A few months ago I announced that Sabra, the hummus and dips company, had invited me to be one of their 2013 Tastemakers – a form of brand representative. I was honored by the selection, namely because I love hummus. It also makes sense because of how important the travel experience is for the Sabra brand. Many people enjoy their products either because they developed an addiction for hummus overseas, or because they want experience these exotic flavors from home. Indeed in my own experience hummus reminds me of some amazing adventures traveling in the Middle East. So when they invited me to visit their factory in Virginia, I just couldn’t say no.
We arrived at the factory early in the morning for some hummus education. Sabra Dipping Co., the full name of the mega-hummus producer, started in 1986 in New York. The early goal of the company was to bring the flavors of the Mediterranean to the American public, which it did through hummus, eggplant dips, babaganoush spreads, and vegetarian sides. Sabra is all about adventure and world exploration though, which is why they have since expanded to producing salsa, guacamole, and Greek yogurt veggie dips.
Today they’re the largest producer of hummus in the country and just about everyone I talk to has professed great love for the chickpea goodness. While the history was interesting, I was antsy to get my hands on something. Luckily our next stop at the factory was with Sabra’s Executive Chef MaryDawn Wright. In her lab, and it truly is a lab, Chef Wright let us taste the various components that go into making hummus, as well as the latest batch of the finished product itself. Every morning she and her team taste all of the batches to ensure quality and consistency. Not a bad job if you ask me. She also let us have a sneak peak into what she was developing for future products. I can’t reveal details yet, but let me just say it’s going to be great.
Finally, the moment came that I had been looking forward to all day – the factory tour. I love factories and the intricate processes involved with making just about anything and I was excited as we donned our HAZMAT looking suits in preparation for the tour. They make food products, so of course every precaution had to be taken to ensure that nothing from us made it into the batches of hummus. After donning a huge white lab coat, goggles, gloves, hair net and even a beard net, even though I don’t have a beard, we were ready for the tour itself. Just as a note, I wasn’t allowed to take my camera onto the production floor itself, as there are certain trade secrets that they’d like to remain, you know, secret. So this is a rare instance when the photos from the tour aren’t actually mine, but rather supplied by Sabra. Sorry about that, but I didn’t really have a choice.
The tour was everything I’d hoped it’d be and more. Massive machines and gizmos humming along a preordained schedule and glimpses of ingredients winding their way through the system made me feel like Charlie Bucket in a vegetarian Wonkaland. I won’t pretend to know everything I saw, but I can say that to witness the entire process of food production on a massive scale is an amazing experience. The vast storerooms held quantities of chickpeas and tahini that made me worry about the global supply. The spice and herb room was a chef’s dream come true; enormous sacks of colorful ingredients lined the shelves and the smells reminded me of a Moroccan bazaar. But it was the 21st century side of the factory that truly engaged my intellect; watching the ingredients mix together in enormous vats before heading down the line for final packaging. All the while scores of similarly dressed workers scurried about, making sure everything was just right, that everything was perfect.
I admit that before my trip to the Sabra factory I’d never really given a lot of thought to how my food is made, a problem with living in modern times I guess. But this simple walk around the factory floor inspired confidence in the food I eat, especially natural foods like hummus that can be produced on a grand scale, but which are still made as healthily as if I were mixing the batches myself at home.