The Hummus Factory

eggplant, tahini, parsley

Almost all of the people I spoke with said they rarely make their own hummus, simply because the store-bought stuff was as good – if not better – than what they could make at home. (I guess it helps to think of it like peanut butter, where the homemade is very good, but store-bought will suffice.) People have very strong opinions about hummus, like they do about other things, in Israel. And if you mention a particular brand, or a place that makes it, you’re likely going to be told – with absolute certainty – that there’s another one, or place, that’s definitely better.


Since hummus is so popular in Israel, as it is in many other countries around the world (as far away as Mexico), there are some large companies that produce it, such as Strauss in Israel, which also produces a number of other salads and dips, like Baba Ganoush and other Middle Eastern-based sauces.

raw chickpeas for hummus

I was invited to visit the factory and then to the hummus “laboratory”, where the researchers and cooks work on various recipes, making sure the seasonings are just right and adjusting the flavors as necessary.

The first step in making hummus is preparing the chickpeas. Here, Bulgarian chickpeas are used because they told me they’re particularly tender and unlike hummus you might have had, the hummus in the Middle East is particularly smooth. A few recipes advise that the smoothest hummus is made from chickpeas with the skins removed, but no one I spoke with in Israel said they did that. So according to them, it’s about the variety. (A pinch of baking soda in the water helps as well, if you’re making them at home.)

Once the chickpeas are cooked, they’re left to marinate in their liquid until cool and the liquid thickens, which takes on additional flavor from being in close contact with the chickpeas.


Israeli hummus tends to have more tahini in it than other countries, which makes it richer and deeper in color. Other places go heavier on the lemon than they do in Israel, due to local tastes. You can see just how much tahini gets used here; each of these flexible sacs is almost bursting with tahini.

Fifty tons of eggplant also get cooked in some fashion at the same plant, which are destined for Baba Ganoush, a cousin of hummus that’s widely enjoyed in the Middle East as well. It sometimes goes by the name of moutabal.

roasting eggplant in Israel

Even though the Strauss plant is relatively modest (about the size of a large office park) and completely modern, each eggplant gets placed under the grill, one-by-one, by hand.

roasting eggplant in oven

And once roasted and cooled enough to handle, a team of women facing their own sink, remove the charred skin from the still-hot fruits.

charred eggplant

The cooking process for the whole eggplants takes only about four minutes, since the flames are so hot.

eggplant, rawroasted eggplant
peeling roasted eggplantwashing roasted eggplant
washing roasted eggplantroasted eggplant conveyor belt

Other eggplants get cut into wide strips then deep-fried until very dark brown, which gives them a lot of extra flavor.

4 minute eggplant

The extra boost of taste is likely because those strips of eggplant are destined to be mixed with either tomatoes and peppers into a spicy sauce, or simply mashed and seasoned, as a dip.

hummus production line

Then the puree is deposited into tubs and off it goes, sent to markets.

hummus man

Afterward, we headed into the kitchen to meet Yaron, who made a smaller batch of hummus for us, using the exact same method that’s used in the factory.

israeli spicesfresh hummus chickpeas
roasted eggplantfresh hummus making

He also smeared a roasted eggplant with tahini, poured on olive oil, and added some chopped, fresh parsley, which one of the scientists told me what the most challenging part of the process. Because parsley is a fresh herb, it can’t be sterilized for processing as it loses its flavor when cooked. Needless to say, dried parsley is out of the question as well but they didn’t tell me how they solved the riddle.

He pressed the eggplant into some bread and we passed it around. And let me say that if you ever make a trip to the Middle East, be sure to track down tahini because the stuff I had in Israel tastes nothing like the sesame paste sold in jars in America or France.


strauss research team

eggplant ad

After we left, we pulled up to an agricultural research station, where the focus was on various squash, including a hybrid resembling an acorn squash but with the flavor and texture of cooked chestnuts. Another was a bright orange spaghetti squash, called Orangetti, that had tons more flavor than the less-interesting pale, yellow varieties that one normally comes across. And if my suitcase wasn’t packed with tahini, I would’ve likely stuffed a squash or two in there.

fresh chickpeas

But when we passed a field of what looked like dying plants, in between all the squash, Harry S. Paris (whose name, of course, I am coveting), a doctor of agricultural research who works at the research station, mentioned that they were chickpeas, I hopped out to get a better look. Each husk was dried to a crisp in the searing mid-day sun, and once cracked open, a tiny little chickpea rolled out from inside.

israeli eggplant chickpea

I suppose it would be fun to harvest enough to make a batch of hummus out of them, and taste it to see if there was any difference. But with my skin already feeling like I was an eggplant being broiled, I decided it best not to harvest any, and stick to buying my chickpeas by the sack. Or on occasion, by the container.

A Note About Posts from Israel:

A number of people have commented about my visit to Israel, in a previous post and elsewhere. It’s a country I’ve always wanted to visit and I was happy to be invited to deeply explore the cuisine by meeting local chefs, chocolatiers, and growers. I don’t have any particular agenda when I travel except to eat the food, and meet the people who make it. (And usually an exit row aisle seat, if I can snag one.) Other countries that I’ve traveled to and done the same thing include Australia, Tunisia, Portugal, Ireland, France, the United States, Switzerland, Sharjah, and Mexico, all countries that have governments and/or beliefs that I don’t necessarily ascribe to. (And believe me, there are a number of things I’d like to change in more than one of those places.) Visiting and writing about the cuisine of a country is not an endorsement for or against its policies or its government.

The situation in the Middle East is challenging and one that’s not going to be resolved on a food blog. And most likely not by someone who bakes cookies for a living. Many people have strong opinions on the political situation in the Middle East and as someone of direct Arabic descent, I am doing my best to learn about, and to respect, all the people who make up this interesting part of the world.

My intention of going to Israel was to meet the people who live there, who represent a wide swath of cultures and encompass a variety of political, religious, and social beliefs. I came mostly, however, to learn about the cuisine, which is as diverse as the culture.

I certainly couldn’t go everywhere, and do and eat everything that I wanted to do in one week, and I’m hoping to go back one day and not just hit the places I missed, but to stay in touch with the generous and wonderful people who I met. And I also have on my agenda, plans to visit other countries in the region in the future, as time permits.

If you wish to comment on various dishes, ingredients, cultural and geographic variations, and methods that are used in other countries, and so forth, all of those are welcome here. (Read my comment policy for further information.) Certain dishes go by certain names in various countries, so please respect others in whatever part of the world you wish to discuss.

But it’s not appropriate to make certain assumptions about why I took this trip, or about the people who live in Israel who I met, or about the neighboring countries that are based on conjecture. I do ask that people refrain from leaving comments of that nature and respect not only me, but the various people that visit the site. I travel to other countries for the food, and to meet local cooks and bakers, and am happy to share those stories, places, recipes, and people here. And sharing them is the intention of this blog. -David

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  • Ron
    July 5, 2012 10:11pm

    FWIW – The closest Tahini to the Israeli kind found in the US is probably the Trader’s Joe kind available in small containers for around $2.50 as of July 2012.

  • Laurian
    July 6, 2012 1:00am

    So glad to see you had great time in Israel, I am always blown away by the food, particularly the salads and the dairy. I spent time on Kibbutz Yotvata which is amazing for yoghurts, milkshakes, the list goes on!
    We also had a fabulous meal in Jerusalem in a restaurant called The Eucalyptus that specialises in food from the bible but with a modern twist. Was outstanding.

  • Natalie
    July 6, 2012 4:22am

    Thanks to Ron for his mention about the TJ’s tahini!

    Fellow Readers:
    Not on the subject of hummus, but certainly on chickpeas, I’ve just “discovered” the delights of removing their skins and toasting them in a skillet. Any suggestions for spices/seasonings with which to toss them? (Other than sea salt which I find is lovely)


  • July 6, 2012 2:09pm

    Hummus is a very divisive subject alright. My boyfriend and I have frequent disagreements on it. I like mine with a strong tahini hit, and he does not. When I am in the UK/Ireland I am usually lazy and buy it because Marks and Spencers does fantastic very smooth reasonably priced hummus (they were the first people to bring it mainstream in Ireland and the UK). In Holland/Denmark, the packaged stuff isn’t very good, so I make my own.

  • LeeLee
    July 6, 2012 3:28pm

    I love fresh green chickpeas. I first ate them in Southwest Harbor, Maine, as a bar snack, roasted and sprinkled with something akin to Old Bay. I was hooked. I regularly find fresh chickpeas at the Dekalb Farmer’s Market in Atlanta. They also turned up at the fabulous Head House Farm Market in Philly last week.

    The first few times I bought fresh chickpeas, I didn’t get enough. My advice is to buy way more than you think you need, especially if you plan to roast them as they will disappear like lightning. Shelling is tedious work, because it’s only one pea to a tough pod, but like David says of the women peeling eggplants, a few hands can make it pleasant work!

    (Just last week several of us sat around pitting quarts of fresh sour cherries and no one noticed any time go by. When I did it myself, the clock stopped moving!. Must get off to market to get fresh cream today to make David’s Sour Cherry ice cream.)

    Thank you so much, David. Your books and blog have become essentials in my household.

  • Nigel
    July 6, 2012 9:44pm

    I love hummus but seldom buy it. But, I had some of the best hummus ever in a restaurant on a cliff overlooking the sea in Goa, India. We went every night to watch the sunset and to eat the hummus – I think the hummus may have been the stronger reason. And was the hummus so good because it was made by an Israeli man, or because we ate it sitting on top of a cliff, watching the sun do down in Goa India?

  • July 6, 2012 10:48pm

    I lıke patlıcan and humus :) Türkiye de patlıcan közlemesi, humus çok sevilir. hepsi şahaen ve benim damak zevkime hitap ediyor :) süpersiniz very nice

  • July 7, 2012 6:30pm

    As someone who is a HUGE hummus fan, that hummus factory tour sounds like heaven to me. ;) It sounds like you had a lovely trip, and I hope that one day, I can get to travel and eat like that!

  • July 8, 2012 1:34pm

    You’re right that the hummus I make at home isn’t the same from the restaurant. I used to frequent the Hummus Place restaurant in NYC. I think they use imported tahini. The texture is so smooth, I’m afraid to know the amount of olive oil they use, haha.

    • July 8, 2012 2:08pm
      David Lebovitz

      It was interesting that so many people in Israel told me that they bought it, because it was as good – if not better – than what they made at home. Perhaps it’s similar to bread – one can make it at home, but it’s often better when a pro makes it. Still, I’ve been making my own hummus since I returned from this trip. And it’s not bad : )

  • July 9, 2012 2:35am

    Way back in the ’80s I worked my way through a huge kibbutz kitchen near Caesaria, then lived in a Moroccan Jewish town in the north, eating familiar Arab foods and unfamiliar Jewish ones. The vegetables are better because Israel has a climate like southern California or the south of France–dry with intense sun. They invented drip irrigation out of necessity. Plus people really buy and eat fresh vegetables in quantity. In kibbutz I processed more eggplants any given week than I know how to talk about. For fried eggplant salads there were the bread slicing machines in the back room–the only sensible way to deal with 100 or so eggplants at a time. Best hummus–skins removed, no fillers, and sumac, Aleppo pepper, and caraway added to the tehina, lemon, garlic and cumin.

    Best picks from way back when were mostly produce or street foods:
    Z’khug (chile/garlic/cilantro paste).
    Druze labaneh–different from the US Armenian stuff (also good, but blander). The closest thing here tastewise is goat cheese, which it probably is. Sold in scoops under olive oil at the village shuk; bring your own jars.
    oil cured olives; pickled eggplants for felafel
    Romanian food, the kind of old-world slow cooking that knocks you out and makes you realize how much flavor is missing in modern meat dishes. Hope you got to try some. Plus their bakeries have unusual things like poppyseed strudels.
    Borekas–really, really bad for the arteries but the fresh-made ones are wonderful.
    Fine-grained fresh couscous. Like eating hot curried snowflakes.
    Loquats (nefles or “shesek”), figs and pomegranates straight off the trees.
    Shiba–my best guess is artemisia or “p’tit absinthe”, it’s a silvery, feathery-looking herb with a taste between mint and fig leaf, for tea in the wintertime.
    Chicken hearts and livers in a mixed grill with cumin and garlic
    Cardamom in cookies, coffee, and anywhere else
    Hraime–fish steaks baked with hot peppers, garlic, cumin and caraway–screaming hot enough to knock you off your chair; served cold (thank g-d) for Saturday lunch
    candied whole kumquats, just because

  • Jenn
    July 9, 2012 3:25am

    Hi David –

    Thank you for posting about your trip. I am going to Israel in a few months for the first time with my dad and sister and have been trying to psyche my boyfriend up to come along. We were in Paris last summer and I used your blog as our staple guide. We had the most fabulous time (and I blew him away with the restaurant choices, so thanks). Hopefully seeing these posts on Israel will help to motivate him…Especially since he eats hummus by the tub.

    Out of curiosity was there a best falafel place you went to? How does it compare to L’as du?


  • donna taylor
    July 10, 2012 5:11pm

    Perhaps you already know the book…. I’d like to recommend Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbook, Plenty, vegetable recipes from his London restaurant, Ottolenghi. YO writes a column for the Guardian on vegetarian cooking even though he’s not a vegetarian. He was raised in Israel and Palestine. I think you’ll find his style refreshing, interesting and unpretentious, like yours. Orangette recommended the book to me. And now I’m off to chop that Israeli salad!

    • July 10, 2012 10:17pm
      David Lebovitz

      I’m a big fan of Yotam and I featured his recipe for Fried Beans with Sumac, Feta, and Sorrel when Plenty came out. He has a book coming out about the foods of Jerusalem in the fall, and I’m really looking forward to it.

  • Dana
    July 11, 2012 7:41am

    Hi David,

    I have enjoyed immensely this series. Israel/Palestine is a place I have always wanted to visit but due to the political reasons you have sited above, I dont think I can be granted entry :) Thank you for sharing. Us, Middleasterns, have a lot in common when it comes to food and culture- hope more ppl showcase and highlight that.


  • Noémie
    July 11, 2012 4:38pm

    I really enjoy reading your blog, it is always full of humour and I always learn many things about food, and even about my own country (France).
    I don’t think I’ve ever left a comment (well, maybe a couple of them, I just can’t remember).

    This one is just to say “respect”, for that very sensible note at the end of this post. It’s so well stated, so sensible and clear, there’s nothing to add.

    And thank you for sharing with us your experiences about food in Israel. I love all food from the middle east (no matter by what name it’s called). Tahini, hummus (houmous in french!) and “caviar d’aubergines”, tsatsik, labné, you name it, I love it!

    So, thank you again. And again, that last note in this post has made my respect for you even greater. I bow to that.

  • Jennifer P
    July 13, 2012 12:15am

    I am confused, does the hummus there have eggplant instead of tahini, in addition to tahini or is the eggplant for a separate recipe

  • July 19, 2012 7:42am

    Loving all your posts about your culinary exploration through Israel. The food really looks divine. Like a PP, I am fascinated by food production facilities and this hummus factory sounds incredible, Love that they are processing the eggplant by hand. I bet the hummus you ate there was amazing! Now you have me craving it. :)

  • July 22, 2012 6:39pm

    1986, Jerusalem, The Arab Market, Butcher’s row. I still crave the hummus garnished with cooked spiced ground lamb and toasted pine nuts I shared with friends. I think it was made with fava beans. Went back a few years ago but wasn’t allowed to go that deeply inside the market for security reasons. So sad, I don’t have pictures of it but my memory of it will stay with me forever.

  • Tota in SF
    July 27, 2012 5:59pm

    @Natalie, since you asked about spices for your skillet toasted chickpeas, I can tell you that Heidi Swanson (101cookbooks) has a great oven roasted recipe where you mix spices including 3 different paprikas and a touch of olive oil to coat the peas, then roast on a baking sheet in oven. Great snack for cocktail hour….just be mindful to keep an eye on them, they can burn easily in oven!

  • Sarah Moore Leventhal
    July 27, 2012 9:04pm

    It is my first time commenting, but I have been a fan of David L’s….since I first catered with his galette recipes… Now, I watch for him and spread his “gospel.”
    He is spot on with the spirit of Tel Aviv, named (I think Travel and Leisure one of Top TEN fun cities on the planet! I agree.. and I agree; see Tel Aviv first, then finish with Jerusalem. T. A. to open your eyes and nose and hands; Jerusalem your heart and wherever you keep your tolerance and kindness. NOW, I have to go make challah and rugelach and mandelbrot and borscht if I don’t run out of time… And I bought a Vita-Mix, so that my hummus would taste more like Israel’s…..

  • Dinah
    July 31, 2012 1:46pm

    Hummus, home-made.
    first, buy a pound or two of chickpeas. soak the whole amount in lots of water for about 10 hours – you can do 12 easily though. Some add about a quarter teaspoon of sodium bicarbonate, but it isn’t necessary. Change the water mid-soak.
    strain the chickpeas, put them in a large pot with enough water to cover + 2-3 inches above.
    boil, then lower the flame and cook, covered, for about 2 hours. They should be really very soft. Cooking can take even 3, so don’t worry if they’re still undercooked after 2 hours.
    the right softness for hummus is when the chickpeas are easily squished between the fingers.
    once they are cooked, strain the chickpeas, reserving the cooking liquid!
    allow to cool, and ladle into little sandwich bags – one ladle-full per portion. add half a ladle of the cooking liquid into each bag, and tie it up. store in the freezer and then you’ll have cooked chickpeas for great hummus in no time!

    now, once you want hummus, take one portion out of its bag (enough for two portions of hummus), and thaw in the microwave until very warm. pour the chickpeas with the water into a food processor, add 1/4 cup raw tahini, the juice of 1/2-1 lemon, 1 clove of garlic, and a touch of warm water. season with salt, cumin, a dash of olive oil. blend until it’s all uniform. If you’re going to make it a few hours or a day ahead, make sure it’s a little runnier than you like it because it really thickens in the fridge!
    to serve, smear 2-3 heaping tablespoons of hummus on a plate in a circular motion (spoon in center so there are raised edges to it). drizzle olive oil, sprinkle pine nuts, chopped parsley, a dash of cayenne and cumin.
    beh te’avon!