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Do you eat hummus? It could make you healthier!

Hummus is an ancient Middle Eastern dip rich in important health-promoting nutrients. The backbone of hummus is made from chickpeas, or garbanzo beans — they’re full of fiber, protein, healthy monounsaturated fat, and micronutrients such as magnesium, iron, and vitamin C. With added virgin olive oil, tahini, garlic, lemon juice and spices, hummus is a nutrient-dense food.

chl susan logo2A recent study of American food consumption patterns showed that adults who regularly consume hummus are more likely to have a healthy diet overall. The authors said, “Since legumes have a similar nutrient profile to both vegetables and protein foods, they may often be used to fulfill requirements of both food groups.”

Hummus carries a high “Naturally Nutrient Rich” score. The NNR score is a basic calculation of nutrient density, assessing a foods’ “bang for its buck.”  A high score reflects the amounts of some important nutrients in a food. And hummus is a healthy snack option compared to other dips and spreads such as sour cream or cream cheese — both are high in fat and calories, but low in nutrients.

What Makes Hummus So Healthy?

chickpeafoodchart-phpChickpeas: All dried beans are healthy and are a good source of protein, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.  People who eat all types of dried beans consistently have lower blood pressure and reduced cholesterol. Beans are a good source of fiber, and are digested slowly, which helps stabilize blood glucose. They have a low glycemic impact, which helps to maintain energy and fight irritability. Garbanzos are especially good sources of manganese, folate, copper, phosphorus, protein, iron and zinc. Canned beans are not as nutritious as fresh; for example, a serving of cooked dried chickpeas has 43% of the daily value for folate, but canned beans has only 12%. Canned beans have 48% less iron, 42% less copper and 30% less magnesium, phosphorus and potassium.

hummus_2_web-copyOlive oil: a very good source of healthy monounsaturated fats, extra virgin olive oil is anti-inflammatory, rich in polyphenols and is a good source of vitamin E and beta carotene. It really does makes a nutritional difference whether you buy quality oil compared to standard “olive oil”. If you buy “virgin” or just “olive oil” it means that heat and/or chemicals are used in the processing and compromises the available nutrients. Extra-virgin is made from the first cold pressing of the olives and pits, and is the highest quality oil…and it tastes so much better! Go for the extra virgin.

Garlic: contains flavonoids, oligosaccharides, selenium, sulfur compounds and other anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds. Mince the garlic and let it stand for a few minutes before blending into the mixture to make sure enzymes have a chance to activate allicin, the active ingredient that makes garlic so healthful. Read more about garlic here.

Tahini: sesame seeds are rich in copper, manganese, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and fiber. They also contain two unique substances, sesamin and sesamolin, which are lignans, beneficial fibers that are linked to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and they may protect the liver from oxidative damage.

limon-sutilLemon juice: lemons (and all citrus fruits) are high in vitamin C.  There are hundreds of varieties of lemons (limas in Spanish) and limes (limónes). Always use fresh juice and never that strange-tasting bottled stuff, at least in hummus (all bets are off when it comes to cocktails.) I posted on the Food & Cooking in Ecuador Facebook group to learn where to source lemons here in Cuenca. You won’t find the typical big, thick-skinned bright yellow lemons so ubiquitous in North America, but Supermaxi often carries big yellow-green limóns, and all the mercados sell lots of small limas. If you’re shopping at a mercado, ask for “limónes amarillos” to find the larger varieties.  My editor David Morrill, a cocktail connoisseur, says he’s heard that the big green limóns are better…at least for Margaritas.

Make your own delicious, fresh, additive-free hummus

Commercially-prepared hummus contains preservatives and additives: make your own in just minutes. Grab a blender or food processor and just a few essential ingredients. And don’t limit hummus to just an appetizer. Hummus does double-duty as a side dish, maybe with roasted eggplant, or as a topping on grilled chicken or fish. Besides chopped parsley or cilantro, try garnishing with chopped cucumber, bell pepper, hard-boiled eggs, pine nuts, or a few cooked chickpeas. And don’t forget a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.

Here’s a very simple but delicious recipe adapted from Frugal Living who gives credit to Rachael Ray. If you can use driwho-brought-the-hummused beans, so much the better — they’re cheaper, fresher, and you control the salt.  Soak them first: cooking dried beans at altitude means adding more liquid and cooking time to your recipe.  Learn more about cooking beans in a pressure cooker here. And learn more about high altitude cooking from here.

Some smart advice: High altitude (above 3,500 feet) will at least double the time needed for cooking beans under pressure. Because the cooking time in a pressure cooker is so short, the beans may not absorb the flavor from the seasonings as well as when they cook in a saucepan or pot. Some cooks let the beans stand 30 minutes or so after cooking in the pressure cooker to help them absorb the flavorings. Other cooks prefer to use the stove-top method when they want a highly flavored bean dish.

Spice Up Your Hummus Ingredients

1 3/4 c. cooked garbanzo beans
1 tablespoon tahini sesame paste
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (plus 1 teaspoon to drizzle)
1/2 teaspoon crushed pepper flakes
1 teaspoon ground cumin (optional)
1 teaspoon ground coriander (optional)
2 cloves fresh garlic, finely crushed or 3-4 cloves roasted garlic (see my recipe here)
reserved bean cooking liquid or water
salt, to taste (I like sea salt or other non-iodized salt)
1/2 lemon, juiced

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro or parsley

  • Combine beans, tahini, oil, pepper flakes, cumin, coriander, garlic, salt, and lemon juice in food processor bowl or blender; pulse to combine.
  • Slowly add enough of the reserved liquid or water (or even more olive oil), pulsing and checking occasionally, to achieve the desired smooth consistency.
  • Sprinkle on the chopped cilantro or parsley, drizzle with olive oil and serve with fresh vegetables and pita bread.
  • Refrigerate leftovers for up to a week.

I have a tin of tahini that I brought with me from the U.S., but I need readers to kindly post your comment below and tell us where you can find tahini in Cuenca?  And, as Martha Stewart says, you don’t need tahini to make hummus.  She suggests instead try an equal amount of natural peanut, almond, or other nut butter, or Greek yogurt, avocado, or even thawed frozen peas (I’m not sure about that one, but I’m game.)  Go beyond chickpeas, and try hummus made with pinto, red, white or black beans instead of garbanzos.  More recipes ideas here.


Cuenca HighLife. Everything you need to know about garlic. Disadvantages of canned chickpeas.

Nutrients. The Nutritional Value and Health Benefits of Chickpeas and Hummus.

The World’s Healthiest Foods: Garbanzo beans (chickpeas.)

The World’s Healthiest Foods: Olive Oil, extra virgin.

The World’s Healthiest Foods: Sesame seeds.

SelfNutritionData. Chickpeas.

Wikipedia. Sabra (company).