Attention, Lantana Foods: If our panel of esteemed Jewish food tasters could take out a cease and desist order on your fruit hummus flavors, we would.
Five of us sat unhappily around my dining room table one recent evening, grudgingly dipping our spoons into plastic containers of mango, blueberry and strawberry, the newest flavors of “hummus” proffered by Lantana Foods, based in Austin, Texas.
Why the quotes? As our three Hebrew-speaking panelists noted, “hummus” is Hebrew (and Arabic) for garbanzo bean, or chickpea, the central ingredient of the eponymous savory spread. Lantana’s fruit-flavored concoctions use white beans, not garbanzos. So technically, there ain’t no hummus in their hummus.
If only that were its sole problem.
I convened the panel after my friend Ilana Kaufman posted a Facebook video from Berkeley Bowl West showing the store’s display of these fruity hummus flavors. The horrified responses came fast and furious. My favorite: “As a lover of blueberries, mango AND hummus, this just made my soul die a little.”
I picked up containers of all three, and J. editor and fellow taster Sue Fishkoff added two more: brownie batter and snickerdoodle, both from a company called Delighted By.
We were not.
The Lantana Foods website explains the absence of actual hummus by claiming it is “Boldly going where no bean has gone before” and its goal as “Interrupting the hummus quo.”
Just opening the mango package and seeing the lurid yellow made Sue feel queasy. We gaped at the pale pink of the strawberry and bright purple of the blueberry. Tasting them didn’t help.
The strawberry fared better than the mango, though at first, food publicist Emunah Hauser referred to it as a “fibrous jam.” But then she compared it to a vegan spread or cream cheese, which caused Sue to ask “Why do you hate vegans?”
Mica Talmor, former chef-owner of Oakland Israeli restaurant Ba-Bite, was fooled at first — the spreads looked light and airy — but as soon as she got some in her mouth, the graininess turned her off.
The blueberry caused me to burst into giggles.
“If you want to eat blueberries, eat blueberries, why eat them in this weird textural thing?” I asked, pronouncing it a “mindf–.”
While each flavor had damning traits, we all agreed that if you’re curious, the strawberry is the least awful of the three. But really, fruit hummus is a bad idea.
As a lover of blueberries, mango AND hummus, this just made my soul die a little.
“I imagine that anyone who puts a food product out there does market research and has a panel of tasters,” said Hilla Abel, an Israeli American culinary instructor at Berkeley’s Bauman College. “How did this get by them?”
Emunah noticed that the expiration date was looming, meaning the hummus probably wasn’t selling well.
On we went to the “dessert hummus” duo. Delighted By is a Boston-based company that was funded by the TV show “Shark Tank,” and its mission is “to inspire people to spread their glitter. In other words, to be the light they are out in the world.” (Yes, that’s really on its website, though what this has to do with dessert hummus one can only surmise. But we can probably blame the millennials for this, too.)
These chocolate and sugar cookie flavors were made with real garbanzo beans and tahini, and they tasted much better than the fruit varieties. The Brownie Batter was actually pretty good. But then again, chickpeas and tahini aside, nearly anything with chocolate and coconut milk is good.
Mica said she could see giving it to a lactose-intolerant person as a pudding substitute, and we all thought it could fool picky eater children into getting protein.
“I can appreciate this more from my natural cooking perspective,” said Hilla. “It can be a treat with alternative ingredients.”
Nevertheless, as much as I hate to waste food, after the evening’s tasting was completed, the remnants of all five hummus flavors went straight into the trash.