We have a lot of feelings about getting creative with hummus. 
Credit: Photo: Greg Dupree

A simple Google search for hummus will bring about swirls of chickpea spread drizzled with olive oil and dusted with paprika. At Cooking Light, we love hummus. In our September 2017 issue, we even developed a recipe for perfect Creamy Hummus with Spiced Ground Beef. Hummus has a rich, centuries-old history, so we definitely understand some of our readers expressing discomfort with us taking artistic license.

We've taken hummus and spun it entirely on its head in recipes like Edamame Hummus with Miso and Sesame. We also recently developed a recipe for Apple Pie Hummus, a dip that masks navy beans in spiced apple goodness, and people had a lot of feelings about it. So we wanted to answer the burning question that seems to be on everyone's mind: What makes hummus, well, hummus?

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The Cambridge Dictionary defines hummus as "a soft, smooth food made from crushed chickpeas, oil, and lemon juice". So, is our latest hummus recipe really a hummus? Maybe not. But tons of readers love the idea of reinventing old recipes into something fun, healthy, and delicious. If calling this dish hummus ensures your family will eat something that's truly delicious and healthy, by all means call it hummusIf you want to refer to it as bean dip, that's fine too. 

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Even experts in the field, like Israeli chef Michael Solmonov wrote in his book Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking that the traditional Middle Eastern dish has a chickpea base, because both the Arabic and Hebrew words for hummus translate to "chickpea".

But everything is questionable when it comes to the hummus we have learned to love in the United States. In 2014, news broke that the Food and Drug Administration has no "definition" for hummus, and technically there are no naming rules when it comes to labeling the dip. Top hummus brands, like Sabra, even petitioned the FDA to add stricter guidelines to what can and can't be called hummus, similar to rules the FDA has on products like peanut butter and ketchup. Hummus' definition has been stretched since before 2012, and will most likely continue to. 

We like to consider "hummus" more of a technique than a dip confined to using a list of specific ingredients. To us, hummus means mixing a creamy bean with a nutty paste to make something healthy and delicious, sweet, or savory. In this case, we took the liberty of blending navy beans with cashew butter instead of traditional chickpeas and tahini, but the inspiration is still there. 

Even Solmonov also knows that the recipe for hummus is fluid. He references tons of hummus variations in his book, including Israeli hummus that is heavy on the tahini, Greek hummus that includes tons of garlic and lemon, and Turkish hummus that uses butter in place of tahini entirely. He even offers recipes for additional toppings to add, just like our spicy ground beef. His versions use fava beans, braised lamb, and stewed mushrooms — all more modern takes on the classic dip. 

Take another widely-used sauce, for example. Pesto is traditionally made with basil, garlic, oil, grated cheese, and pine nuts, but has recently expanded to include varieties like roasted red pepper, spinach, kale, and even pea. Today, "pesto", like "hummus", is almost used as a verb.

At Cooking Light, we love blending up tons of flavors in the kitchen, and we know that we only provide recipes that are absolutely healthy and delicious — whether it's a white bean dip or a true chickpea hummus, we're still digging in.