Why America's Obsession with Hummus May Actually Be Great for the Environment
Unlike other crops, chickpeas actually help mitigate the ecological strain associated with the resources used in commercial farming.
The popularity of hummus has reached an all-time high with American shoppers—and according to a new report from NPR's The Salt, the healthy snack could also be a boon for the environment due to its main ingredient, chickpeas. Reporters at NPR highlight consumer data that reveals that Americans spent four times as much money on hummus in the marketplace last year than they did 10 years ago: more than $800 million in 2018 alone, according to Tim McGreevy, the CEO of the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council. Chickpeas are increasingly found in many ready-to-eat snacks in the grocery store, McGreevy says, and is one of the food retail industry's fastest growing sectors.
According to NPR, pulses are one of the few crops that actually work to combat the nitrogen released into the atmosphere in raising them, and leaves soil enriched with nutrients for the next crop. Chickpeas have been recognized by industry leaders and governmental bodies (including the United Nations) as a prime example of a superfood that can help solve hunger issues as well as soil depreciation. American farmers, who have planted more chickpeas in the last year than ever before to satisfy demand, can use pulses to mitigate the strain on soil in crop rotation. Pulses could also reduce the need for chemical fertilizers, according to the report, while working to sequester carbon from the atmosphere.
Casey Bailey, an industrial farmer based in Montana, told NPR he's already implemented rotation of chickpeas to reduce the need for chemicals in his line of work. "I see this diversification and these legumes as a way to get away from the use of synthetic nitrogen," Bailey told NPR. "They're a tricky crop to grow, but I'm a huge proponent of trying to figure out how to do it."
McGreevy says that the American farmers were only harvesting around 30,000 acres of chickpeas in the 1990s—he tells NPR that current figures are closer to 859,000 acres. While much of the demand for pulses has to do with exports to country overseas, McGreevy says that the success of chickpeas in particular has pushed more professionals to grow it domestically. Sabra, the leading hummus brand per NPR's report, has expanded a massive production plant in Chesterfield County, Virginia, to produce nearly 8,000 tons of hummus a month. In turn, American farmers are ramping up production more now than ever before, which may have a significant effect on the amount of resources used in this farming sector.
Current dietary guidelines set forth by the USDA suggest that Americans eat at least one and a half cups of cooked pulses per week, and McGreevy says many choose to eat more, as it's a nutrient-rich staple found in many vegetarian and vegan recipes as well. Currently, pulses have been shown to play a large role in reducing meat consumption overall, McGreevy says; and it doesn't hurt that they're naturally high in protein, fiber, and loaded with a slew of amino acids. Alongside their ability to naturally enrich soil, it seems that pulses like chickpeas may be the only superfood that ecologists and nutritionists can agree on.