How to feed: hummus

March 27, 2017

This month, How to Eat is dipping into hummus. But would you ever put it on a sandwich? Do you eat it with carrots or crackers, fried courgettes or lamb? And does its popularity genuinely hinge on the fact that you can eat it while unloading the dishwasher?

It is not often How to Eat( HTE) the Guardian blog defining how best to feed Britains favourite dishes feels it necessary to refer to the yellowing cuts of the arts archive. But, simply occasionally, it happens that a spate of self-indulgent ad-libbing during a 2011 National Theatre production of One Man, Two Guvnors personifies, in one sentence, so much of the misunderstanding, nay prejudice, that surrounds this months topic: hummus.

Apparently, during their larking about, the One Man, Two Guvnors cast would regularly ask the audience for something to feed. Offered a hummus sandwich, James Corden the George Bernard Shaw of Generation Bantz is reported to have exclaimed: Oh God, is this a Guardian readers night?

Please take a moment, dear reader, to fully LOLZ that one out.

Now, there is a lot about hummus culture that HTE has neither the space nor the inclination to fully explore here. It will not, for example, become mired in the moras of whether( sensible, egalitarian) hummus or( the unbearably affected) houmous is the correct spelling. It will not tread on Felicity Cloakes well-worn kitchen lino by discussing how hummus should be made. It will not seek to resolve the hummus wars that divide the Countries of the middle east. Suffice to say, HTE likes the posture of hummus-obsessed Israeli blogger, Shooky Galili: Hummus is a centuries-old Arab dish nobody owns it, it belongs to the region.

Hummus is a centuries-old Arab dish nobody owns it, it belongs to the region. Photograph: Getty Images/ EyeEm/ Kirsty Lee

But but but there are certain egregious slurs that we cannot let slide. Primary here is the idea that we Guardianista are preoccupied with hummus when, as any fule kno, it is not 1992. These days, we love quinoa, smashed avo and crispy kale. The notion that hummus is the conserve of a PC, sandal-wearing, left-wing vanguard is ridiculous when 41% of Britain has a pot in the refrigerator. Worst of all, though, is Cordens blithe acceptance of the concept of a hummus sandwich. What kind of world are we living in, where* voice rising to a fever pitch of outrage* people are putting hummus in sandwiches ?

The hummus-sandwich interface

Insomuch as hummus has a role to play in sandwiches and wraps, it is as a garnish, deployed in a supporting role. Think Ernie Wise to Eric Morecambes falafel, grilled meats or Greek salad. HTE has read hummus described, incredibly, as a like-for-like replacement for butter or mayonnaise. It is not. Instead, it is better thought of as one of a number of broadly Levantine sauces( zhoug, tahini, tzatziki, harissa ), which when the( flat) bread is thin enough and its contents juicy enough that this will not become a stodgy slog can add a further layer of flavour intricacy to a sandwich.

However, the idea of adding often claggy, chunky hummus to a thick, sliced bread sandwich of turkey or chicken( how dry would that be ?) or, for the non-meat eaters, employing it as a major sandwich filling in endless combinations of avocado, tomatoes, egg, spicy carrot and feta, seems not only gastronomically questionable how well do those ingredients gel, genuinely ? but also a surefire recipe for a truly dreary, lumpen sandwich. That is a wad of mush that you will start eating at lunch and still be chewing at tea time.


There is a lot going on in hummus, it is, variously, creamies, nutty, lemony, garlicky, savoury, salty( perhaps too salty ). Therefore, it is essential to choose dipping enforces that offer either a) a neutral carbohydrate base for the hummus or b) a clearly complementary flavor to it( sweet carrots being a prime example ). Ideally, you should have a varied selection of these available every time you eat hummus.

Sweet carrots are a prime example of complementary flavor. Photograph: Getty/ Cat London

Top dippers : warm, pliable flatbreads or pitta; carrots( raw for contrasting crunch , not par-boiled as is common ); freshening cucumber; bread sticks; plain crackers( nothing cheesy or onionflavoured etc ); Ryvita or a similarly dark crackers, for extra earthy depth; overdone strips of barbecued beef or lamb( burnt ends, basically ); celery( useful for get into a supermarket pots nooks and crannies ); raw white onion( conveniently curved and complementary in flavour ); red bell pepper.

Dysfunctional dippers : any fried vegetable( that layer of greasiness is just unwelcome ); tortilla chips or, indeed, any crisp( frequently too salty, if not seasoned with jarring lime, etc ); battered fish goujons( a bizarre textural car-crash ); grilled halloumi fingers; woolly, buttered sliced white toast( unless you are a child under the age of seven ); tomatoes( impractical ); radishes( too overtly peppery ).

Hot or cold?

HTE enjoys the cool effect of fridge-cold hummus, while acknowledging that room-temperature is preferable if you want its flavors to shine. Warm hummus is a different matter altogether. Its a texture thing. In its texture, warm hummus ranges from something that remembers lumpy porridge to a silken soup. It conspicuously lacks the smooth, reassuring density of cold hummus that we Brits have come to love.

Why not jazz up hummus with whole chickpeas and olive oil? Photograph: fotosr/ Getty Images/ iStockphoto

Hummus variations

There are, of course, numerous sensible ways to jazz up hummus: with whole chickpeas and olive oil,( toasted) pine nuts, smoky paprika and various Middle Eastern spice, herb and seed mixtures( dukkah, zaatar, sumac ). However, hummus is not endlessly versatile.

Topping it with slicings of roasted red peppers or courgette presents an obstacle if dipping, while commercial versions topped with caramelised onions are, usually, route too sweet. Likewise, there are endless variations from the innocuous if mystify( topping it with fried mushrooms or chopped hard-boiled egg) to the, shall we say, more challenging addition of dried mint.

As for those supermarket versions that augment the hummus itself by blitzing-in red peppers, Moroccan spices, coriander, roasted tomatoes, etc, they are, invariably, borderline inedible. They are topped merely by those so-called hummus built with avocado, broad beans, beetroot, etc that dispense with the chickpeas altogether. They are labelled hummus merely because the word paste is less sexy.

Sharing etiquette

On the vexed topic of doubled dipping, please refer to this entry on chips n dips. In brief, this blog does not share( pardon the pun) Western societys bacteria hysteria. If your mates are people who freak out if you go in for a second dip with a half-eaten carrot stick, then the solution is simple: get new mates.

The right route to hummus. Photograph: Marianna Massey/ Getty Images

When ?

Lunch or as a snack. One that, as you warm that third flatbread and open a second bathtub of hummus, still feels vaguely virtuous. Such self-delusion is a dangerous, if delicious, thing.


Ideally, you would dedicate hummus the respect it deserves. You would generously top it with adornments and serve it in the center of a large plate surrounded by your dipping vegetables of choice, sides of raw onion and pickles, and a separate pile of hot, fluffy pittas.

In reality, many of us regularly eat hummus promptly at a worktop, busily cutting carrots into batons and retrieving crackers from a box, while doing other jobs in the kitchen. It is not ideal. But at times it is very useful. Romanticise hummus all you like, but its popularity in the West is, to a great extent, down to its practicality.

So hummus, how do you eat yours?

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