It’s been eyeing me, daring me to try it. I’ve never seen anyone buy it. I’ve never actually seen anyone pick it up and consider buying it, and I’m in the hummus section of Jewel pretty regularly.
It’s noon, not peak shopping hours, and I’m here now. Jewel isn’t an elite grocery store, somewhere between Gristedes and Safeway. It’s primarily lowbrow with moments of highbrow — smatterings of fair trade, vegan, gluten-free, non-rbGH, etc. — to try to keep up with Whole Foods. Jewel doesn’t do it very well. The organic produce section is full of sad, wilted spinach and shriveling zucchini. The shelves are stocked with genetically modified tomato soup and artificially flavored sugar cereals. No matter. It has a selection of hummus so extensive that it has its own refrigerated area.
I scan my usual go-tos: Oasis, Cedar’s, Sabra. When it comes to hummus, I’m a purist. I like it smooth. (Lumpy is gross.) Heavy on the tahini and lemon. I’ve been known to succumb to the cultural appropriation of hummus but within reason. Red pepper? Fine. Jalapeño? We’re getting a little pan-fusion. Caramelized onion? You’re making me nervous.
Still, I pick up a container of Lantana Strawberry Hummus and read the ingredients. It doesn’t even have chickpeas in it, just white beans. In Arabic, hummus means “chickpea,” so we’re already in trouble. They’re using the word hummus to mean mixture. A common enough practice perhaps but still sacrilege.
Hummus is the type of food that deserves respect. It’s 800 years old, the first mention of it supposedly having been in a thirteenth-century Arabic cookbook. Countries have battled for the right to say they originated this food. (See the 2008 Hummus Wars between Lebanon and Israel.) In addition to the Lebanese and the Israelis, the Syrians and the Turks claim it as their own. No one really knows who invented it; all we know is that some brilliant person decided to mash up chickpeas and add sesame, garlic, and lemon.
I hold the container of Lantana Strawberry Hummus in my hand. There’s something so wrong with those two words together — strawberry, hummus — that I can’t believe I put it in my shopping basket, but I do.
Once home, I place it on the kitchen counter and put away the other groceries, imagining what it will be like. I’m assuming it will be within the hummus realm: white with a pink tint, blended smooth, savory with just a hint of strawberry.
I open the container to find a mixture (because I can no longer refer to it as hummus) that is profoundly pink, almost purple. A waft of strawberry hits me, too much for my savory-seeking senses to handle. My glands pucker. I salivate, which I assume to be a good sign.
It’s then that I realize I haven’t considered what to dip into it. Luckily, the answer is on top of the package: pretzels, bagels, apple slices, and more. I don’t have pretzels or bagels, and I’m not going back to Jewel to get some. We’re going plain. By the spoonful.
The texture is hummus-y but on the lumpy side. The white bean flavor hits you first, lingers and then — wham! It’s all strawberry. The second spoonful is the same: the promise of savory but then, alas, gone.
I do give it a chance. I try it with apple slices, which temper the sweetness of the strawberry ambush but not enough. I try it with pita, which is fine if you like and accept the concept of strawberry cream cheese, which I do not.
Full disclosure: In the past, I have enjoyed other Lantana products — Black Bean Hummus, Sriracha Carrot Hummus, Yellow Lentil Hummus — even though they aren’t hummus either. They’re dips. Even as a dip, Lantana Foods strawberry “hummus” is taking things a little too far.