I discovered beets in a southern Brazil churrascaria just when I needed them most. For a nearly lifelong vegetarian, spending an otherwise life-affirming semester studying in Buenos Aires wasn’t exactly culinary nirvana, given that that corner of the world ranks highest in beef consumption. I quickly learned that while sin carne might literally mean “without meat,” in reality, it only resulted in my being served chicken or fish. After a few months, our program ventured to Porto Alegre, and I was ready for some fruit, some vegetables, some tropical shit. Instead, on our first day in the country, we went to a churrascaria.
If you’ve been to a Fogo de Chão, you know what a churrascaria is: a buffet-type place where roving waiters holding long shanks cut dozens of different meats directly onto your plate. They have every type of meat you’ve ever heard of and a number you haven’t. I remember being especially surprised by the dude just nonchalantly cutting chicken hearts onto the plate of the guy next to me.
As you’d imagine, these places are hell for vegetarians. Their lone saving grace is that they have a sides buffet, where I was able to load up on rolls, mashed potatoes, “salad,” and some sort of pasta e fagioli that I was positive contained chicken broth. And then, on my third dismayed trip to find something, anything, I spotted them.
The pickled beets were delicious! They had the same tangy, sweet-and-sour bite familiar to anybody who’s had pickles, but the earthy and dirt-like beet taste was a pleasant surprise. I became a big fan of beets on that day, and eat them whenever I get the chance. So when I saw beet hummus on the shelf of my local Trader Joe’s, I knew I had to try it.
It’s hummus, except with a lot of beets in it. Pretty simple. The first listed ingredient is garbanzo beans—so it still shares the same base with any hummus you’ve ever had—but ingredients two and three are beets and beet juice concentrate. While most flavored hummuses typically put a small handful of pine nuts or garlic in the center, beet hummus does that while also looking like a lab experiment gone wrong.
Beet hummus isn’t nearly as outrageous-tasting as you’d expect, which is actually sort of its downfall. If I were given some blind, I wouldn’t be able to identify it as beet-flavored—I’d just that it was some sort of strange hummus. It has a little bit of immediate sweetness, followed by a strong umami flavor. That’s a non-descriptive description, but I can’t quite identify what I’m eating. I’ve had it on pita chips, carrots, and crackers, and am now just sitting here and dipping my finger in it, to no avail. Mostly I’ve noticed that the hummus seems to have been blended together poorly, and is more grainy and stringy than smooth.
This formula can work. Red-pepper hummus probably isn’t identifiable as red-pepper-flavored and is a light reddish-orange color, yet it’s delicious. But beet hummus isn’t nearly as good, and furthermore, beets aren’t red peppers. You can’t make a product with something as unusual as beets—and color it like a new flavor of eXtreme Gatorade—but not fully commit. I don’t think a truly strong-tasting beet hummus would actually be any good, but at least then it would be beet hummus.
Instead, this stuff isn’t very offensive upon first taste, and isn’t very interesting thereafter.
Welcome to Bougie Food Reviews, an irregular series where we review the most highfalutin products available in the grocery store. If you’ve got an idea for a future review, email the author here.