December 23, 2007, Updated September 13, 2012

The unofficial national food of Israel could be a healthy substitute for American junk food.It’s practically a national sport in Israel. At sidewalk cafes, and at bustling fast food joints, diners enjoy the fine art of sopping up delicious plates of hummus and tehina with freshly baked pita. Truly a wonder food, hummus is rich in vitamins, high in protein and fiber and free of trans fats – and prepared Israeli style, it tastes fantastic.

Americans and Canadians can begin preparing their bread in dipping position because last week, fast food giant PepsiCo announced that it had signed an agreement to operate the Israeli-owned brand of Sabra Middle Eastern dip products in North America under its Frito-Lay snack food division.

The agreement, worth $45 million, will bring the Sabra line of chickpea and eggplant-based dips and spreads produced by food manufacturer Strauss-Elite directly to American grocery shelves alongside other Frito-Lay products like potato chips, salsas and popcorn.

“It builds on our health and wellness portfolio,” Aurora Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for Frito-Lay, told The Dallas Morning News. “This fits well with the direction that Frito-Lay and PepsiCo have been taking with health and wellness.”

Hummus is a dip or spread made of mashed chickpeas, sesame tahini, lemon juice, and garlic, and is a staple not only in Israel, but throughout the Middle East and Mediterranean countries.

Sabra, the top-selling and fastest growing hummus brand in the US, was founded in 1986 as an American outlet for fresh, Middle Eastern-style salads catering to New York residents craving genuine Israeli cuisine.

In 2005, having acquired market share in mainstream supermarkets, the brand piqued the interest of Strauss-Elite, which bought a majority share in the company. The most recent deal, to be concluded in February, grants PepsiCo a 50 percent stake in the business, bringing Sabra into a stable of hundreds of snack, drink and cereal brands which together generate more than $35 billion in revenue every year.

For the Strauss Group, one of the largest players on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, the chance to tap into PepsiCo’s marketing muscle makes it possible to get North Americans just as hooked on hummus as Israelis.

“Sabra will lead the freshness revolution in the United States and Canada, consistent with notable emerging consumer trends in the world today,” said Strauss president and CEO Erez Vigodman.

So say goodbye to burgers and hot dogs, and don’t be surprised if Israeli hummus starts turning up at health-conscious tailgate parties.

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Jason Harris

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