Near East foods seek Codex Alimentarius standards
Tourism and immigrants create strong export markets
More and more developing countries would like a share of the growing ethnic food markets in developed countries. Near Eastern countries are already well on their way to having standards set for a number of traditional foods. Tehina, a sesame seed paste, ful medames, canned partially mashed fava beans, and humus, a dip of puréed chickpeas, have reached step five in the eight-step Codex Alimentarius standards setting process.
Codex officials say the draft standards of these foods may reach the final step eight in the process, where international standards are adopted, in about two more years.
Canned chickpea dip finds export markets
Tehina is derived from crushed sesame seeds and forms the basis of a number of popular Near Eastern foods, including humus, a chickpea dip widely used in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Iraq as well as Saudi Arabia and some Gulf countries. Humus is produced and canned commercially in several countries in the Near East, where regional standards for the dip were discussed in March this year.
Humus is typically made at home by crushing chickpeas into a very soft purée with the addition of sesame seed paste, lemon, garlic and spices. Prior to crushing, the chickpeas should be immersed in water for at least 12 hours. Then the chickpeas are boiled with water containing salt, and mashed into a paste.
Codex standards improve export opportunities
Assigning a Codex standard takes years, as the content of the food product is painstakingly negotiated. For example the FAO/WHO Coordinating Committee for the Near East suggested the following changes to the canned humus draft standard: "The Title of the Standard was amended as "Regional Standard for Canned Humus with Tehina" (Processed Chickpeas with Tehina) in order to better reflect the nature of the product covered by the standard.
Ful medames, another Near Eastern food at step five in the Codex process, is made from broad beans and can be served at breakfast, lunch or dinner. It is practically the national dish of Egypt, where it is widely consumed with eggs for breakfast. In North Africa it is served as a soup to which pieces of bread are added. It is often considered a meal in itself if some other animal-based protein food is added to it.
Ful medames is prepared typically at home by soaking fava, or broad beans, overnight in water that is five times the volume of the beans. Salt is added to the water and the beans are then cooked over low heat for about six hours. When soft, the beans are partially crushed with some added garlic, lemon juice and little olive oil.
Ful medames said to have high mineral content
Large companies in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Sudan and Syria specialize in canning ful medames for export. The dish has a high nutritional value due to its protein content. Broad beans are considered a good source of phosphorous, copper and potassium.
The Codex Regional Coordinating Committee proposed the following be adopted as part of the standard for what it described as "Processed Fava Beans," or canned ful medames: "the Committee proposes reducing the percent of vegetable oil from 4 percent to 3 percent and permitting "addition of chick pea seeds to the product at 10-30 percent" on the condition that "this is stated clearly with the product name on identification label."
When food quality standards for these foods are finally adopted in about two years' time, manufacturers will be able to produce a product that is relatively standard, but of the same high quality allowing for different tastes. This will increase the export potential of these foods in countries far from their origin.
4 July 2005
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