Classic Middle Eastern dip made from pureed chickpeas, tahini, garlic and lemon. Chickpeas are made more digestible by soaking and cooking with aromatics.
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01. What is Hummus?
Hummus (or houmous) is a creamy dip made from pureed chickpeas, tahini (sesame paste), garlic and lemon juice. It is usually served as a dip for raw vegetables like sliced carrots, cucumber or bell peppers, or with flat breads like pita. Hummus is also commonly served as a condiment to that other paean to chickpeas, the falafel ball. Because falafel is deep-fried, it has a very dry and crispy crust that benefits from a moist and creamy sauce.
02. Why are chickpeas difficult to digest?
Pulses like chickpeas contain complex carbohydrates that are difficult to break down and digest. Oligosaccharides are carbohydrate chains comprised of three to ten sugars (oligos- meaning a few, and -saccharide meaning sugar). Humans do not have the necessary digestive enzymes to break down oligosaccharides. This means that chickpeas resist digestion in the small intestine, and pass intact to the colon. Once in the large intestine, they are broken down through the process of fermentation, which produces gas (think of fizzy yeast-fermented beer). In a healthy gut, this may result in some minor flatulance, but otherwise serves as a beneficial prebiotic. That is, the ‘resistant’ starch provides food for good bacteria, strengthening the gut wall and reducing inflammation. However, those who suffer from digestive disorders like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) may not be able to tolerate prebiotics. Instead, excessive gas will be produced, leading to painful bloating, cramping and diarrhoea.
03. Why do you soak pulses before cooking?
Leaving pulses to soak in water for several hours before cooking serves two purposes. Firstly, it significantly reduces cooking time by saturating and softening dried beans and peas. After rehydration, they will swell up to three times in size (see accompanying photo for a ‘before’ and ‘after’ comparison). Secondly, soaking removes phytic acid and increases digestibility. Phytic acid cannot be digested by humans, and irritates the gut. Pulses are seeds, which means that they are the dormant germ of a new plant. They do not want to be eaten, and so they have developed a clever way of locking up their nutrients to resist digestion. Soaking tricks the nuts into waking up and releasing their nutrients.
04. Can I speed up the cooking time of pulses?
Chickpeas can take a long time to cook, particularly if they are old or if you are cooking them in hard water. I live in a hard water area, and the last time I attempted to cook chickpeas in plain water I had to give up and go to bed after 5 hours! Adding baking soda reduces the cooking time by as much as 75%, as it softens the cell walls. Some people suggest adding baking soda to the cooking liquid, but this can impart an unpleasant soapy taste and slimy texture. It also means that you cannot repurpose the cooking liquid for other cooking projects. So it is better to add baking soda to the soaking liquid.
05. What can I do with the leftover chickpea cooking liquid?
‘Aquafaba’ is the name given to bean cooking liquid. As the beans cook, they release starch into the water, creating a gelatinous liquid. The superior gelling properties of this liquid mean that it is commonly used as an egg replacement in vegan cooking. The general rule of thumb is to replace 1 egg with 3 tablespoons of aquafaba – assuming that the aquafaba has a nice thick consistency, and doesn’t need boiling to reduce.
06. What else can I do to improve the digestibility of chickpeas?
Slightly overcooking the chickpeas is an obvious way to increase digestibility. Some herbs and spices help with the digestion of pulses, so can be added to the cooking liquid. The list of beneficial aromatics includes bay leaves, fennel seeds, cumin and sea vegetables. If, like me, you are slowly recovering digestive health, I would advise using hummus as a bridge to ease yourself back into eating pulses. Being slow-cooked and pureed it is much more manageable than a plate of rice and beans or bean chilli.
Dips with Bread