Hummus, a popular Middle East staple made from chickpeas, is incredibly nutritious and found to be a factor contributing to good health, according to researchers at the Faculty of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Quality Science of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Dr Ram Reifen and Dr Shahal Abbo have found that hummus contains antioxidants which contribute to the prevention of heart disease and cancer. The researchers have succeeded in creating hybrid chickpeas, without using genetic engineering technology, which are high in antioxidants, protein and minerals, such as calcium. The research project showed that chickpeas have been found to be less allergenic than other high-protein plant food sources, such as soy.

"This points to the possibility of developing baby foods based on chickpeas," the researchers said. They commented that the added value of chickpeas is that this staple food contains elements that prevent wrinkling of skin, "which holds out promise for its use in developing ointments for skin care." Reifen is an expert on digestive illnesses and children's nutrition, and Abbo's field is plant genetics.

Hebrew University's spokesman said that the European Union has recognised the value of this research and has allocated more than US$1.5m towards the continuation of the work. He added that Israeli and European researchers and commercials firms are cooperating for developing alternatives for milk powder for babies and children's foods based on the chickpea. In addition, cosmetic firms in Germany and France are working on developing a chickpea-based anti-wrinkle cream.
Israeli consumers consider hummus one of their favourite dishes. In 2000, the average Israeli consumed 5 kilograms of hummus, a rise of 8% in consumption compared with 1999, according to a study by the Zabar Salads Company, a leading Israeli processor of ethnic Mediterranean salads.      

By Aaron Priel, correspondent