‘A lot for chickpeas and tahini’ – Ottolenghi’s new £45 hummus kit tested

·5 min read
'Maybe we have just never tasted a hummus worth £45,' says Cumming - Andrew Crowley
'Maybe we have just never tasted a hummus worth £45,' says Cumming - Andrew Crowley

“Forty-five pounds is a lot for chickpeas and tahini,” says my friend Jamie, standing in my kitchen and giving me a curious look. Is he wrong? £45 does seem steep for “chickpeas and tahini", but maybe that is underselling it. Maybe we have just never tasted a hummus worth £45.

We are about to find out. He, and my other friends Hadden and Hodo, are about to give chickpeas a chance. In front of them are three bowls, each containing a different hummus. I have cunningly dressed all three with a swizz of oil, a few whole chickpeas and a sprinkle of za’atar, because I’m a details guy and I know these flourishes signify fanciness. Will they be fooled?

In bowl one is a pre-made variety, “Mr Dip” brand, from my local corner shop, priced £1.29. Bowl two contains hummus I have whipped up using basic ingredients from a local grocery store, following a recipe I found on the nerdish American food site Serious Eats.

Bowl three is the one I have my eye on. This is the latest innovation from the profitable mind of the Israeli-British restaurateur and writer Yotam Ottolenghi, Islington’s preeminent herb enthusiast, a charming man who is also single-handedly responsible for the spread of pomegranate molasses in the UK.

This week he has launched his “Creamy Dreamy Hummus” kit, based on a recipe in the Ottolenghi Test Kitchen’s book, Shelf Love. The kit is available for nationwide delivery and priced at a blender-busting £45. It must be the most expensive hummus in the UK. Certainly the most expensive version you have to make yourself. It is a chef’s kiss to the cost of living crisis.

The pricy dip represents 'a chef’s kiss to the cost of living crisis,' says Cumming - Andrew Crowley
The pricy dip represents 'a chef’s kiss to the cost of living crisis,' says Cumming - Andrew Crowley

For that you get a bag of dried chickpeas, a jar of ‘queen’ chickpeas, pitta crisps, a carton of tahini, and four little pots of condiments and garnishes: za’atar, dukkah, Aleppo chilli and Palestinian chilli relish. You must supply your own lemon, salt, oil, cumin and garlic, presumably so they could keep the price under £50. There is also a little recipe card with instructions on what to do with your hummus kit. “Once you get the base right, hummus knows no bounds,” the card says, by way of a jaunty sign-off.

Getting the “base right” is more difficult than it sounds. Making hummus, like painting a spare room or baking sourdough, turns out to be one of those things that seems simple but is best left to the professionals.

The ingredients for bowl two cost me £4.22, although I’m sure I could have shopped around and found them for much less. But the preparation was stressful. There were more stages than I had imagined possible. I minced 20 cloves of garlic with lemon to strain into the tahini. I dutifully reserved my cooking water. I used a jar of chickpeas, rather than soaking dry ones overnight with a little baking soda as the recipe recommended, because life is for living.

By the time it came to the Ottolenghi version I was little more practised, which is to say it was still only intermittently edible. The recipe was more balanced and less fiddly. But good hummus holds chickpeas, salt, lemon, spice, spice and oil in a fragile equilibrium. Done well it is exquisite. Done badly it evokes images of sitting in a not-quite-hot-enough park, double-dipping crisps in a plastic pot of warming beige gloop.

A generous portion of good restaurant hummus can be had with plenty of change from a tenner. There is a paradox. You wouldn’t go to the trouble of making this at home, unless you were a veteran hummusizer, in which case you could doubtless achieve the same results with cheaper ingredients.

The three bowls, 'cunningly dressed with a swizz of oil, a few whole chickpeas and a sprinkle of za’atar' - Andrew Crowley
The three bowls, 'cunningly dressed with a swizz of oil, a few whole chickpeas and a sprinkle of za’atar' - Andrew Crowley

My guests immediately clock the shop-bought one, mainly because it had the texture and gustatory appeal of papier-mâché paste. “This screams supermarket – a bad supermarket,” says Hadden, who used to be a professional cook, pointing at Mr Dip’s finest. “I actively don’t like it.” Turning to my first homemade one, she is almost as rude. “This tastes like it doesn’t have olive oil in it, just fatty vegetable oil,” she says. I’m glad I didn’t start cooking it last night.

Disappointingly, for those who were hoping for a pasting, my testers unanimously prefer the Ottolenghi version. It is the only one with an “authentic feel”, although “the texture is quite sticky.” Especially popular is the relish, which has a gentle jalapeño heat. We wonder if jalapeños are common in Palestine.

The gang also agrees that the kit is not worth the money. A search online for the same, or similar, ingredients bought separately suggests they could be had for around £25. What’s more, after a couple of hours, most of my equipment is covered in a kind of khaki chickpea concrete, which I will spend the next hour washing off.

Is this as nice as sitting in a restaurant? Maybe the secret ulterior motive is that the hummus kit will send us all rushing back out to restaurants, which are havens of good value.

At the end of the experiment I have the sense that I am trashing my own kitchen to pay for a new one for Yotam. The £45 does not include postage and packing.

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