Taste Explosion

On the remote, tiny South Pacific island of Charahiki live the world’s only hummus farmers.

Charahiki is a volcanic island (the name means ‘Satan’s belch’) on which a thriving population once kept sheep, fished for marlin and grew rhubarb.

That was until 1982, when the dormant volcano suddenly woke like a geological sleeping bear.

The eruption lasted only two days, but its effects were more permanent. The sheep were wiped out, the marlin fled and the rhubarb was scoured by the ash of all taste, so that the Charahikans re-named it ‘celery’, their equivalent of the word ‘meh’.

All but the hardiest fled the island. Some fishermen remained, though their catch now consisted mostly of dogfish, and when you come from a part of the world prone to volcanic eruption and enthusiastic French nuclear testing, ‘dogfish’ is more than just a name.

The farmers were worst hit, but small pools of lava burst through the soil on their land, natural witches’ cauldrons bubbling permanently away. The farmers discovered that this lava, when left to cool, formed a paste which tasted faintly of roast lamb.

Having little alternative they began to eat it, in spoonfuls from small bowls. They persuaded themselves that they were content with their lot, living the simple life, living off the land, living the dream.

Whereas their children, as soon as they were old enough, left the island for places that had television, and the internet, and the KFC Bargain Bucket.

But the eruption had attracted world attention, so over time a small tourism industry started. Much of the former fishing fleet was re-deployed to ferry visitors from larger neighbouring islands, and a small twin-propellor plane made a twice-weekly trip from Wellington, wobbling terrifyingly in the air as it aligned itself in front of the short, narrow runway.

The visitors climbed to the mouth of the crater to take photos. They bathed in the small thermally-heated pools that dotted the island. They bought t-shirts that said “I was blown away by Charahiki”.

They went on dogfish-spotting trips, eagerly hoping for the brief appearance of a fin, or the sound of a yapping bark.

So the farmers started to put the paste into small tubs, and persuaded the owner of the tourist shop to sell them.

They called their product “hummus”, which means ‘gekko’s breath’.

Tourists bought the tubs, brought them home, and put them in the larder, and forgot about them.

That was until Nigella Lawson came to visit.

In her next book she was lavish and lyrical in her praise of hummus, which she called “a gift from Vulcan himself”. She recommended it as a dip to be eaten off celery sticks, which came as something of a surprise to the Charahikans, who used celery chiefly to roof their huts.

It struck a chord among foodies to whom sour cream and chive spoke of a food-illiterate past, guacamole of an eye-watering present, and fondue of burnt cheese.

Business boomed, first by mail order, literally, as the plane would bring in hand-written orders to the tourist shop. The shop owner and the farmers met, and a company was formed. Broadband was introduced to the island. The younger generation returned, to develop the website and to organise the transport logistics. The harbour was widened and the runway lengthened.

Their product swept the world, or at least that part of it that looks down on salted peanuts in little bowls. Imitators have come and gone – a farmer in County Cork started selling Nora McGilligan’s 100 Per Cent Irish Hummus, which did take part of the market until it was revealed to be one hundred per cent cowpat, a fact which took a surprisingly long time to be noticed.

So life has changed for the farmers of Charahiki, as the hummus flows out and the money flows in.

They use it to buy bacon.

picture from dishmap.com





3 thoughts on “Taste Explosion

  1. Janie Jones

    Wow, Tin. I laughed so hard. I will never look at rhubarb and hummus (both things I love) the same way again! It is very good to have a dose of Tinhumor again. Best wishes!


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