The holidays can feel like a gantlet of potlucks, of hey-just-drop-by parties (to which you cannot, of course, show up empty-handed). There are gatherings among neighbors, running clubs and podmates, which you might be hosting or merely attending (but, again, there is no turning up without something to contribute to the buffet).
All of which is to say you are going to need to bring something. That something just might be a tub of hummus, one of the convenience heroes of the party circuit. It is substantial, it is flexible (you can serve it with veggies if you have them, or just a bag of pita chips) and it has got mass appeal - your meat-eating and vegan pals alike can enjoy it.
Even when festivities aren't on the calendar, hummus can be a utility player in your everyday pantry roster. Add some grains and whatever veggies are hanging around, and call it dinner! Thin it with olive oil and water and call it a sauce for grilled chicken or even a salad dressing. Do you!
So now that we've established that the little plastic package can be a lifesaver, let's get real: Too often, store-bought hummus is a gloopy, bland letdown.
The New York-based brand Sabra is the runaway best-selling brand (its market share was more than 60% in 2015, according to Statista), but it's far from the only option on grocery shelves. To figure out whose chickpeas you should be checking out, we tried 11 different brands, including the most popular labels on the market, as well as a handful of grocery store brands (they are among the "private label" offerings that make up the category that comes in second to Sabra), and a few other popular options. Though hummus comes in a rainbow of flavors, we tested only "original" or unflavored varieties of each to keep the playing field level. Our testers assigned each a score of 1 to 10 based on overall taste and texture.
Once we'd assembled the veritable swimming pool's worth of the stuff, one thing stood out: There is remarkably little difference in the actual ingredients contained in most hummus. Chickpeas, tahini, oil and cumin were nearly ubiquitous. Which means the differences come down to proportion and preparation.
Though, to be honest, there weren't a lot of highs and lows among the batch we tasted. A few stood out, and one or two were major flops. But mostly, the available grocery store brands are a lot of middling middle ground that didn't inspire consensus. The entire experiment had The Washington Post Food editor Joe Yonan, a well-known hummu-phile, repeating as he circled the tasting table, in a lamenting tone that indicated a mixture of sadness and frustration: "But it's so easy to make at hoooome!"
Here's how they stacked up, from worst to best:
This one was the showoff of the bunch, with slick packaging proclaiming it to be "cold-crafted" (the company boasts that it uses cold pressure instead of heat pasteurization) and a bold claim on the lid: "this hummus tastes fresh." But all that bravado was for naught - our testers hated this dip (clearly, we are not Nancy Pelosi). It was the only one to list vinegar among its ingredients, which might explain the sour, bitter flavor. "Is there vinaigrette mixed into this?" one tester wondered. And then there was the aggressive lemony punch, which two testers independently likened to Pledge furniture polish and another to Sprite.
10. Hope Original Recipe
Of all the varieties we tried, Hope's texture was the most distinctive . . . and that wasn't a good thing. Instead of the usual creamy look, we saw applesauce, baby food and hummus's eggplanty cousin, baba ganoush. The visible flecks of spice looked promising but didn't deliver on the palate. "Lumpy and soupy," said one. "This isn't hummus."
9. Tribe Classic Hummus
This grocery staple brand suffered from the opposite problem that Hope did - its texture was gluey and dense. "I can almost lift the bowl when scooping!" noted one tester, who proceeded to demonstrate this feat. But maybe it could be pressed into service for household tasks? One taster suggested it could sub for spackling compound.
8. Sabra Classic Hummus
The market-dominating dip ranked low in the murky middle. "Just okay," said one. "Boring beige."
But it inspired some unpleasant questions. Samples: "Horrific fake taste - what is that, artificial lemon?" and, most dramatically, "How can I get this out of my mouth?"
7. Cava Traditional Hummus
The Washington-based fast-casual chain's offering also turned out to be a snoozer. "Flavor is timid," said one taster. "Tastes like dishwater," proclaimed another. Some detected a sharp note, though they were split over whether it was "tangy" (good) or "unpleasantly acidic."
6. Cedar's Original Hummus
Yet another forgettable entry. Though a couple of people deemed it to have a "good color" and a "creamy" texture," it didn't impress most tasters either way. "A little bland and too thick," said one. "Middle of the road," seemed to sum it up.
5. Nature's Promise Organic Original Hummus
What's that? Some actual tahini flavor? Well, open sesame! Several of us liked the flavor of this one from Giant's store brand, though it, too, got mixed reviews. "Clean with a little tang" was one verdict. But others found it too thick - "like it has flour in it," one colleague sniffed.
Boar's Head Traditional Hummus
This was a polarizing dip, with one spice lover enthusing "yay for cumin!" "All chickpea and just the right amount of lemon," opined another fan. But it had detractors who found it "dry and oddly bouncy" and another who just shut it down: "sharp, bitter, no."
Whole Foods Original Hummus
Little red flecks in the mix hinted there was spice lurking in here. Some people liked the heat, but the overall taste ("chemical," slightly medicinal") wasn't a winner. And a stronger garlic come-on divided tasters. "Tastes like garlic knots, so this Jersey girl loves it," said one. But it wasn't a Springsteen-esque hit with others. "Are they trying to make it with roasted garlic? It's awful," said one taster.
2. Kirkland Signature Organic Hummus
Costco is a go-to source for party hosts, and there's reason to throw a tub of this hummus from the big-box house brand in with that massive tray of shrimp. Unlike more timid offerings we tried, this had a "good salt level," and several tasters were excited that they could discern flavors in the mix. "There's tahini in this, which is a welcome relief!"
1. Trader Joe's Hummus Dip
This one seemed to win by following the same rules that have earned plenty of folks a spot in the C-suite: Don't offend anyone and be pleasant enough to get by. The cultish grocery chain has a range of hummus offerings (hummi?), including a chocolate one, but we tried the classic version, and it won out, mostly because no one hated it.
"This is not terrible" or some variant was a refrain. "I'd snack on this one," concluded one tester. "It's got a little nutty flavor to it."
Its biggest triumph was getting the texture right, Goldilocks-style, unlike almost many of its brethren: not too loose, not too stiff. Like an R&B jam, testers found it to be "so smooth."