic vegetarian days, back in the 1970s, when tahini paste was always in my store cupboard. The smell of roasted sesame seeds still takes me back there. There goes another Proustian moment!) The name "Hummus" comes from the Arabic word for "chickpeas", logically enough, and the complete name of the prepared spread in Arabic is ḥummuṣ bi ṭaḥīna which means "chickpeas with tahini".

So, why am I rabbiting on about hummus. Well, it seems that, along with all the other dreadful things going on in our modern world, there is a hummus crisis. Tesco, Sainsbury's, M & S and other places have had empty spaces on the shelves where hummus is usually found. Shock! Horror! (It must have been fairly short-lived because our local Co-op and Tesco don't appear to be suffering shortages.)  

Anyway, it turns out that most of the hummus sold in this country is produced by a company called Bakkavor, an Icelandic company, not one that you might expect to produce hummus at all. Iceland is hardly middle-Eastern! But hummus and other dips are their speciality and they decided to recall a batch of hummus after customers complained about a metallic taste. They think this originated in some chickpeas imported from Canada. Hmmm! Suspect, inferior Canadian chickpeas, eh?

The company hastened to assure everyone that this was a taste issue not a food safety matter. So that's all right then! And now everything is back to normal on the hummus front.

Statistics from a few years ago show the UK as the "hummus capital" of Europe. 41% of us have hummus in the fridge, almost twice as much as any other country. This is another example of our adaptability, at least in culinary matters; we adopt and adapt foreign cuisine!

I can personally vouch for the fact that hummus has been a fairly recent addition to Spanish supermarket shelves. When we went off on our first major Spanish adventure in 2008 I looked unsuccessfully for hummus. I described it to shopkeepers and to Spanish friends. All of them scratched their heads in a bemused fashion. Chickpeas are a staple in much of Spanish cuisine but they had never heard of such a use for them.

And then, last year or the year before, hummus appeared on the shelves in Mercadona, our next-door-neighbour supermarket in Vigo. Labelled NUEVO (new for non-Spanish speakers), it came with suggestions for how to incorporate it into meals.

Now they just need proper blackcurrant jam. Blueberry jam just does not have thee same tang!

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