Freelance writer from the northeast coast of England with a fondness for vegan food and punk rock.
Hummus: Store-Bought vs. Homemade
The array of hummus varieties available in supermarkets today is a world away from the hand-blended, over garlicky paste of my youth. But could I make a better version than what is available ready-made? I put it to the test, and here's how I got on.
My First Taste of Hummus
As a young man, fairly new to vegetarianism, I ran a punk fanzine called Aural Nightmares. Through this I interviewed a band who shared a house in the west end of Newcastle, and during that visit I encountered my first real live vegans. Back home, my mother wasn't impressed with my new friends when I told her they shunned even dairy and eggs. She was already aghast that I didn't eat meat or fish; surely if I took this further step she would find my bones on the stairs.
I became friendly with the band from Newcastle, and through them I got to know people in the local anarcho-punk scene. I was invited to a party one night where there was food available, and the centrepiece of the buffet was a giant bowl of homemade hummus that took, literally, a bucketful of chickpeas to produce. The bowl was passed around for guests to dip in with pitta and breadsticks, but enthusiasm for the tasty paste waned somewhat when one reveller, who had fallen asleep on a settee, put her foot right into the hummus, shoe and all.
But I’d enjoyed this new eating experience, so I procured the recipe from the party host and set about making my own. I had to buy dried chickpeas, as tinned ones weren't widely available back then, and I’d never even heard of tahini, but I got the wherewithal together and made my first batch. I tinkered with it, adding more lemon juice, and then more garlic. It wasn’t as tasty as the version I’d had at the party, but it wasn’t bad for a first attempt. Over time, my hummus concocting skills improved, and as I was flat-sharing at the time, this cheap and tasty food became a big hit in our household.
Ready-Made Hummus Arrives
Then they started selling ready-made hummus in supermarkets. As this became more widely available, there was no need for me to make my own, so finally I put away my hand blender to gather dust in a cupboard. For the years that followed I had been quite satisfied with store-bought hummus, happily partaking of the extended range of varieties, including red pepper, caramelized onion, and jalapeño.
On a recent trip to the supermarket, I spotted a jar of tahini in the ‘things people rarely buy’ section, and memories were rekindled; I hatched the idea to make my first batch of hummus in years. I dropped a jar of tahini into my basket, and then dashed around the aisles in search of the other members of the hummus quartet: chickpeas, lemon and garlic. It was time to test my homemade hummus against store-bought.
Back home, I retrieved my dusty hand blender from the depths of the kitchen cupboard. It felt familiarly tactile, and I handled it with as much respect as Hattori Hanzo handled his sword in Kill Bill. I put the ingredients together and whizzed up a batch of hummus to pit against the supermarket version that sat in my fridge.
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How to Make Hummus
One of the main ingredients in hummus, after chickpeas, is tahini. Tahini may not be as widely available as the other ingredients, although good supermarkets do stock it. I actually saw a recipe for hummus that suggested using peanut butter if tahini was unavailable, but I don’t really think that would work. I know someone who simply omits the tahini due to its patchy availability, but I think that creamy sesame seed paste adds depth to the flavour.
- 1 (400-gram) can chickpeas
- 1 tablespoon tahini
- Pinch salt
- 2 large cloves garlic, or to taste
- 1/2 lemon, juiced
- Paprika, for garnish
- Olive oil, for garnish (optional)
- Drain the can of chickpeas, but save the liquid. Place the chickpeas into a food processor, or the container for a hand blender. Add a tablespoon of tahini and a pinch of salt.
- The amount of garlic you use is down to personal taste, but two large cloves should be enough for a batch this size. My first taste of hummus, from that huge bowl at the party, was extremely garlicky, and I came away thinking that garlic should be the overpowering taste of proper hummus. Of course, since then I have seen the light and I know that the subtle balance of flavours, with no single one dominating, are what make hummus so delicious.
- Add the juice of half a lemon, or a whole one if tang is your thang. Blend the mixture, adding some of your saved liquid if the paste is too dry, which it probably will be. The consistency should be thick and creamy. Some recipes suggest adding olive oil at this point for a glossier finish, but I have always found the oil in the tahini to be sufficient, so I skip it.
- Transfer the hummus into a bowl, sprinkle a little paprika onto the surface, and chill to allow the flavours to infuse. Once chilled, this versatile paste can be used as a dip or filling, so enjoy with pitta, on crispbread, in wraps or with breadsticks. Dip carrot sticks into reduced-fat hummus for a truly healthy snack.
Yield: 2 servings
We Have a Winner
The results are in. After meticulously chomping my way through pittas, wraps and crudites loaded with all manner of hummus, I’ve come to a decision. But first, here are some positive points on each of the contestants
- Store-Bought: It’s there when you need it; there’s no preparation involved. It has nutritional information, including calories and fat, printed on the wrapping, and a reduced-fat version is available. It comes in many varieties and is fairly inexpensive.
- Homemade: There is something about homemade food that makes it more satisfying to eat. Home-made hummus can be tweaked to personal taste, and you can cut back on, or even omit, the more fattening ingredients. Homemade also tastes good.
And it was the fine-tuning of homemade hummus that decided the issue. Store-bought is great, but those little adjustments to the ingredients make homemade different every time. So homemade is the chickpea champion.
Hummus Prep Playlist
Don't be ruining your enjoyment of this song by blending your hummus while it's playing. Put it to one side and savour the Damned at their finest.