Hummus Sales Spike
Hummus sales are up and so are the prices for chickpeas.

Farmers in the heart of tobacco country are trying to grow chickpeas, a move that reflects booming demand for the seemingly more-healthful snack.

Sabra Dipping Co., who manufactures and packages hummus, wants to cultivate a commercial crop in Virginia to reduce its dependence on the legume's main U.S. growing region-the Pacific Northwest-and to identify new chickpea varieties for its dips and spreads.

For hummus maker, Sabra, a secondary source of supplies could help protect the company and others if a chickpea shortage happened because of crop failures in Washington or Idaho.

A staple of Middle Eastern cuisine, hummus is earning a growing following among Americans seeking healthful snacks. The chickpea dip is low in fat and high in protein.

Growing demand for hummus has pushed up prices for chickpeas, spurring farmers to increase production. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says the average price that farmers received for chickpeas was 35 cents a pound last year, a 10-cent increase over the mid-2000's.

U.S. farmers are expected to plant a record number of acres of chickpeas this year.

Demand for the U.S. crop from Spain, Turkey and Pakistan also has led farmers to plant more.