Tasting: Some Local Hummus Options are Better Than Others

A sampling of Bay Area-made hummus. (Kate Williams)

After Sabra announced its voluntary recall of listeria-contaminated cases of hummus, I immediately stopped buying hummus from the store. It was probably a rash decision, but it's one that I’m sure I shared with many others. Over the last month I’ve gradually gotten over my hummus fear, but will probably never want to buy hummus from a national brand again. Instead, I’ve been making it at home. But there are times when it is simply easier to grab a container from the grocery store, whether for a quick snack or an easy party appetizer. For those instances I’ve begun looking towards local options. Plus, trying out a range of hummus products has helped me hone in on the qualities I like in my own recipes.

The Bay Area has several of its own hummus makers, and their products span an array of styles, flavors and textures. Some are far more successful than others. The results, from best to worst, below:

Yamba hummus
Yamba hummus (Kate Williams)

I was ready to love Yamba as soon as I opened the lid. While the color and wan-looking spices weren’t exactly enticing, the aroma was undeniable. The smell of garlic, cumin and paprika immediately hit my nose, making me eager to dive in.

Yamba is an Israeli-style hummus, which means it is thinner and more drizzle-able than thicker, health-food hummus. It typically contains more tahini and olive oil (never a bad thing) than other varieties. Yamba has both of these ingredients in spades, and it tastes decadent and creamy. A strong dose of lemon juice balances out the richness. If anything, Yamba is on the salty side; it doesn’t quite veer into the over-seasoned side, but it comes close. I found myself wanting it drizzled over a warm piece of fresh pita bread or a platter of falafel.

Yousef’s Gourmet Hummus
Yousef’s Gourmet Hummus (Kate Williams)

Yousef’s hummus is the most plain of the bunch. It comes in a stark, hand-packed container, and it looks the most homemade. Yousef’s also has a short and simple ingredient list -- there’s not much more than chickpeas tahini, garlic and olive oil in it. Despite this short list, Yousef’s has the best texture and appearance. It is smooth and creamy, with a spreadable consistency. You could use it as a sandwich spread or as a dip for even the slipperiest of vegetables (I’m looking at you, baby carrots).

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The only problem? Salt. This particular container of Yousef’s was close to inedible. The extra salt did manage to bring out that elusive chickpea flavor, but it was hard to enjoy. A little research revealed that Yousef’s tends to be inconsistent. Other packages were barely salted and bland. If I could have found a batch somewhere in the middle, it would have topped my list.

The Hummus Guy Organic Original
The Hummus Guy Organic Original (Kate Williams)

Extra-thick and spreadable, this Petaluma-made hummus has serious heft. The Hummus Guy is the kind of hummus you could eat with a spoon, straight-up, as its own lunch. Generally, its thickness works in its favor; it is easy to ignore the slightly grainy and pasty texture when slathered on carrot sticks or pita chips. But, unfortunately, The Hummus Guy doesn’t get the plain hummus flavor quite right. It is weirdly sweet and sour. A glance at the ingredients list reveals one strange addition: cultured corn flour. Why does hummus needs corn flour? Who knows? It is the likely culprit for both the pastiness and sweetness. The sour, well, it must just come from too much lemon juice.

Haig’s Hummus Garbanzo Bean Meze
Haig’s Hummus Garbanzo Bean Meze (Kate Williams)

Haig’s hummus is the foil to The Hummus Guy. It is highly successful in the flavor department -- like Yamba, it is thoroughly spiced and full of tahini. The touch of lemon juice works in harmony with the richer ingredients. However, Haig’s has a serious texture problem. The chickpeas don’t appear fully ground. Instead, they are chunky and grainy, bound together with the fat-filled tahini. A few more minutes in the food processor would fix the problem and put Haig’s on my to-buy list.

Hummus Organic Hummus Classic
Hummus Organic Hummus Classic (Kate Williams)

The weirdest hummus award goes to San Francisco’s Love & Hummus, which claims to be the only local certified organic hummus around. That claim helps it to command the highest price for hummus I’ve ever seen -- close to $6 at Whole Foods and even more at Berkeley Bowl. It comes packaged in a cute little glass jar with a fairly narrow opening (how do I get my pita chips in there?) and a design-focused label. Inside is a thick, cement-like spread that smells exactly like Sprite. Unfortunately, it tastes like that distinctively soda-like, artificial lemon-lime flavor. I could taste a little tahini in addition to the citrus notes, but that was about it. Love & Hummus could use a substantial increase in olive oil and a more timid hand with the lemon juice. Until then, I’d much rather spend $6 elsewhere.

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More information:

  • Yamba Hummus Classic is available at Whole Foods, Berkeley Bowl, Rainbow Grocery, and Monterey Market. $4.99 for 10 ounce package.
  • Yousef’s Gourmet Hummus is available at Whole Foods and Berkeley Bowl. $3.89 for 7 ounce package.
  • The Hummus Guy Organic Original is available at Berkeley Bowl and select Safeway stores. $4.49 for 10 ounce package.
  • Haig’s Hummus Garbanzo Bean Meze is available at Whole Foods, Berkeley Bowl, Andronico’s, and Bi-Rite Market. $3.69 for 8 ounce package
  • Love & Hummus Organic Hummus Classic with Extra Virgin Olive Oil is available at Whole Foods, Berkeley Bowl, Good Eggs, and Andronico’s. $5.99 for 8 ounce jar.

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