Hummus’ popularity in the US is growing so rapidly, it is changing the nation’s agriculture.
High demand for chickpeas, the main ingredient in the snack, is raising prices and encouraging many farmers to increase their output and even switch over from traditional cash crops like tobacco.
The Associated Press reports that chickpea growers in Washington, Idaho, California, Montana, North Dakota and elsewhere are seeing an increased domestic demand for the legume after years of shipping up to 70 percent of their crop overseas. US hummus sales have exploded over that time, from $5 million in 1997 to $250 million in 2013.
The product has now entered 20 percent of American households–but that’s compared to almost 100 percent in the Middle East, where it has been a staple for centuries.
The article also notes that a recent farm bill contains specific programs targeting chickpeas and “pulse crops” meant to boost nutrition in school lunches.
The Wall Street Journal reported last year that Sabra, which operates a hummus plant in Virginia, is so eager to maintain supplies that it is encouraging growers in the region to plant chickpeas, thereby reducing dependence on the West Coast farmers.
With increased demand, chickpea prices have increased to 35 cents a pound, ten cents more than a decade ago; they’ve even gone as high as 50 cents.