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Supermarket Hummus

This creamy chickpea spread has gone from health food obscurity to the No. 1 refrigerated dip. But some brands definitely aren't worth a swipe.

What We Learned

With just five ingredients—chickpeas, tahini, garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice—plus a smattering of spices, hummus couldn’t be easier to make at home. But that doesn’t mean we can resist the convenience of the store-bought stuff, especially now that it’s sold everywhere. Fifteen years ago, a handful of companies shared the $5 million U.S. market for hummus. Today hummus dominates the category known as refrigerated spreads, which raked in more than $430 million in retail sales last year. Brands can be found coast to coast, even at the 7-Eleven—a trend no doubt fueled by the fact that hummus is something you can feel good about eating. It’s a protein-rich food far lower in fat than the typical cream-based dip.

As for supermarket shelves, they are jammed with an ever-expanding menu of “hummus and” riffs: sun-dried tomatoes, jalapeños and cilantro, roasted garlic and chives—there’s even guacamole hummus. Flavor options aside, the explosion in brands alone makes it harder to know which one to buy. The ideal spread is appealingly smooth and creamy, with the fresh, clean flavor of buttery chickpeas in balance with the earthy toasted-sesame taste of tahini, set off by a lemon-garlic bite. But some store-bought hummus doesn’t even come close, with funky off-flavors and stodgy, grainy consistency.

To find the best supermarket version, we rounded up eight nationally available samples of plain hummus (no flavor variations). Along with the usual refrigerated concoctions in party-size plastic tubs, we found a shelf-stable hummus that uses no oil, a soy-chickpea-blend hummus, and a box mix that has you stirring in hot water and olive oil. We included them all, setting them before 21 staff members who sampled them with warm pita in two blind tastings. Our findings confirmed that many spreads simply aren’t worth buying—in fact, five of the eight products we tasted didn’t earn our recommendation at all. But the good news is that a few hit the mark with nutty, earthy flavor and a wonderfully thick, creamy texture.

ANCIENT ORIGINS

All hummus starts with the chickpea, the creamy yellow seed of a legume pod first cultivated thousands of years ago. The ancient Romans bought roasted chickpeas from street stalls. One of the earliest recipes for hummus bi tahina (chickpeas with tahini) appeared in a 13th-century Egyptian cookbook. Today chickpeas are the most consumed legume in the world, and hummus is a staple in the Middle East, where hummus shops are as common as pizza parlors in this country. Heated debate can erupt over whose hummus is best, and exact recipes are carefully guarded secrets.

As we scooped our way through the hummus bran...