Chummus (and Hummus)


If you have any experience with eating a favorite dish in another country and seeing it butchered, you will understand the following. While I could certainly use broader global culinary perspective and expertise, even with my admittedly narrow scope, I can think of no better example of the disparity between a local favorite and its horrid representative in North America than chummus (often spelled hummus). (I use the “ch” to signify the phlegmy sound the actual word begins with.)

Chummus is basically mashed cooked garbanzo beans (chickpeas), lemon juice, garlic, and tachina (a paste of roasted sesame seeds, also spelled tahini). There are variations, including the most common where thick, rich (and most importantly — flavorful) olive oil from the middle east is drizzled across the chummus before it’s served and scooped up in warm torn off pieces of pita. Chummus is a magical concoction. Smooth but with some modest texture that gives it a hold, but not a roughness. It’s thick but not heavy. It’s savory, a touch nutty, and best served warm. In short, it’s complex and delicious.

The chummus sold here in the U.S. is, well, honestly I’m not sure exactly what it is. It’s some sort of flavorless gruel with chunks. Yuck. In the middle east the chummus is so good there are restaurants whose sole purpose is to serve chummus. Everything else is secondary. Here, I can’t believe any of it sells. The closest thing you can find nationally is from a company called Sabra. It’s not horrible. It’s like a weak impression of what’s available in Israel. There’s a local company here in Seattle called Dreamland (QFC in University Village carries it). This stuff is probably the best retail chummus I’ve tasted in North America and it’s not as good as the worst I’ve had abroad.

The funny thing is that the worst chummus in Israel, what’s available in the supermarket, mass produced by Israeli food conglomerates is better than the best stuff here. I can’t imagine it costs much more (or any more) to do it right. So why not do it right here. The answer of course here is to make it myself (or go to The Hummus Place in New York city). Unfortunately neither is a viable option given the time commitment involved.

Just like there was a wine revolution here in the U.S. I want a chummus revolution. Where the local producers rise up and say, we can make quality too! Americans will be the better for it.

18 Responses to “Chummus (and Hummus)”

  1. Omar Javaid says:

    Try Trader Joe’s hummus. It’s actually very, very good. Alternatively, go to Dearborn, MI, which has the largest Arab community outside of the ME. There are some fantastic places there.

    Not only is the hummus horrible here but so is the baba ghanouj, which is a real shame.

  2. Chrisos says:

    no offense, but the best hummus is Lebanese, not Israeli!
    But I agree with you, what we can find in stores in Europe or in the US doesn’t stand a comparison with local hummus!

  3. smt says:

    chummus is so easy to make with a food processor, it’s hardly worth buying in the store

  4. Chad Urso McDaniel says:

    I’ve never been to the Middle East and agree that homemade is probably the best available in the USA.

    Time commitment? The ingredients are easily found in a supermarket and a blender makes quick work of it all.

    Is there a more authentic recipe that is more involved?
    Dried garbanzos? Hand mashing?

  5. Preach it, brother. It really is a crime what passes for hummus around here. And thanks again for the tip on Taami in Jerusalem, that was not only among the best hummus we had on the trip but also an atmospheric highlight. Kind of like if an American roadside diner was transported to the Middle East.

  6. hillel says:

    Great comments. Some responses:

    * I agree homemade is the best bet. I haven’t taken the time to try for real. I suspect that it’s actually not nearly as simple as throwing the ingredients in a blender. That said, rather than blab about shit I don’t know… I will try and report my findings.

    * Chrisos, I’m totally NOT offended. Israelis have borrowed some of the best aspects of their middle eastern culture (and cuisine) from their Arab neighbors. I have no doubt there is kickass chummus in Lebanon. Hopefully someday I’ll get to go and eat it there. However, I will say that I enjoy Israeli falafel way more than the larger fava-based Arab falafel balls.

    * I agree Baba Ghanoosh suffers an equally horrible fate in the hands of American food producers.

  7. My limited attempts to make it at home haven’t turned out right, in spite of what seems like simplicity itself. Some folks have suggested that you really have to get the skins off the chickpeas for maximum smoothness. Others have told me that there is a difference in the variety of chickpea that one finds typically in America vs. the Middle East. I haven’t pursued either of those tips yet, but would love to hear if anyone can confirm or deny.

  8. Kfir Ben-Ari says:

    once you had a Hummus in Israel, you know what hillel is talking about. i grew up, having two or three times a day a bawl of Hummus, with some tznobarim (roasted pine nuts) ,some tahini in the middle, mild paprika, and great israely olive oil.
    thats true that its almost imposible to find this simple Hummus arround here, so i need to do it myself, or to go half block to the only Hummus , the Hummus place, which is like having it back home, at northen Tel-Aviv.
    here my recipe for my Hummus:
    -1 quart of chick pea, if dried – soaked overnight at refrigirator. then cooked till soft, but not too much, like al-dente texture.
    -1 cup of tahini
    -1/2 tea spoon of ground cumin
    -4 chopped garlic cloves
    -juice from 1 lemon
    -salt and white pepper as for your taste
    -1/2 cup of canola oil or any other that is not dominate in flavor.

    place 3/4 of the cooked chick peas in your food processor, add the tahini, the cumin, the garlic ,lemon juice and the oil, process for about a minute.
    crush in a bowl the other 1/4 of the chick peas, using a bottle, or a glass.
    put together the Hummus from the food processor and the crashed cheak peas, add warm water to make it thinner, finish with salt and pepper.

    plating: put in a centure of a deep dish, spread to the edge from the centure, and place some fresh tahini or cooked fava been (foul,in hebrew) ,some chopped parsley and finished with the best olive oil you can get. i got the israeli one from the galile.
    Bete’avon! (Bon Apetit)

    Kfir Ben-Ari

  9. dana says:

    I seem to remember being scolded and having a can of tahini ripped out of my hands by you, dear Hillel. You told me that what I was about to use, the only tahini I have seen available in american grocery stores, is a far cry from real tahini. You dissapeared for half an hour and came back with something so far above and beyond what I had, but I have yet to find it again. It seems a shame to ruin home made hummus with bad tahini.

    Any advice to us goyim on sourcing the right tahini?

  10. hillel says:

    The Sabra brand is what you want to buy. They make tolerable fresh-ish tachina. In Seattle you can get their stuff at the QFC in University Village (in the kosher refrigerated section) or at the Albertson’s on Mercer Island. Outside of Seattle just go to any store that carries Kosher meat.

  11. Kevin says:

    hmmm good hummus is hard to fine, but easy to make, the biggest difference between a hummus you will find in a really excellent restaurant and the kind you make at home is that the rest. has prep cooks to peel the chickpeas :( I peeled mine once and it was much smoother and a bit better but not enough to justify the the very very long time it takes to peel them. as for tahini I think this is less important as I have made very good hummus with very bad tahini and vice versa, the key is the liquid ratio (not too much) and the lemon juice and garlic (probably more then you think)

  12. Kfir Ben-Ari says:

    if you´ll put the chick pea in a bowl and run some cold water on it, then shake the grains, or just stir it with a wooden spoon gently for some minutes, the white skin will float and it will be easier to remove. that would make the process faster.

  13. june2 says:

    I use a Vita-Mix blender (high power) and a LOT of Lebanese tahini – almost half tahini to garbanzos. I also use soaked garbanzos instead of canned to avoid that canned flavor. I used to use a lot of olive oil, but now I allow myself creative license to use just enough oil to add flavor and as much water as it needs to loosen it up enough for the blender to puree it. I do not understand the soggy, oil-free, chunky versions of hummus that motivated me to never purchase hummus again and learn to make my own! Some of them have only one or two Tbs of tahini. ??? It is ALL about the tahini, peepz, IMO! I know there is hummus and hummus bi tahini, but for me it just must have tahini, so I suppose it depends which recipe you’re going for.

    Also, the trick to baba ghanoush is that the eggplant must be char-grilled. Period. (Once you have it this way, it will all become clear.) For that reason it is the best camping food in the world! And eggplants and pita breads are backpack safe and lightweight too. The rest of the ingredients go pre-measured into a tupperware and you’ve got a delicious easy campfire meal at the end of the day.

  14. keren brown says:

    You are so right about the hummus.I lived in Israel for 10 years and find the hummus here to be inedible, especially Sabra which my husband loves. It has a horrible garlicky aftertaste. I hate all the packaged ones in Israel too. They are full of preservatives! I like to go to Yaffo and buy Hummus not far from the Abulafia. Anyway a great way to make your chummus taste better is to fry some onions and mushrooms and scatter them around the hummus with a nice swirl of olive oil.

  15. paul says:

    I have done some testing and the trick to the smooth stuff is peeled chickpeas. Anyone have an idea on how to do that easily?

  16. [...] paul: I have done some testing and the trick to the… [...]

  17. Ruth says:

    I can’t agree more (!!) And let’s not even start to discuss the dire pita situation in this country (or at least here in Seattle)! We love the hummus (and everything else) at Yunna’s, the Arab restaurant next to the gas station by Even Yehuda in Israel.YES, if making it at home, you need a boatload of tahini; this is a major sticking point with my husband, who likes his hummus weak and watery. You can order tahini online from an Israeli importer ( I think… No I am not affiliated with them, I import my tahini direct from Israel in my checked baggage, though I don’t go quite often enough to make sure I have an uninterrupted supply.) Canned chickpeas (no additives) e.g. from Trader Joes, are fine, adding a half cup or more of (canned) canellini beans makes it smoother. Puree in some (home) roasted red pepper for a yummy variation.
    I once coaxed a Lebanese restaurateur outside Abu Ghosh to tell me how he makes it…he didn’t tell me the whole story but did tell (show) me that they use CITRIC ACID (“sour salt” in hebrew), not lemon – I kid you not. Plus they boil the heck out of those garbanzos. I think they must boil them for months.

  18. Hilarie Kelly says:

    Sabra brand hummus is more fattening than most other brands, and its baba ganoush has mayonaise in it, which does not belong at all and is also horribly fattening. I will never buy this brand again. They simply pander to your body’s desire for fat, fat, fat.

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