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Taste-Off: The best new-wave hummus — and the ho-hums

Classic hummus is earthy, creamy, low-calorie, protein-packed goodness. But good is even better when hummus — a puree of chickpeas, tahini, lemon and garlic — is kicked up with fresh, surprising flavors.
Flavored hummus used to mean a dash of something Mediterranean puddled in the middle of the tub. But hummus has turned a flavor corner. It now comes in an array of inventive options, including carrot, avocado, artichoke, edamame, eggplant, herbs, jalapeño, barbecue and curry. A few are made with black or white beans instead of chickpeas.
The best flavored hummus options are smooth and creamy, with fresh, distinct flavors — bold but not overpowering. The worst are grainy or soupy, or laced with cloying artificial flavors. Some don’t deliver even a hint of the flavors promised on the label. And while high acidity helps shelf stability, huge doses of citric acid drown out every other flavor.
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Hummus can vary widely in calories, so check the nutritional details below, which refer to a 2-tablespoon serving. Some varieties rely on processing and water to provide creaminess; others add oil to yield velvety texture, but that can add significant calories.
For this taste test, we tried the most unusual hummus flavors on store shelves, rating them on texture, balance and flavor. Here’s the scoop on the best hummus hybrids — and those not worth a dip.
The Hummus Guy Organic Black Bean Chipotle Harissa Hummus
Brick red hummus with bold, supremely balanced flavors make this a delicious bite for anyone who loves big flavors. 50 calories per 2-tablespoon serving, 4 g fat, 130 mg sodium, 2 g protein. Fans of hot-hot flavor should check out the Spicy Jalapeño and Cilantro, too. $4.69 for 8 ounces at Whole Foods. (4 stars)
Cedar’s Organic Balsamic Caramelized Onion Hommus
Those who love caramelized onions will fall hard for this decidedly sweet mix. Generous bits of onion are nestled on top — and stirred into the extra-creamy hummus. 80 calories, 6 g fat, 110 mg sodium, 3 g carbohydrates. The Za’atar flavor made with a fresh hit of herbs and sumac is also pleasant. $4.99 for 10 ounces at Sprouts. (4 stars)
Boar’s Head Fire Roasted Artichoke & Spinach Hummus
Chunks of tender roasted artichokes and a good balance of herbs and garlic make for a hearty, satisfying bite. 70 calories, 5 g fat, 160 mg sodium, 4 g carbohydrates. $4.99 for 10 ounces at Safeway. (3½ stars)
Lantana Sweet & Spicy Black Bean Hummus
Fans of Southwestern flavors and salsa will appreciate this non-chickpea hummus spiked with chipotle and cumin and topped with a corn-tomato relish. It’s both sweet and spicy. 45 calories, 2 g fat, 150 mg sodium, 5 g carbohydrates. The company’s Three Pepper White Bean is also good. $4.99 for 10 ounces at Safeway. (3½ stars)
Trader Joe’s Chunky Olive Hummus
This combination of chickpea and olives is inspired. It’s fresh and packed with bits of green and black olives — perfect for those who can’t get enough olives. 80 calories, 5 g fat, 160 mg sodium, 6 g carbohydrates. $2.29 for 7 ounces. (3½ stars)
Trader Joe’s White Bean & Basil Hummus
This ultra-creamy white bean hummus is infused with basil and topped with with pine nuts and bits of roasted pepper. It’s fun and tasty, but a bit too oily. Note that the Tomato & Basil is very tomato-forward but lacks basil. The Eggplant Hummus is certainly edible, but it’s missing eggplant flavor. 60 calories, 4.5 g fat, 135 mg sodium, 4 g carbohydrates. $3.99 for 16 ounces. (3 stars)
Hope Organic Thai Coconut Curry Hummus
This dip is a bit sweet, with a coarse texture due to bits of coconut, but it delivers great curry notes that would work magic with chicken or fish. 45 calories, 2.5 g fat, 125 mg sodium, 4 g carbohydrates. Hope’s other inventive flavors include a cumin-forward Spicy Avocado Black Garlic and Red Pepper. The vinegar-forward Buffalo Bleu is not recommended. $3.99 for 8 ounces at Whole Foods. (3 stars)
Trader Joe’s Three Layer Hummus
Layering three hummus flavors — cilantro, jalapeno and traditional — is a good idea, but the flavors are unbalanced. Cilantro steals the show. 70 calories, 4.5 g fat, 130 mg sodium, 7 g carbohydrates. The Tomato & Basil hummus also has a balance issue: The sun-dried tomato flavor drowns out the basil. $3.49 for 12 ounces. (2 stars)
Lantana Spicy Yellow Lentil Hummus
This pretty puree of white beans stirred up with spicy lentils is oddly chunky and simply too acid-forward to recommend. Vinegar in hummus is a mistake. 60 calories, 4 g fat, 130 mg sodium, 5 g carbohydrates. The Edamame flavor suffers from the same flaw. $4.99 for 10 ounces at Sprouts. (1 star)
Sabra Mediterranean Black Bean Dip with Roasted Tomato & Smoked Paprika
A lack of freshness and unbalanced flavors make this creamy, non-chickpea dip a poor choice. 60 calories, 3.5 g fat, 110 mg sodium, 4 g carbohydrates. $2.99 for 8 ounces at Safeway. (½ a star)
Sprouts Everything Hummus
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If the idea was to mimic the flavors of an everything bagel, this is a miss. The seeds make for a gritty, off-flavored bite. Good idea, bad execution. 50 calories, 3 g fat, 210 mg sodium, 4 g carbohydrates. $3.99 for 10 ounces at Sprouts. (½ a star)
Sabra Sweet & Smoky BBQ Hummus
Spit and rinse. Cloying artificial smoke flavor kills this dip. It’s far too smoky, with a bitter aftertaste. 70 calories, 4.5 g fat, 120 mg sodium, 5 g carbohydrates. $4.99 for 10 ounces at Safeway. (No stars)
Reviews are based on product samples purchased by this newspaper or provided by manufacturers. Contact Jolene Thym at timespickyeater@gmail.com. Read more Taste-off columns at www.mercurynews.com/tag/taste-off .
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