Hummus (also known as houmous, homos or hommos) has been popular in the Middle East for centuries, and now it’s eaten all over the world. It’s often made with tahini, a ground sesame paste. The jury has been out a long time on whether pregnant women can eat hummus and tahini, as the advice is conflicting.
Can pregnant women eat hummus and tahini? The high water, low acidity nature of hummus makes it particularly susceptible to contamination with salmonella or listeria. Sesame seeds in tahini can also be affected. In pregnancy, it’s safest to eat hummus and tahini that you’ve made yourself, at home.
Of the many foods I investigate for this website, hummus has been one of the most difficult. I’ve researched the advice in different countries, looked at previous recalls of store-bought hummus and checked medical journals to give a comprehensive answer as to whether hummus and/or tahini are safe in pregnancy.
Is Hummus Pasteurized?
Most commercial hummus is pasteurized, but that doesn’t mean it’s automatically safe for pregnant women to eat. This is due to its high water content and low acidity, which is an environment where bacteria tend to thrive. Contamination can often occur during storage (source: Journal of Food Protection). Hummus is frequently used as a dip, which makes cross-contamination more likely, too.
The bottom line is that pasteurizing hummus doesn’t automatically mean it’s safe to eat.
Tahini, on the other hand, is rarely pasteurized. It’s essentially a seed butter, and its composition also might allow bacteria to survive (source: International Journal of Food Microbiology) The same journal article states that roasting sesame seeds before grinding them may reduce the risk of salmonella. It’s hard to tell from labels if the seeds are roasted or not.
Is Shop or Store-Bought Hummus Safe in Pregnancy?
As discussed above, hummus is particularly susceptible to contamination with bacteria. This can happen at any stage. For example, in the raw ingredients, at the factory during manufacture, when being packaged, or more commonly, in storage (even under refrigeration).
The overall risk of contamination is low, due to strict food standards in many countries. However, store-bought hummus has been the subject of significant food recalls over the past few years.
These recalls have happened in Canada (source: Canadian Food Inspection Agency), in the USA involving popular brand Sabra (source: FDA) and Pita Pal (source: FDA), with the Georgatti brand in New Zealand (source: MPI) and more recently, over 80 brands were pulled from UK supermarkets after a similar recall (source: Food Standards Agency)
Due to the frequency and nature of these recalls, I would caution against eating shop-bought hummus in pregnancy. Another good reason is that hummus is essentially a garbanzo bean (chick-pea) pâté / spread. Pâté and spreads (even veggie ones) are foods that pregnant women should avoid (source: NHS).
What Do National Food Authorities Say About Hummus in Pregnancy?
One of the main sources of confusion about hummus lies in the fact that different countries give different advice to pregnant women. The National Health Service in the UK lists hummus as a “healthy snack” in pregnancy, but it doesn’t state whether this is home-made or store-bought.
The NSW Food Authority in Australia says it’s safe to eat both store-bought and homemade hummus if stored properly. The advice in New Zealand is the opposite, advising pregnant women to avoid both completely, as well as other dips containing tahini (source: NZ MPI).
However, if you treat hummus as a spread or “refrigerated pâté” (albeit a veggie one), then most advice worldwide says to avoid eating it in pregnancy (for example, the FDA advice on spreads).
Whenever there’s conflicting advice like this, I’d err on the side of caution and avoid eating hummus in pregnancy. There are, however, ways of lowering the risk significantly, and that’s by making it yourself at home.
Is Home-Made Hummus Safe for Pregnant Women?
If you can control the ingredients that go into hummus and the way it’s stored, you can significantly reduce the risk of contamination with bacteria. If you also make the tahini yourself, even better. It sounds like a huge amount of work but it’s fairly simple – and many people swear that home-made tastes much better.
Below is a video by Headbanger’s Kitchen (such is the beauty of the internet, where you can find an Indian heavy-metal fan making hummus!). This recipe also includes how to make your own tahini.
Two things contribute further to the safety of the hummus. The sesame seeds are roasted before being blended into tahini, and the garbanzo beans/chickpeas are ‘freshly boiled.’ Canned beans are fine since they’re sterilized at a high temperature.
Tips on Safely Storing Home-Made Hummus
If you’ve made a batch of home-made hummus, the following food safety tips will minimize the risk of it becoming contaminated:
- Always store the hummus in the fridge (and check your fridge is running at a safe, cool temperature. You’ll need a thermometer for this).
- Eat it within two days of making it
- Don’t leave hummus out for long at room temperature. The ‘danger zone’ for food is leaving it for more than an hour if the temperature is above 90F or more than two hours at 40-140F (source: FDA). Bacteria multiply rapidly at these temperatures.
- Always keep the hummus well wrapped in an airtight container
- In some countries, hummus is served warm or hot. You can make it even safer by heating it up, though this affects the texture. Never put warm hummus in the fridge, as this brings your fridge temperature up too high.
- Follow the guidelines below when using it as a dip.
Can I Eat Hummus Dip if I’m Pregnant?
When hummus is used as a ‘dip’ it’s far more susceptible to contamination, even if you’ve made it yourself – or if someone else has. Pregnant women should avoid any hummus (homemade or otherwise) that is:
- Served at a buffet, salad bar or similar situation where it’s left out or is self-serve (or in an open container in a deli fridge)
- At a party or similar event where multiple people can ‘dip’ into the same hummus or help themselves
- At home in your own fridge if you’re dipping multiple items in the hummus still in its container (I know, even I do it sometimes, but it’s better to use a clean spoon to scoop out the hummus you need, and THEN dip it, not contaminate the whole container).
The above guidelines should help you to enjoy hummus in the safest way possible in pregnancy, if you choose not to ‘take the risk’ and buy it from a store or shop.
Is Tahini Safe To Eat in Pregnancy?
Finally, I’ll address tahini as a separate ingredient, since it’s not just in hummus. Tahini sauce is also a common condiment, as is tahini dressing. In pregnancy safety, the same rules for hummus also apply to tahini – as it’s rarely pasteurized, it’s safer to make your own and use it straight after you’ve made it.
Many people think tahini is somehow complicated, since it’s usually pretty expensive to buy decent tahini. However, it’s just sesame seeds, salt and oil. Yes, really! If you’re familiar with nut butter – tahini is very similar. It’s a seed butter. Subsequently, it’s VERY easy to make. Below is a recipe from Inspired Taste.
Is Hummus (and Tahini) Good For You in Pregnancy?
Hummus is a ‘nutrient-dense’ food containing many vitamins and minerals needed in pregnancy. It’s high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, dietary fiber, iron, potassium, magnesium and vitamins A, C and E (source: PubMed). Tahini on its own is a particularly good source of copper and selenium, too (source: FoodData Central).
If you’ve followed all the points in this article, making your own hummus is both the safest and the most nutritious option, as it won’t have any fillers or other unwanted ingredients like commercial hummus sometimes does. You can also eat it with or alongside other healthy foods, like veggie sticks, in wraps or with salads.
|This article has been reviewed and approved for publication in line with our editorial policy.|