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Newsletter - New Secrets About Health and Wellness - Humus or hummus - which comes first?
October 07, 2013
Yours in Health and Wellness

Humus - More Important than Hummus?

Which Comes First?

Humus or Hummus?

Everyone knows, well most women and some men know, that Chick Peas are the principle ingredient of hummus and an excellent source of plant-based protein. So where does humus come into the hummus equation?

Humus is often referred to as the lifeblood of the soil. As Charles Walters, the founder and publisher of the journal Acres USA said in a 1999 interview: “if you don’t have the humus to make organic production possible, then you’re just whistling Dixie [whistling in the wind]”. (Graeme Sait Nutrition Rules 2003, p. 14)

Balvindar Aulakh (MSc University of Saskatchewan), retired Professional Agrologist, who worked in a number of countries including Canada, reviewed this newsletter issue and captured the essence of the topic in saying that “the term 'healthy soil produces quality food' should be stressed” because current intensive agricultural practices that deplete the soil are really "mining the soil" of its nutrients.

According to the Sci Network, humus is a dark soil material that is one of the three components resulting from the degradation of organic material in soil. The other two are heat and simple end products like carbon (60%), nitrogen (6%), smaller amounts of phosphorous and sulphur etc. Indeed it typically has a characteristic black or dark brown color, due to an accumulation of organic carbon.

A combination of fungi, bacteria, microbes and other animals (earthworms for example) that reside in the soil work to degrade organic material such as plants and animals. Depending on the actual materials, their size, heat, water and several other factors, humus can be quickly formed or take decades. “At first when the organic material is added to the soil, there is a great abundance of microbial activity as the number of these organisms increase with the fresh influx of ‘food’. Gradually, however, the organisms numbers taper off to a final population that remains in the soil, essentially waiting for the next addition of ‘food’. What is left behind is humus- a dark rich soil mixture composed of compounds that resist degradation.” This simple explanation can be more fully explored in Ted Jeo’s short article at (Opens new window)

Neal Kinsey, a well-known organic agronomist and consultant has noted that; “there are two schools of thought for humus formation – one is that it is formed from organic matter, the other is that the organic matter is the food source to get the microbes going. The better you get the microbes going, the more humus formation you achieve.” (Sait, p. 24) But the bulk of farming today, especially in developed countries and increasingly in the rest of the world, is chemical-based – artificial fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. But it is apparent that the more you kill the microbes, fungi and bacteria with herbicides and pesticides, the less humus formation you will have. The less humus and the less production and retention of nutrients in the soil, the less nutrients in our food. Is there evidence that our food crops today have less nutrition than before?

A study by the US Department of Agricultural compared the nutrients in 43 vegetables and fruit crops picked in 1950 and in 1999. Using data from these two years is useful because the first date is a few years after the introduction of artificial fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides flowing from germ warfare research of WW2. So the impact on the soil was much less than 49 years later. Over that 49 years, 6/13 nutrients in the veggies, melons and strawberries, were lower. Protein had fallen by 6%; Riboflavin (vitamin B2) had decreased by a whopping 36%; and Calcium, Phosphore, Iron, Vitamin C, Magnesium, Zinc, Vitamins B6 and E, fiber and phytochemicals were all lower. J Am Coll Nutr 2004: 23(6):669-682)

Let’s get a little bit more technical about humus. According to, a site with connections to prestigious universities and researchers, soil health is determined by its ability to perform essential ecosystem functions such as nutrient cycling, water filtration, humus creation and habitat provision for plants and animals. “Properties that determine soil health include texture, depth, density, water infiltration and holding capacity, amount of organic matter [for humus formation], nutrient holding capacity (CEC) and respiration. When the health of the biology present in the soil is disturbed by sudden changes to the ecosystem (e.g., over-tilling or application of any fungi/herb/pesticide chemical) overall soil health is affected. When such practices become the normal management regime, soil becomes cyclically dependent upon amendments [including fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides – creating a vicious circle] and the soils ability to perform nutrient cycling through biology is continually impaired. The biological approach to soil re-establishes soil biology to rebuild the desired properties that can enable soil to return to a healthy natural state.”

You can follow this here. (Opens new window)

Mycorrhizae fungus is a group of fungi responsible for 30% (Sara Wright1) of production of glomalin, a sticky substance that is the key to production of humus. Chemical agricultural practices have already destroyed 90% of the critical mycorrhizae fungus. But these can be replaced for about $10/hectare. So there are solutions. Some herbicides are harsher on the fungi than they are on weeds. Glycosides, the most widely used chemical are extremely hard on these mico-organisms.

Can Organic, Sustainable Farming Be Profitable for Farmers?

It is, in fact, more profitable for farmers to have higher levels of carbon and humus in their soil. One study of the market value of farm lands in the Waga Waga region of Australia found that on hilltop farms “each 1% increase in organic carbon of the 0-10 centimeter layer [of the soil - i.e. topsoil] … increased Gross Margin by $116/hectare/year.” This report can be found here. (Opens new window)

Gary Zimmer, author of The Biological Farmer, an exceptional guide for the eco-farmer and president of Midwestern Bio-Ag, the most successful US company in sustainable agriculture has found that chemical-based farmers switch to biological farming when they can see the profitability of it. He talks about a farm manager and agronomist running a 30,000 acre potato farm , who “since working with us … have taken $50 an acre off their chemical bill, they have cut their fertiliser bill in half, they have taken their nitrogen usage down from 240 units of N to 140 units. They’re growing their brassicas and green manure crops and doing well. There is not necessarily an ideology behind their move towards biological farming - it can be simple economics”. (Sait, p.p. 181-2)

Why Pay Attention to Soil Quality?

First we should note that a very small proportion of the ice-free surface of the land mass of our planet is fertile. There are Twelve Orders of Soil Taxonomy. Of these 12 only 5 can be considered fertile and collectively they represent 21% of the ice-free surface of planet Earth:

• Alfisols 10% (humus near surface)

• Andisols 1% (high in humus)

• Histisols 1% (when drained e.g. Richmond, south Delta – high humus)

• Mollisols 7% (Prairies and steppes – high in humus in virgin state)

• Vertisols 2% (Clay base)
You can find more information on each category here. (Opens new window)

Humus is the storage system for the critical trio most impacting soil, plant, animal and planetary health:




Humus is a fantastic water management tool. A 1% increase in organic matter (humus) means the soil can hold 170,000 litres of water per hectare more than it could before. Humus holds its own weight in water and is not prone to the evaporation seen in large scale dam and irrigation projects. Instead the stored water is taken up by the root systems of plants in a normal NATURAL cycle.

Big Picture Issues

We have already looked at some big picture issues related to humus and our food supply.

Are there other big picture issues that affect our planet?

Here are a few.

• In May 2013 our planet reached a milestone where carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 400ppm for the first time in 3 million years.

• To date we have experienced about a 1 degree rise in global temperatures.

• Doing nothing will eventually produce a 6 degree increase.

• A 5.5 degree increase is considered beyond the limits of human adaptability.

• 2 degrees is not double 1 degree. The process is exponential.

• Oceans continue to acidify – Oceans have absorbed 50% of CO2 – which in one sense is great, because otherwise more carbon in the atmosphere would mean even higher rises in global temperature than have already occurred. But it has increased acidity of the ocean by 30%. That affects ability of many organisms to build their outer shell wall – e.g. coral, shellfish, algae, krill and some phytoplankton. Algae and krill are the basis of ocean life. Phytoplankton are responsible for 50% of the oxygen we breathe and 40% of phytoplankton have already been lost due to ocean acidification.

• The number of carbon molecules on the planet is constant. But a great deal of what was once stored in the soil is now stored in the atmosphere (and in the oceans as carbonic acid). We desperately need to restore this atmospheric carbon to the soil – and that’s where restoring humus comes in.

• Carbon cycles between the soil, the biomass (plants) and the atmosphere. As humus, a major storage system for carbon in the soil, is depleted the amount of carbon in the atmosphere increases, contributing to greenhouse gases, heating the planet and contributing to the very dangerous degeneration of normal cycles in nature.

• An estimated 476 billion tons of carbon that was in the soil is now in the atmosphere; almost double what has come from all other sources (burning coal, fossil fuels, 7 billion people breathing out CO2 etc.). So we have a desperate need to return this carbon to the soil, to storage in humus.
You can pursue some of these issues here. (Opens new window)

So What Can You and I Do?

If we want to “Think Globally and Act Locally” there are a few things we can do.

• Buy food from farmers who practice regenerative organic farming.

• Contact your mayor – your municipality needs to compost and facilitate composting. If all that organic waste is simply dumped into garbage dumps (euphemistically known as landfills) it contributes to the production of a very dangerous greenhouse gas – methane.

• Contact your MP and urge the federal government to create a system of payment of carbon credits to restorative, organic farmers. They deserve it as much as big corporations.

• Lobby your provincial and federal representative to work towards solutions that reduce the dependency on chemicals in agriculture. We flourished for thousands of years with natural methods. Let’s get back on track.

• If you are an investor or participate in a pension fund, work to change the focus of superfunds that are essentially invested in non-renewable resources. Get them focused instead on renewable resources.

This newsletter has given some insights about why humus comes before hummus. You can pursue this topic further at the sources cited above. You can also visit the International Humic Substances Society, (opens new window) and Graeme Sait’s book , Nutrition Rules, 2003 is now available FREE as an e-book (opens new window).

ENDNOTES: 1. Wright, Sarah 1998. “Increase in aggregate stability and glomalin form arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi on no till farming systems”, in Proceedings of the sixth AAPRESID annual No Till Conference. AAPRESID : Rosario. Pp. 195-202.

Healthy Hummus Recipe

I love this recipe for a healthy hummus, that's the dish, not the soil. You can play with it to suit your taste. Going on a date? You might want less garlic.


19 Oz can of Chick Peas

1/4 cup extra Virgin Olive Oil (from dark bottle)

1/4 cup water

3 tbsp. lemon juice (fresh if possible)

1 clove garlic (maybe 2)

1/4 cup tahini

1 hot pepper (your option)


Strain and wash chick peas. Throw all ingredients into food processor and blend until you get the desired consistency. For an extra kick throw in thyme and cayenne pepper. Serve on warm pita bread or a toast you like. I love it on celery. Just don't use processed foods like chips or crackers.

Happy eating!!!

Yours in health and wellness.


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