Disclosure: As a Sabra Tastemaker, I was compensated for this post. All opinions remain my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that help make this blog possible!
Back in July, I spent a whirlwind 36 hours traveling to Virginia and then home again. It was my first trip to Virginia–I kind of wish I had had more time to stay and explore. But checking out Richmond and discovering the hot spots wasn’t the goal of my adventure. I was there as a Sabra Tastemaker to learn more about hummus–Sabra’s, in particular–and how they’re taking over the snacking world.
You may not know this, but most chickpeas in the United States are grown in the Pacific Northwest. The climate there provides the conditions chickpeas prefer. Sabra has been working with Dr. Harbans Bhardwaj of Virginia State University on their Randolph Farm–a 416-acre agricultural learning center–to discover breeds of chickpeas that will tolerate the Virginia clime, where Sabra’s factory is located.
So far, they’ve been able to get four varieties of chickpeas to thrive in the southern climate, which is a huge success! Since all of Sabra’s chickpeas come from the United States, it just makes sense to try to grow them as close to the factory as possible. And they’re making great strides in this quest.
After seeing a demonstration of how they use combines to harvest, it was starting to get quite hot and humid on the farm. At least, for this wilting flower from New England. Thankfully, we headed to the factory next.
Sabra opened their Virginia facility in 2010 as the world’s largest hummus factory. They were in the process of doubling it at the time of our tour. That is simply amazing! What growth!
Sabra started humbly in Queens, New York in 1986 as Sabra-Blue & White Foods, providing products to kosher markets in the New York area. Today, they are the #1 hummus in the category in the United States with approximately 65% of the market share–nearly 5x their closest competitor. Their quality speaks for itself!
There are a lot of products out there that claim to be a hummus, but Sabra has petitioned for specific standards of what hummus truly is: tahini, chickpeas, and oil. This will lessen confusion from the name being used for dips that bear no similarity at all to what has been traditionally known as hummus.
Sabra currently offers 10 flavors of hummus: Classic, Roasted Garlic, Basil Pesto, Tuscan Herb, Roasted Red Pepper, Pine Nut, Spinach & Artichoke, Sundried Tomato, Supremely Spicy, and my favorite, Olive Tapenade. Which is your favorite?
Sabra isn’t just about hummus though! They also make the BEST fresh salsa I’ve tasted yet! I didn’t get to see their salsa factory–that’s on the West coast where the tomatoes are grown–but I did get to see the singing farmers commercial and had a good laugh. Can you imagine that? Serenading your supper! (What? Am I the only one who eats salsa for supper?) There are 8 flavors in production right now and the neat thing is that each label shows you exactly which veggies are contained in the package and how many of them! Very cool!
Sabra’s guacamole is their only comestible not made in the U.S. They produce it in Mexico from avocados grown there–again, keeping the production facilities close to the product. Consumer Reports rated it the best store-bought guacamole this year! (Me? I love it on cheeseburger quesadillas!)
One of their newer offerings is Greek yogurt dips and I adore them! They’re still made in Farmingdale, New York from their own yogurt and fresh herbs and come in 5 flavors: Crisp Bell Pepper, Tzatziki, Cucumber Dill, Diced Onion, and Mediterranean Herb. Just like with the salsas, you can tell by the labels which veggies are lurking inside so you know you’re getting something that not only tastes great, but actually has something good for you!
While the Mediterranean Salads are mostly core products that harken back to the kosher market days, like Babaganoush and Roasted Eggplant, they may be lesser known. I know I haven’t seen most of them in my stores yet, though I do hope to see more of them. I had the chance to sample all of them at the factory that day and I was wowed!
Speaking of tasting, I found it fascinating that each day at the factory starts with a tasting. At 8 AM it begins, rating the texture, aromatic flavors, basic tastes, etc. Even how the hummus looks in the tub is rated on a 1-9 scale based on the ripple, shoulder, and nipple in the middle. That’s dedication to high quality!
MaryDawn Wright, Executive Research Chef for Sabra, gave us a tour of the food service kitchen where they work with clients, restaurant chains, and more. They have food scientists on hand to help with product development, and even have consumer taste testings on site to check how people really feel about products before they get too far down the production line. She taught us how to taste hummus properly to get all the aromatics from it–pinch your nose when you place it on your tongue, then release. I felt a little ridiculous doing it, but it was fascinating just how much more taste dimension you get out of this simple practice.
I don’t have any photos to share of the factory tour itself–picture us decked out in white lab coats, hard hats, hair nets, goggles, and yellow toe-caps to protect our feet and you’ll get a good laugh, anyway. I felt a bit like an Oompa Loompa. Only not as graceful. And a little afraid of heights at times, but I managed just fine.
What’s very neat about the factory itself is that they make it all there. They start with 2000-pound bags of dried chickpeas, stacked floor to ceiling in amazing quantities.
“Pumpability” becomes very important in the texture, as the hummus, on a gravity system, is pumped throughout the facility to the different stages of production. We walked through the spice room, which was heavenly. There, they weigh out and make packages of spices to be used for the different flavor batches. I could spend all day in there and be happy just by the aroma! (Maybe not by having to wear a hair net, though…)
What really struck me about the tour was the cleanliness. Everything was neat and in order and the floors were periodically sanitized on an automated system. Exactly what you want to see when food is being handled. I also was in awe of just how much hummus is actually made right there in Virginia. When we reached the end of the tour, we entered a refrigerated storage section where the boxed-up hummus goes before it’s shipped off. It was like the warehouse scene in Raiders of The Lost Ark–albeit, much better organized. For a product with a shelf-life of only 75 days, it was amazing to see just how much of it is going out into the world and will be eaten. WOW!
I’m so grateful Seymour PR gave me the opportunity to see exactly where my food comes from, farm to factory! We ended the day with a discussion by Heather Scholten, President and Co-Founder of Spiceologist, about using more herbs in our cooking. (And boy did we get a treat when Sabra commissioned special spice blocks with their logo on it for each of the Tastemakers!). A little pottery painting for our own unique chip-and-dip bowls and then it was time to be shuttled off to the airport to end this adventure. What a phenomenal 36 hours!