Sabra, Whole Foods and more brands are among those the Environmental Working Group's study found to contain the herbicide.
hummus and chickpeas
Credit: Getty Images/Anastasiya Sviderska / EyeEm

Chickpeas and hummus are delicious, nutritious options for snacks and meals. They can also be an important source of protein and nutrients, especially for people who follow a vegetarian or vegan eating pattern, However, it may be important to be choosy when it comes to what brands you buy. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) recently conducted a study that found several chickpea products contain more of the herbicide glyphosate than the benchmark for recommended daily consumption. But what is glyphosate? And what does this mean for one of our favorite healthy snacks? We dug into the science to learn more.

What is glyphosate?

Glyphosate is one of the most commonly used pesticides in the U.S. It is an herbicide known by the brand name Roundup, and is commonly used in the production of beans, grains and more. Specifically in legumes, like chickpeas, it is used right before harvest to actually kill the plants so they dry quickly. One of the draws for using chemicals like glyphosate in agriculture is that it can help grow and harvest crops more efficiently and in greater quantities. This could be especially important to chickpea farmers, as the demand for the bean more than quadrupled since 2015 due to high demand for products like hummus. But did this increase in demand lead producers to cut corners that might be dangerous to our health?

The connection between glyphosate and health is less than straightforward right now. The EWG is adamant about the dangers of glyphosate. The International Agency for Research on Cancer echoed this stance by labeling glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen. However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) disagrees and claims that glyphosate poses no risk to human health from current usage, which they regulate and review. There's concern that children can be especially susceptible to high levels of glyphosate, but the EPA does not substantiate this claim. Needless to say, more research on glyphosate needs to be done before conclusions can be made on how exactly it affects human health. However, many are skeptical and try to avoid excessive consumption of foods grown with glyphosate.

Glyphosate & Hummus

To analyze how much glyphosate is in hummus, EWG outlined their benchmark and compared it to several other standards of recommended daily consumption. Based on the cancer risk assessment, EWG recommends consuming 10 micrograms or less per day to keep cancer risk from glyphosate to 1 in 1 million. The California No Significant Risk Level is 1,100 micrograms a day and the EPA recommends no more than 70,000 micrograms a day.

Nearly one third of the 27 conventional hummus samples taken exceeded the EWG recommended benchmark in a 60-gram sample (60g is about 4 tablespoons; many hummus products are labeled for a 2-tablespoon serving size). The Whole Foods Market Original Hummus had nearly 15 times the amount of glyphosate the EWG considers allowable. This could be a reflection of how much stricter the EWG guidelines are around glyphosate, but it is important to note that several Whole Foods and Harris Teeter Fresh Market branded hummus products would also be too high for the standards set by the state of California. Additionally, four of the seven Sabra hummus products tested exceeded the EWG benchmark.

Another surprising finding from the study was that most of the organically grown chickpeas and organic hummus that were tested also contained glyphosate, just at much lower levels. Glyphosate is not permitted in organic crop cultivation; the report's authors suspect that much of the pollution is related to chemical drift from nearby conventional farms.

Bottom Line

Hummus is a delicious, nutritious and vegetarian- and vegan-friendly snack that should not be totally avoided based on these findings. If you are concerned about glyphosate in your food and want to limit your consumption, opting for organic chickpeas and hummus is a better bet, though they still may contain the chemical at low levels. The EWG continues to advocate for more stringent glyphosate testing to help identify where regulations are being broken, in hopes of creating safer products for people to consume. In the meantime, more research and product testing needs to be done to help distinguish where glyphosate is being used and how our healthy foods, like hummus, are being impacted by its use.