The science of a decent, homemade hummus

The science of a decent, homemade hummus

Choosing a plantbased diet often means choosing hummus more times than you’d care to. Hummus sandwiches at a conference, hummus and carrots at a party. Don’t get me wrong, I’m always grateful to see a vegan option wherever I go, but where do they get that hummus? Slick with oil and blended with tears of disappointment. Mass produced, store bought hummus just fills me with so much sadness.  And then there’s the hummus I’ve made myself in the past – either a pasty lump of concrete-like substance, or containing enough oil to fuel an ecologically advanced cruise liner.

So, I decided to do some research to see if I could reincarnate hummus and put it back on that plantbased pedestal where it belongs. It had to be possible – how can you go wrong with chickpeas, lemon, tahini, garlic? Individually, these ingredients are wonderful. Something must be wrong with the methods, and someone must have the answer.

Hello The Food Lab. J. Kenji López-Alt has done all the sciencey bits for us and come up with a damned fine approach to making some truly great hummus, Israeli style. Smooth, creamy and largely oil free, with gorgeously subdued garlic undertones. I will admit that the first time I made it it was a bit of a labour of love and took me the good part of a weekend to complete the project. Soaking, boiling and blending combined with learning new techniques in a tiny kitchen. Once you get your flow with this though you’ll never look back.

It turns out that there really is a science to making decent hummus. The key winning factors here were:

  • Soaking dried chickpeas with baking soda and salt overnight: dried chickpeas have a lot more flavour than canned, and the baking soda helps to soften the chickpeas
  • Boiling the chickpeas with a little more baking soda and stock ingredients for around 2 hours: boiling for such a long time with baking soda helps to loosen the skins and make the chickpeas really soft for blending
  • Blending the chickpeas while hot: this means you can use a blender rather than a food processor (a Vitamix really works best), and you can add some of the cooking water rather than relying on a lot of oil to make the hummus smooth
  • Combining the chickpeas with a tahini sauce made separately: combining the ingredients for the tahini sauce separately makes a smoother, nicer flavour (tahini paste, garlic, lemon & cumin)
  • Making the tahini sauce by blending garlic and lemon together first: this part was a revelation! Blending a whole bulb of garlic (skins on!) with lemon juice reduces the sharpness of the garlic and gives it a nice smooth flavour, rather than overpowering the sauce

So, what are you waiting for? Time to make some hummus! You’ll find the recipe pasted below and here, enjoy the experience!



1 generous cup dried chickpeas (225g)

2 teaspoons (12g) baking soda, divided


1 small onion, split in half

1 small stalk celery

1 small carrot

2 medium cloves garlic

2 bay leaves

1 1/2 cups (350ml) Tahini Sauce with Garlic and Lemon (see below)

Extra-virgin olive oil, for serving

Za’atar, paprika, whole chickpeas, and/or chopped fresh parsley leaves, for serving


  1. Combine chickpeas, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 2 tablespoons salt in a large bowl and cover with 6 cups cold water. Stir to dissolve salt and baking soda. Let stand at room temperature overnight. Drain and rinse chickpeas thoroughly.


  1. Place chickpeas in a large pot. Add remaining baking soda, 1 tablespoon salt, onion, celery, carrot, garlic, and bay leaves. Add 6 cups water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a simmer, cover with lid slightly cracked, and cook until chickpeas are completely tender, to the point of falling apart, about 2 hours. Check on chickpeas occasionally and top up with more water if necessary, they should be completely submerged at all times.


  1. Discard onion, celery, and bay leaves. Transfer chickpeas, carrot, and garlic to a food processor or high-powered blender (such as a Vitamix) with enough cooking liquid to barely cover them. Cover blender, taking out the central insert on the blender lid. Place a folded kitchen towel over the hole in the centre of the lid to allow steam to escape. Holding the towel down firmly, turn the blender to the lowest possible speed and slowly increase speed to high. If the mixture becomes too thick to blend, add cooking liquid until it has the texture of a very thick milkshake, always starting the blender on low speed before increasing to high. If your blender comes with a push-stick for thick purees, use it. Continue blending until completely smooth, about 2 minutes.


  1. Transfer hot chickpea mixture to a large bowl. Whisk in tahini sauce. Whisk in salt to taste. Transfer to a sealed container and allow to cool to room temperature. It should thicken up until it can hold its shape when spooned onto a plate.


  1. Serve hummus on a wide, shallow plate, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with za’atar, paprika, whole warm chickpeas, and/or chopped parsley. Leftover hummus can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Allow to come to room temperature before serving.


Tahini sauce

1 whole bulb garlic, broken into individual unpeeled cloves (about 20 cloves)

2/3 cup fresh juice from 3 to 4 lemons (160ml)

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin (2g)

1 generous cup tahini paste (about 300g)

Cold water


  1. Combine garlic and lemon juice in a blender. Pulse until a pulpy puree is formed, about 15 short pulses. Transfer to a fine mesh strainer set over a large bowl. Press out as much liquid as you can with the back of a spoon or a rubber spatula, then discard solids.


  1. Add cumin and tahini paste to lemon/garlic juice and whisk to combine. The mixture will seize up and turn pasty. Add water a few tablespoons at a time, whisking in between each addition, until a smooth, light sauce is formed. The tahini sauce should very slowly lose its shape if you let ribbons of it drop from the whisk into the bowl. Season to taste with salt. Refrigerate for up to 1 1/2 weeks.

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