When is hummus really hummus?

A bowl of homemade hummus.

Sabra has spent millions of dollars making hummus mainstream in the U.S. Now, it wants the Food and Drug Administration to rule on what is and is not hummus.

The word "hummus" means chickpea, and Sabra wants the FDA to rule that new, chickpea-free dips like black bean hummus and edamame hummus should not get to use the name.

Instead, the company wants the FDA to define hummus this way: "The semisolid food prepared from mixing cooked, dehydrated, or dried chickpeas and tahini with one or more optional ingredients," says Greg Greene, Sabra's director of marketing.

If it succeeds, the FDA will issue what's called a Standard of Identity. Lots of foods have these, determining what can be labeled juice, or mayonaise, or this one for milk: "The lacteal secretion of an animal."

The National Milk Producers Federation has been fighting names like soymilk and almond milk for years now. To milk producers and Sabra, these FDA definitions help avoid customer confusion.

It's also, of course, about money: If you've invested a lot marketing milk or hummus, you don't want some newcomer stealing your identity.

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