What Are the Traditional Spices & Seasonings in Hummus?

by Fred Decker

A signature dish of the Middle East, hummus has gained widespread popularity in the U.S. A flavorful dip for vegetables and flatbreads, hummus is a lightly spiced puree of chickpeas with olive oil and a few other simple ingredients. It is easily made at home in a blender or food processor, and none of the ingredients is difficult to find.

Spices and Seasonings

Spices do not provide the primary flavors in hummus. Cumin is the only spice integral to the dish, providing an earthy and fragrant note to complement the chickpeas and other flavorings. It is best to start with whole seeds. Toast them lightly in a dry skillet, then grind them fresh in a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle. A pinch of cayenne may be added if desired, and cayenne or paprika is often used as a garnish on top of the finished dish. Add salt to the finished puree to balance and enhance the other flavors.

Olive Oil and Lemon Juice

Although olive oil and lemon juice are not spices or seasonings as such, they provide distinct notes in the finished dish. The olive oil is used, in part, to give the dish a smooth and creamy texture, but a light and fruity oil adds depth to the flavor. Lemon juice is one of the key flavorings in hummus and must be a dominant note in the finished puree for an authentic flavor.

Fresh Garlic

The sharpness and aroma of garlic provide a foil for the tang of the lemon juice. Fresh garlic should be minced and then mashed to a paste with the side of a knife blade or in a mortar and pestle. Use garlic lavishly when making hummus, then use lemon juice and salt to rein it in and bring balanced flavor to the finished puree.

Tahini

Tahini, the Middle Eastern equivalent of peanut butter, is a smooth paste made of sesame seeds. Hummus can be made with or without tahini, and in the Middle East the two versions are considered separate dishes. Tahini brings a distinctly nutty, sesame note to the puree, and an earthiness that complements the cumin. Hummus in U.S. stores and restaurants is usually made with tahini, so consumers with sesame allergies should make theirs at home or purchase it from carefully selected vendors.

References (2)

  • "A New Book of Middle Eastern Food"; Claudia Roden
  • "The Cooking of the Middle East"; Time-Life Books

Photo Credits

  • Ryan McVay/Digital Vision/Getty Images

About the Author

Fred Decker is a trained chef and certified food-safety trainer. Decker wrote for the Saint John, New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, and has been published in Canada's Hospitality and Foodservice magazine. He's held positions selling computers, insurance and mutual funds, and was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.