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Toum – The Lebanese Garlic Sauce

Toum is the buttery garlic sauce from Lebanon. It goes great with grilled meat to French fries to pita chips. In other words, it is very versatile- use it to make meat marinade, make salad dressing, as a spread and so on. Think of it like a garlicky aioli, but without the eggs. Vegan, Nut Free, Gluten Free

Toum - the Lebanese garlic sauce

You have the garlic, oil, and lemon juice plus a pinch of salt. These ingredients get transformed into a fluffy spread that I personally love with French fries.  We spread this liberally on a pita wrap. I will slather it on chicken and make garlicky roast chicken.

Why Do I Love Toum

  • Vegan – I can safely leave it on the counter for the little monsters in the house to munch on and not worry about food poisoning.
  • Versatile – Add a few herbs and slather it on a slice of French bread and toast. Voila, you have garlic bread !
  • Mix herbs and spices and use a garlicky marinade for roasts – potatoes roasted with this sauce is absolutely delicious.
  • Fun to make – especially with kids. Watch them go from “gross garlic” to “ummm that’s yum” :-).

What Makes It Fun To Make With Kids?

Here is  why – Toum is  essentially an  emulsion.   You have  ingredients  that are  not at  all similar – liquids  that  don’t  mix  and a  solid.   There is  no  cooking  involved  and   yet you  end up with a  fluffy spread  that   seems  nothing  like the  ingredients   you started  with.

Ingredients for Toum the Lebanese garlic sauce

These are all the ingredients that go into this sauce – garlic, water, lemon juice, oil, and salt. This here is your vegan alternative to mayonnaise. It spreads like mayonnaise, but with quite bold flavors. Isn’t it very different?

Transformations  like  these  capture  the  children’s imagination, and  it is   something  different  f rom  decorating  cupcakes  or  making  sugary treats.

What Is An Emulsion ? 

An emulsion is essentially a mixture of two or more liquids that are normally immiscible (unmixable) – think oil and water. To get a stable emulsion, one that does not separate immediately you need something to bind the different types of liquids together. This “something” is your emulsifying agent. It creates a chemical bond with the different liquids and becomes a bridge between them. And in this case, it is garlic.

The fluffy sauce in the picture does not look anything like the ingredients that go into it. To get to this texture we have to use the ‘mayonnaise method’. Essentially we mix the liquids so much that the molecules are dispersed randomly within each other. In this case, the lemon juice molecules are trapped by the oil with the garlic acting as the emulsifier. Think of it this way – the oil and lemon juice want to separate, so they try to repel each other while the garlic tries to keep them together. All that opposing forces give it the fluffiness and the binding forces of garlic give it the stability.

Yes, it is science!!! For those with active imaginations – two other commonly used emulsifying agents are egg yolk and mustard. Maybe you can find a way to make a less garlicky version of toum.

How To Make Toum

What we attempt to do here is to make an emulsion by suspending the water and lemon juice in oil. Since water (or lemon juice) does not mix with oil we have to introduce it to the oil slowly making sure that it gets incorporated well before adding more. The emulsifier, garlic, in this case, has to be ready to bind both liquids together. So here is how it is done

  • Grind garlic and salt into a smooth paste.
  • Add oil to the mix slowly until a smooth mixture forms.
  • Slowly start introducing water/lemon juice to it. Add more oil if needed.
  • Go slow the mix will turn fluffy after a few minutes.
Making Toum - the Lebanese garlic sauce

So here are some shots of Toum being made. This one was made with cold-pressed (extra virgin) olive oil, as I was looking for the olive and garlic flavors in it. As you can see the color is pale yellow.

For white Toum use canola or other neutral oils.

Toum made with Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Here is the olive oil Toum on pita bread. The flavors go well here – as I was pairing it with grilled meat and veggies and olive oil flavors were quite a nice addition. If I were to add French fries to the wrap I would have preferred the all-white version.

Tips and Troubleshooting

  •  Remove any green parts from the garlic. Slit the garlic and remove any green shoots from the inside as well. The green garlic turns the sauce bitter.
  • Grind the garlic to a smooth paste before adding oil.
  • If the blender jar is large it may not process the garlic into a smooth paste. Use a small jar or double or triple the quantity in that case.
  • The color changes depending on the oil used. With cold-pressed olive oil (EVOO) you get a pale yellow Toum, which I love. For the snow-white variety use canola oil or vegetable oil.
  • Do not let the contents heat up.  If the blender seems to warm up stop processing and allow for it to cool down before proceeding. This is where the cold water becomes beneficial.
  • If it breaks, mix an egg white or 1 tbsp. of Dijon mustard and blend again. It won’t be the traditional Toum, but will still be delicious.

Interesting Tidbits

Here is a secret – Toum can be made with only garlic and oil! Why? because garlic has water and the emulsifying agents are released when the garlic is ground to a paste! So essentially garlic alone will suffice if it is fresh and has a good amount of moisture. The water and lemon juice are used to tone down the pungent garlic flavors.

Did you know that Toum was traditionally made using a mortar and pestle? No, I am not going to try that! But if you need another challenge in your life – go ahead try it with mortar and pestle! There is no issue with overheating when using mortar and pestle.  As for me, I am happy with my blender.

Here is the recipe for Toum.

Cracker with white dip showing the texture, with dip and crackers in the background.

Toum

By Syama
Toum is the Lebanese garlic sauce popular in the middle east. It has a fluffy, easy to spread texture. The flavors of garlic are strong but mellowed by the addition of lemon juice and oil. Try this vegan sauce in your dips, marinades, and spreads.
5 from 4 votes
Prep Time 5 mins
Total Time 15 mins
Course Dip
Cuisine Lebanese

Ingredients
  

  • 1/3  C Garlic Cloves peeled
  • 1/2 – 3/4 Tsp Sea Salt  To  taste
  • 1 C Oil Notes
  • 2 – 3 Tbsp Fresh  Squeezed Lemon Juice To taste
  • 2-3 Tbsp Ice Water Optional (Notes)

Instructions
 

Prep the garlic

  • Peel and slice the garlic cloves in half length wise.  Remove any green parts from the garlic.
  • Place the garlic in a food processor or blender jar and process until ground fine.  Stop and scrape the sides in between.
  • If the machine has a spout that allows you to introduce ingredients while processing slowly drizzle about 1 tsp of oil into the garlic. Otherwise, open and add 1 tsp oil and blend. Scrape the bowl. Keep repeating the process until the garlic is creamy.
  • Start adding more oil alternating with few drops of water or lemon juice until the fluffy emulsion is formed. Go slow and wait for it to take effect. Taste and add few more drops of lemon or water as desired.

Notes

  • Use any neutral oil such as canola or safflower for the classic white sauce. 
  • I would recommend using ice-cold water in this recipe. It seems to mellow the flavors and keep the sauce from heating in the blender. 
  • Remember to remove all the green parts from the garlic. 

Important: Nutrition Values are estimates. Actuals vary based on ingredients and serving size.

Tried this recipe?Mention @Oventales or tag #Oventales on Instagram

Want to know more about the science of emulsions These resources might help.

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