Hummus That’s Not Ho-Hum


About a year ago, I found out about Sabra hummus. My life has never been the same since.

I don’t know how I missed this product for my first 26.5 years, but somehow it just slipped under my radar. I’d dipped the Tribe, the Athenos stuff, and all the others, but somehow this particular brand just never crossed my path. But one dip in and I was hooked. So rich, so creamy, so fresh-tasting: for me Sabra stands heads, shoulders, knees and toes above the rest of the hummuses (hummusi?) Plus, they have versions that come with chopped red peppers, garlic, or pine nuts on top (although not enough pine nuts, if you ask me). Nevertheless, hummus instantly went from something I would try at a party if there was a good dipping vehicle, to something that is an perpetual presence in my fridge (except for when I eat the whole container in one sitting).

I realize this sounds like an advertisement, but I swear it’s not. My purpose isn’t to convert everyone to Sabra, but rather to rant about why the hell every other hummus can’t taste this good. I’ve been on a bit of a hummus-making kick myself lately, thanks to a few lessons from my Dad and Gansie (but not DAD GANSIE). I just food process chickpeas + tahini + lemon + garlic + olive oil + salt + pepper, and pine nuts if I’ve got them on hand (hey, it’s the recession). The result is always good, but never Sabra good. Seriously, what do these bastards put in their damn hummus to make it so tasty? And why can’t I recreate it at home? Being a good investigative reporter, I went straight to the source:


OK, nothing out of the ordinary here, right? I mean, I can’t imagine it’s the citric acid or potassium sorbate that’s making it so much better than mine. Is it the proportions? I know theirs seems extra-tahini-y, but when I overload mine with tahini, it just tastes too sesame and still doesn’t have their creaminess. Do I have to immersion blend it or something? Do I need new hummus-making eqiupment?

I went on to Sabra’s FAQ page, which modestly enough includes the question “What makes Sabra hummus so delicious?”

Here’s what they have to say for themselves:

Our hummus is made with authentic ingredients, including:

  • Fresh chickpeas (not pasteurized or from a can)
  • Real Mediterranean sesame tahini
  • Authentic, imported Mediterranean herbs and spices

OK, first of all, is it legal to write “herbs and spices” on an ingredient label? To a cook, you might as well have said something has “fruits and vegetables” or “meat” in it. What spices!? Or is this recipe the secret McDonald’s special sauce of the Middle East?

I’m thinking it must be the fresh chickpeas I’m missing then. Do I need to start growing these? Or is it that “real Mediterranean sesame tahini” I need to get my hands on? And does this mean my grocer has been selling me some fake-ass non-Mediterranean tahini all these years?? Well now I’m pissed.

Seriously, if someone could do some subversive research, break into the Sabra factory, or just send me your grandma’s secret recipe, it might help me not go insane.

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  • Lisa April 7, 2009  

    You echo my own epiphany on tasting Sabra at a party last fall. I couldn’t believe how much better Sabra tasted, even than homemade (and I’m a cook!). My only explanation is prompted by an article Cook’s Illustrated ran on hummus a while back, where they noted that superior hummus requires removing the skins from the chickpeas. In untypical Cook’s fashion, they conceeded that there was no way to do this that wasn’t tedious, so they offered their next-best version. So maybe that’s Sabra’s secret: skinning the chickpeas for superior texture.

  • Maids April 7, 2009  

    it’s not the herbs and spices that make it that creamy, it’s the soybean and canola oil…. and the “so fresh” taste = potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate. um yum?
    I have to say, I’d rather fresh made hummus any day. Analogy: Sabra is to Natural Hummus as Jiffy is to salted Natural Peanut Butter

  • Maids April 7, 2009  

    (of course that’s just what my tastebuds tell me…. sorry!)

  • BS April 7, 2009  

    @ Lisa – the skins thing just might be it! I wonder…and has anyone invented a chickpea skinner unitasker yet?
    @Maids – I have to admit I prefer Jiffy to the natural stuff – it’s just so smooth and creamy! So I guess that’s where we differ.

  • elissa ehlin April 7, 2009  

    If any of you get the opportunity to try Sonny & Joe’s hummus please do. It’s quite possibly the best hummus out there. Were working on our site at word press but check it out

    Endless Simmer, if you ever want to try us out let me know and we’ll send a shipment for you to try! You will become a convert!

  • Summer April 7, 2009  

    I haven’t tried using them for hummus yet, but I’ve lately started using chickpeas I’ve cooked from dried in my falafel, and the taste and texture is far superior than the canned-beans version. I’d suggest trying them in your hummus… and add more olive oil, too. That couldn’t hurt.

    (The easy way I cook my chickpeas: soak overnight, drain, put in crockpot, add enough boiling water to cover the beans by a few inches, cook for about 4-5 hours on high. Easy.)

  • TVFF April 7, 2009  

    Sound good.

    I rock a basic recipe for my home made and the key ingredient is plenty of fresh lemon…I may need to try dried chickpeas to improve it even more.

    In terms of store-bough, I’ve lately been doing the Trader Joe’s Edamame Hummus, which has a nice, light flavor.

  • Valerie April 7, 2009  

    “Natural flavors” can be a euphemism for MSG.

  • City Girl April 8, 2009  

    I discovered Sabra while living in Brooklyn several years ago – I do think the texture has to do with extra tahini + soybean oil + the use of fresh chickpeas. I have had good luck recreating the texture and flavor by using some olive oil with extra tahini and lots of lemon to cut on the tahini – and also running the food processor twice as long as seems necessary for hummus.

  • ML April 8, 2009  

    Nothing is better than the hummus my family gets from Armenian Delight grocery in Philadelphia. However, I can’t stomach anything that replaces lemon juice with citric acid. I also find that store bought hummus is often too thick, the ratio of chickpeas:oil is all off. Maybe this one has it right?

  • dos dos April 8, 2009  

    That shit is good! They sell it in tubs 5x that size at costco. Usually doesn’t last 3 days in this house. I second adding more oil to the homemade version. Never tried making it, but maybe running it through a ricer before the fo pro?

  • westcoast April 11, 2009  

    In the DC metro, I particularly like a local brand called Azmars (it’s from Alexandria). It’s at WF and sometimes you find it at Gigante or Safeway. I prefer the extra garlic hummus and they also have killer baba…strong smoky flavor.

  • erica April 13, 2009  

    holy crap – boil the chickpeas 4 to 5 hours? that sounds worrysome, I soak mine and it takes 45 minutes to cook them, if that.

  • ML April 14, 2009  

    I take back everything I said about store bought hummus

    This is heavenly!! The boyfriend insisted on buying hummus and I suggested we try this. I’ve been converted.

  • Yvo April 28, 2009  

    Dude, same. I had hummus at a friend’s place and was like, hey, that’s good. But when I went to buy my own, I grabbed Tribe and was like WTF IS THIS GARBAGE. So I asked that friend and she said Sabra. Went to the store and got all the flavors but still not great… so I asked her AGAIN which she’d served and it was the roasted pine nuts one… and Costco sells the ginormous container for maybe $1 more than the tiny one. Love it.

    Anyway, I always assumed it tasted better cuz it’s ‘worse’ for you, more oil and fat. Definitely. Creamy. Mmm. And I think the ricer idea is great – that would remove the skins, no?

  • Karen May 28, 2009  

    I just found this and it looks like a winner… I’m going to try it. I just mad my hummus with warm beans and that may be my mistake acording to this story (recipe included!)

    Surprise secret ingredient makes for sublime hummus

  • Jason June 22, 2009  

    I’m gonna guess it’s the natural flavors. They really make the difference.

  • Dave in Captain Cook HI July 18, 2009  

    I’ve been trying to master the Sabra version of hummus and am very close. I think that the citric acid is a key to the bite as it doesn’t disapate like lemon juice does after a few days…I’m sure the preservatives help it too. Not for me, no matter how good it tastes!

    I soak my chick peas over night, cook in a pressure cooker for 15 minutes, along with; 3 bay leaves, 2 teaspoons cumin, 4-5 cloves of minced garlic,1 teaspoon powdered corriander, 1/4 teaspoon white fresh ground pepper,one teaspoon each dry basil/oregano,dash cayenne and wait until the steam has settled on its own.

    While those are cooking/cooling I roast some raw sesame seeds in a dry skillet until light brown and throw in a food processor until creamy, adding a little olive oil to make it creamer and mix better along with some salt.

    Now the fun part. I used to skin by hand every chick pea. Now I use my screen collander and force the chick peas through over a big mixing bowl a little at a about 3-4 batches. I am not done. I take the leftover skins and mix with some of the water that separated in the mixing bowl and rescreen that. Now we are left with a soupy mixture-add some salt.There is a little waste and a chinoise would probably be better but I lost that in my last break up. Another donation to the cause!

    I bloom some cumin(roast till darker not burned) in a dry med heat pan. I put my olive oil , garlic , some salt ,pepper, more corriander saute until garlic is done. Do not over cook the garlic, it will be too overpowering. Saving a little in the pan prior to adding garlic to top off finished product, I mix with the homemade tahini and process. Don’t add the lemon juice until completey cool. Stick it in a blender and zap it until totally cream. Taste and see what it may need.

    Now , with the left over oil,cumin mix,add garlic , I add some paprika and pine nuts and cook to roast the pine
    nuts .

    That’s about it…more work but just as creamy as you can possibly get and naturally fresh and actually good for you. This is the first time I’ve actually written this up and I hope you like it. More work, yes, but it lasts for up to 4 days and is so good. Aloha…Dave

  • Marsha January 23, 2010  

    I read you should beat the lemon juice and tahini into a frothy mixture first. I also took all the skins of the chickpeas before throwing them into the food processor. I added garlic, olive oil and a little water. It turned out pretty creamy. Now the trick is to find an easier way to get the skins off.

  • Bruce February 2, 2010  

    I take toothpaste, dental floss and a sonic power tooth washer and stir till lumpy. I beat the lumps with a bottle of sky vodka and mix in my mouth. I am able do to a gap between my front teeth…expectorate a fine stream into a tahini mixture all the while listening to Matesayu playing ONE DAY.

    This works I swear!

  • Jeff February 2, 2010  

    I take tahini and store it in the back of the toilet with the other blue substance that sits inside. The combination of the two is unbelievable and I collect as they both pass through and come down the sides of the bowl when I flush. I take this mixture and whip in a mixer then add the fresh garbanzos. After passing it through a chinoix it becomes very smooth and has the same texture as sabra. I then add a few juiced vitamin gummy bear into the mixture to maintain freshness and color.

  • Hurcules July 26, 2010  

    The label tells us more than you might think. According to the FDA the ingredients on a food label are listed in order of their quantity. The chick peas are naturally the largest amount according to the label, next and not surprising is WATER. These two ingredients beat to hell in your Cuisinart will provide the basic elements to the creamy nature of the mix. Throw in the beans and slowly add the water (potassium sorbate and Sodium benzoate). The next two elements are the tahini and the oil of your choice, it really doesn’t matter which one you prefer, olive, canola, etc. mix them if you wish but the manufacturer mixes and matches according to availability. Remember again, quantity by order of listing. So use more tahini than oil. Add each ingredient incrementally to keep the texture smooth and creamy. Outside of the water the balance of the ingredients are used to thicken and flavor the final product. Now, more garlic than salt more salt than citric acid. Don’t look to lemon juice to replace the citric acid. You must use citric acid and use lemon juice to flavor. I toss in an 1/8th of a roasted pepper for the color and taste and finally a small piece of fresh red pepper for a diced up appearance ( I put it in last and give it a few pulse blasts to cut it up and distribute is evenly). A word about the the potassium sorbate and Sodium benzoate. About 75% of people can taste it. People who can taste sodium benzoate describe it differently. Some say bitter or salty while others say it’s taste is more on the sweet side. It should be used at low levels to avoid off-flavors. The maximum level allowable by law is 0.1%. The combination of these two have a profound effect on the final product and should be added with the beans and water as they are for more soluble in water. You’ll probably try this about 2 or 3 times before getting it pretty close to Sabra’s version but you should be able to make a pretty good rendition yourself.

  • Hurcules August 2, 2010  

    Forgot…start it in your blender and finish it in your Cuisinart.

  • Ben mayor September 15, 2010  

    Hi everyone,
    In the middle east hummus is fast food and is available on every block in major cities made while you wait in small eateries .
    When you walk in and order your hummus plate the preparer grabs a deep plate, throws in a clove of fresh garlic and a pinch of salt, using a wooden pastel he/she crushes the garlic,Upon crushing the garlic a couple of teaspoons of lemon juice is added then tahini is added, the ingredients, still using the wooden pastel are swirled and mixed together then freshly cooked chickpeas are added along with a small amount of the cooking water ,mashed with the wooden pastel then swirled to coat the surface of the plate , a drizzle of oil on top and a table spoon of whole freshly cooked chickpeas in the center for garnish , a sprinkle of chopped parsley or mild paprika powder,the result is a perfect hummus .

    If you follow the same steps by crushing the garlic with a pinch of salt in a bowl , add the lemon juice and the tahini, mix them, the tahini will shrink and coagulate which is a good thing as this denatures the proteins in it and makes them more soluble and digestible and adds creaminess to the hummus then add the cooking water ,about an equal amount to that of the tahini to bring the tahini back to a fluid state, pour the resulting tahini garlic lemon “sauce” in a food processor or blender , add fresh cooked chickpeas , preferably not hot but at or a bit higher then room temperature to the food processor , blend and enjoy, you could drizzle an equal amount to that of tahini of your favorite oil either to the hummus while blending in the processor or top it on the plate to prevent the hummus from drying out .

    If you are trying to duplicate sabra you will have to make your own tahini from scratch starting with hulling the sesame seeds by soaking them in a solution of table salt and either backing soda or lye till the hull falls off,the seeds will soak a significant amounts of the alkaline salt solution which upon toasting or roasting, unintentionally of course, lead to a degree of protein hydrolysis in which the 25% protein found in sesame seeds will break down into amino acids notable among them is glutamate acid a. k. a. monosodiumglutamate , which makes yummy happens.
    Add this alkaline tahini to a weak acid such as citric acid and you get sodium citrate another salty tart emulsifying flavor enhancing yummy along with carbon dioxide , now you know where the bubbles in sabra hummus come from.
    you will have the following problems as you approach hummus making nirvana, the proteins in the tahini had lost their emulsifying power because they were broken down and are no longer functioning also the oil in the sesame which is 50% of the supposed tahini is no longer an oil due to its breaking down into fatty acid esters and glycerin being mixed with salt and an alkaline base solution resulting in soapification of the oil.
    Solution :double the oil for better emulsification, add spices to cover up the off flavors , keep refrigerated so the bubbles will not burst and cause the hummus whip to collapse ,add preservatives and pray that no one will notice.

  • Phil March 31, 2011  

    The label spells out salt, yet also says “seasoning and spices”.

    I thought salt was seasoning.

    Any of you ever see a pallet of five gallon buckets of sausage seasoning? The stuff is mostly monosodium glutamate. Yet, when you get the ingredient list of the finished product, what you see is – “seasoning and spices”.

    MSG is allowed to be called a natural seasoning, even though it’s clearly not.

    Look, IF the stuff doesn’t have MSG in it, it WOULD state that clearly on the label, because that’s a major selling point nowadays, of anything touted as good for your health.

  • Jen April 1, 2011  

    I agree completely…Sabra is insanely tasty and I can’t seem to recreate it at home…

  • cuisinart food processor costco November 12, 2011  

    I just food process chickpeas + tahini + lemon + garlic + olive oil + salt + And does this mean my grocer has been selling me some fake-ass where they noted that superior hummus requires removing the skins from our site at word press but check it out ..

  • Eve November 19, 2011  

    I use garlic POWDER instead of fresh garlic and it makes for a very well-rounded flavour with no ‘heat’ or bitterness one could experience with fresh. And do try half a teaspoon or so of citric acid, it really does give it a kick like nothing else will.

  • Fianna January 6, 2012  

    I wrote to Sabra and asked about MSG. They said that none of their dips and spreads contain MSG.

  • Kailyn February 13, 2012  

    What I really want to figure out is the spices they put on top, particularly for the Olive hummus. I have some of Sabra’s plain hummus and a load of kalamata olives, but I have no idea what spices I should add to it. Any ideas on that?

  • Frank A. April 25, 2012  

    I have the same problem and did everything you did, including go to the Sabra website. In my case its not the creaminess thats at issue. I took care of that by getting a Ninja blender, and it works very well. My problem is that my hummus simply doesn’t “pop” when you taste it like the Sabra does. Its driving me nuts. I also believe that its in the vague “seasoning and spices” notation in their ingredients.
    The quest continues

  • Marjorie July 7, 2012  

    I wonder if one of the herbs and spices is sumac. I looked at an Alton Brown recipe that listed it as optional. I have some in my cabinet brought to me from a friend who recently visited her in-laws in Iraq. I sprinkled some in my homemade hummus and it definitely punched it up a lot -maybe not as good as Sabra, but I love the flavor.

  • Violeta March 5, 2013  

    Eating some right now – I kept scrolling and scrolling and took a while before I came to it but I think Valerie nailed it: ““Natural flavors” can be a euphemism for MSG.”

    🙁 First thing I thought and I only turned vegan last month. I looked up “all the names for MSG” one day and “natural flavors” came up. That is so misleading! Of course two major companies, Naked juice owned by Pepsi, and Kashi are getting sued for using “natural” too liberally.

  • LJ February 10, 2014  

    It’s the citric acid..

  • Ellen May 19, 2016  

    We are on the same quest. As to smoothness, the SeriousEats method works great. Cook the chickpeas until they are very soft. At that point, some of the skins have come off by themselves. Drain but save the cooking liquid. Put the beans into a high-quality blender such as a Vitamix while they are still hot and add some of the cooking liquid. Blend – with a Vitamix it takes maybe 30 seconds. Add the tahini and done.

    Smooth as can be. Pulverizes the skins. FYI, I tried the food mill method. Waste of energy. Did not “leave the skins behind.” They just went through the mill.

    But the problem is that it is utterly tasteless. I went out and bought citric acid but how much to add? And what spices and herbs? Has anyone made any progress on that front?

  • Ellen May 19, 2016

    Hmm. Richmond is only 90 minutes away. Maybe I can suss it out by going on a tour.

  • Ellen May 23, 2016  

    OK. I took 1.5 tsp of citric acid (aka sour salt). Dissolved it in a little bit of water. Added it to the hummus. Instant Sabra. Holy cow. Then I added 1 tbsp lemon juice. A little too much but really good anyway. Next time, will add just 1 tsp of lemon juice (and the citric acid). Now I can start playing around with the herbs and spices.

    For the person above who seems to be concerned about citric acid – all food (all matter, for that matter) is made of chemicals. Some chemical compounds occur in nature. Some are made in labs. Citric acid is a naturally occurring compound. Do you eat citrus fruit? Then you are eating citric acid. It also occurs in every cell in your body, during the cellular metabolic process known as the Krebs cycle (aka the “citric acid cycle” . So if your concern is a fear of eating chemicals or man-made chemicals, stop being afraid and spend a little time learning chemistry and biochemistry.

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