The Middle Eastern spread hummus is a simple affair, made with boiled chickpeas that are pureed and mixed with tahini, a ground roasted sesame seed paste, and little else besides lemon juice, olive oil, and salt. Once available only in Middle Eastern markets, hummus has become so wildly popular, it’s everywhere now, ready for dipping crisp vegetables or triangles of pita. In the Middle East, there are shops called hummusia, where the spread is often served with a swirl of olive oil and a sprinkle of spice.
To taste the plainest, unadorned flavor of hummus available in this region, we brought seven brands to 13 gastronomy students at Boston University. These classic versions included lemon juice, garlic, oil, salt, and pepper. Served with fresh pita for swiping through the dip, the hummus, noted the students, was a study in neutrals — from the light beige-y white of Pikante Hummus Classic (imported from Israel) that one taster described as “tapioca color” to the goldish hues of Sabra Classic Hummus, called “mustard-ly” by another taster.