Unless you are a hummus aficionado, International Hummus Day probably snuck up on you again this year. Don’t feel too badly — up until a couple of weeks ago, we didn’t know it existed either. But it got us thinking about where someone in the United States might find the main ingredient of hummus — chickpeas, also called garbanzo beans — if they felt so inclined. The quick answer is the Pacific Northwest as far east as North Dakota. And of course, California since they grow everything.
Because we’re living the quarantine life and are sick of baking banana bread, we decided to try our hand at making our own hummus. Using this five-star recipe from Adam and Joanne Gallagher that already has over 1,000 reviews in less than two months, we whipped up a batch of hummus in no time! After sampling it, it is easy to see why it is getting so many rave reviews. Having never made hummus before, we were pleasantly surprised by how quick and easy it was from start to finish.
In 2019, USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service reported 404,000 acres of harvested chickpea production in California, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, and Washington. In total, those acres produced 6.2 million hundredweight (cwt) of chickpeas that had a value of $117 million, which pegs the average 2019 national value at $290/acre and seems kind of low to us. In any case, the poor chickpea — a legume — isn’t as popular as some of its dry bean brethren. According to the U.S. Dry Beans Council (USDBC), the chickpea doesn’t even break their top five list of most popular dry beans.
As with any commodity, chickpeas have their own room for improvement. Our friends over at USDBC go on to report that 16 U.S. universities conduct research on the dry bean category as a whole, of which chickpeas are a part. But with a little digging we found that the University of California-Davis has a chickpea research lab that focuses on the development of varieties that are more resilient to climate stressors and has a decidedly global perspective. Dr. Doug Cook, the director of the lab, noted back in 2016 that cultivated chickpea has low genetic diversity.
~95% of [the] variation in the crop was lost during domestication and modern breeding.
Dr. Doug Cook
Director, Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Climate Resilient Chickpea
University of California, Davis
But in a 2018 Agrilinks interview, Dr. Cook reported that increasing genetic diversity from wild varieties has been a bright spot. Incorporation of wild germplasm into cultivated chickpea has helped address Ascochyta blight, which can cause a 100% loss under certain humid conditions. Dr. Cook also reports progress against the pod borer which is not deterred by any species of domesticated chickpea.
Up north at Washington State University, USDA Agricultural Research Service scientist Dr. George Vandemark focuses most of his research on chickpea variety development that aims to boost yields, seed size, and drought tolerance. He’s also working on improving the already strong nutritional profile of chickpeas even further.
Consistent with all legumes, chickpeas are important contributors to a comprehensive and sustainable crop rotation strategy, primarily because of its nitrogen-fixing properties. We’re optimistic that the work being done by Drs. Cook and Vandemark, as well as their colleagues at other universities and research stations across the country that did not get mentioned here, will continue to deliver significant results to the chickpea, safeguarding our access to hummus for years to come.