Hummus drives chickpea growth; farmers benefit
Retail sales of hummus increased to $250 million in 2013, up from $192 million in 2007 and just $5 million in 1997, said U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who helped push the Farm Bill provisions on chickpeas.
It should get even more popular as school children are introduced to the food, she said. The bill includes a pilot program in which the U.S. Department of Agriculture will spend $10 million over five years to purchase pulse crops to use in school breakfasts and lunches.
Pulse crops are cheap, and loaded with protein, fiber and other nutrients, Scholz said. Flours made from pulse crops can be added to breads, tortillas and pastas to enhance their nutritional value.
Mead High School near Spokane serves garbanzo beans, lentils and hummus as part of school meals. "They are a less expensive protein source so it stretches our dollars," said Kim Elkins, Mead School District nutrition director.
Cantwell said the growth of the chickpea market will also help bring more jobs to Washington state.
The state’s pulse crop industry employs an estimated 5,000 people in processing, growing or moving the crops, Cantwell said. Eastern Washington has about 1,000 farm families and 22 processors working in pulse crops.
The Farm Bill also provides $25 million per year over five years to study the health benefits of pulse crops.
Once those health benefits are established, the trade group said Washington state would double the acreage devoted to dry peas, lentils and chickpeas over the next decade.
Pulse crops have been around since biblical times, said Kim Murray, a Montana grower and group’s chair.
"In this day and age, we need scientific research and human studies to quantify just how healthy these crops promise to be," she said.