How To Make Toum, the Lebanese Garlic Sauce You’ll Want to Eat on Everything

updated Jan 29, 2021
Toum (Lebanese Garlic Sauce)

Think of Toum as a heavenly vegan oil emulsion or an aioli without the egg

Prep10 minutes to 40 minutes

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toum sits next to veggies on a large oval plate
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

Toum, the smooth, fluffy Lebanese garlic spread people the world over go bonkers for, is the ultimate expression of pure garlic flavor — a must-have in my fridge at all times. Think of toum (which is vegan) as an aioli without the egg. The ingredients are simply garlic, neutral oil, lemon juice, and salt, expertly combined to create a heavenly emulsion you’ll want to eat on everything.

Toum is the Arabic word for — you guessed it! — garlic. In Middle Eastern cuisine, toum is traditionally served as an accompaniment to grilled kebabs, but you can use it for much more than that. I serve toum as a dip for bread, chips, or crudité; use it as a sandwich spread; stir it into vinaigrettes for salad or vegetables; add it to pasta sauces or pretty much any recipe that calls for minced garlic; and, of course, serve it alongside my kebabs and shawarma.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Of the many dishes I learned growing up as a second-generation Lebanese American, toum was not one of them — I had only ever eaten it at restaurants. My friend Janet, whose husband is Lebanese, once casually asked me, “Don’t you just live for toum?” That set me on a path of toum discovery, landing me in the kitchen with what could only be described as many toum fails (and a deeper appreciation for why Mom wasn’t making much toum at home).

In my initial attempts, I struggled to get the garlic to emulsify with the oil. I had never made my own mayo before, so I didn’t have that as a guiding light. I had also never used the drip hole in the food processor, so I didn’t know this would assist in the necessary, ever-so-slow marrying of oil and garlic.

But the road to greatness is paved with failures — that is, opportunities, right? Eventually I cracked the code and found toum success. Here, I’ll walk you through how to make smooth, fluffy toum every time, so that you can skip the trial and error and head straight to perfection.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

How to Make Foolproof Toum

Toum is made with very few ingredients, so it’s important to choose them carefully. Look for garlic that is very firm and always use fresh lemon juice. And this isn’t the place for that fancy olive oil. The assertive flavor can overwhelm the garlic, which is the star here. Instead, go for an oil with a neutral flavor, like canola or safflower.

Once you’ve gathered your ingredients, it’s time to get started. Toum can be made two ways: by hand or in a food processor. Toum made by hand is not as smooth, but it is equally delicious and you can make it in smaller quantities. Which route you take dictates the amount of garlic you start with.

  • By hand: Any amount, but 5 to 6 garlic cloves, minced or grated, is manageable.
  • Standard (7- to 11-cup) food processor: 1 1/2 cups of garlic cloves (from 4 to 5 heads)

After combining the garlic with salt and lemon juice, begin adding tiny drops of oil. And when I say tiny, I mean tiny. I have made (and messed up) enough toum to know that the key to toum success is slowly adding the oil in very, very small quantities. Use a teaspoon for better control and dribble one droplet at a time into the bowl or the spout on the top of the food processor, whisking or processing constantly as you add the oil.

You’ll know you’re on the right track if the garlic takes on a slight creaminess. When the oil is introduced too quickly and/or too much is added, the garlic just looks like garlic coated with oil. “Failed” toum is a thin, liquidy mixture — it’s still usable as a delectable, drizzle-able garlic, but it’s not toum. The good news is that you don’t have to painstakingly dribble in the oil for the entire process. Once creaminess is achieved, it doesn’t really matter how much more oil is added.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Lemon juice and ice water are important for balancing out the strong flavor of toum. To adjust the flavor or thin the toum into a sauce, whisk or blend in ice water one tablespoon at a time at the very end of the process, after the emulsion is set. Taste the toum after each addition for desired flavor and thickness. If the garlic flavor is still too strong, pop it in the fridge for a few days — the flavor will mellow as it sits.

Toum will keep for up two weeks in an airtight container in the fridge. But trust me: Once you begin experimenting with all the ways to eat it, it certainly won’t last that long.

Credit: Joe Lingeman
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Here's how to make toum in the food processor.

Toum (Lebanese Garlic Sauce)

Think of Toum as a heavenly vegan oil emulsion or an aioli without the egg

Prep time 10 minutes to 40 minutes

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

Option 1: By hand (makes about 3/4 cup)

  • 6 to 8 cloves

    peeled garlic

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 2 teaspoons

    freshly squeezed lemon juice

  • 1/2 cup

    neutral oil, such as canola or safflower

  • 2 teaspoons

    ice water

Option 2: Large batch in a regular food processor (makes 4 to 5 cups)

  • 4 to 5 heads

    garlic, or 1 1/2 cups peeled garlic cloves

  • 2 teaspoons

    kosher salt

  • 3 tablespoons

    freshly squeezed lemon juice

  • 4 cups

    neutral oil, such as canola or safflower

  • 1/4 cup

    ice water

Equipment

  • Whisk and large bowl, or regular food processor

  • Measuring cups and spoons

  • Chef’s knife and cutting board

  • Microplane (optional)

  • Flexible spatula

Instructions

Making by hand:

  1. Halve the garlic. Halve 6 to 8 garlic cloves lengthwise until you have 1/4 cup. Remove any green sprouts.

  2. Mince the garlic and combine with the salt. Mince or finely grate the garlic into a medium bowl. Add 1 teaspoon kosher salt and stir to combine. Set the bowl on a towel or use a non-skid bowl to hold it in place as you whisk.

  3. Add the lemon juice. Mix 2 teaspoons lemon juice 1 teaspoon at a time into the garlic, waiting until the first teaspoon is completely incorporated before adding the remaining teaspoon. At this point, the mixture should be a very soft paste and smoothie-like in consistency.

  4. Add a drop of oil at a time. Measure out 1/2 cup neutral oil in a measuring cup with a spout. Take your time here, the whole process of incorporating the oil can take 15 to 20 minutes. While whisking constantly, use a teaspoon to add 1 drop of the oil into the garlic. Stop and scrape down the bowl. Repeat whisking in the oil 1 drop at a time, stopping and scraping down the bowl between each addition. At first it will seem like nothing is happening.

  5. Add a few drops of oil at a time. Once the garlic begins to look a bit creamy (after about 2 to 3 tablespoons are added), add the oil a couple of drops at a time, stopping and scraping the bowl between each addition. Repeat until an emulsion is fully formed and it becomes thick and spreadable.

  6. Stream in the remaining oil. While whisking constantly, drizzle in the remaining oil in a slow, thin, steady stream. The final consistency should be light and fluffy, like mayonnaise or whipped cream.

  7. Add the ice water. While whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in 2 teaspoons ice water. Once added, the texture will go from thick and almost gelatinous to fluffy and creamy.

Make in the food processor:

  1. Halve the garlic. Peel 4 to 5 heads garlic until you have 1 1/2 cups peeled cloves. Halve the garlic cloves lengthwise and remove any green sprouts.

  2. Process the garlic and salt together. Place the garlic in a food processor. Add 2 teaspoons kosher salt and pulse until minced and paste-like, stopping to scrape down the bowl as needed, about 10 pulses.

  3. Add the lemon juice. Add 3 tablespoons lemon juice a tablespoon at a time, pulsing to completely incorporate each addition before adding the next. At this point, the mixture should be a very soft paste, smoothie-like in consistency.

  4. Add a drop of oil at a time. Measure out 4 cups neutral oil in a measuring cup with a spout. Take your time here, the whole process of incorporating the oil can take 15 to 20 minutes. With the motor running, use a teaspoon to drop 1 drop of the oil into the garlic. Stop and scrape down the bowl. Repeat processing in the oil 1 drop at a time, stopping and scraping down the bowl between each addition. At first it will seem like nothing is happening.

  5. Add a few drops of oil at a time. Once the garlic begins to look a bit creamy (after about 1/4 cup oil is added), add the oil a couple of drops at a time, stopping and scraping the bowl between each addition. Repeat until an emulsion is fully formed and it becomes thick and spreadable.

  6. Stream in the remaining oil. With the motor running, drizzle in the remaining oil in a very slow, thin, steady stream through the tube. After adding 1 1/4 cups of the oil, the sound of the mixing will change and sound like churning ice cream, signifying the mixture is thickening. The final consistency should be light and fluffy, like mayonnaise or whipped cream.

  7. Add the ice water. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in 1/4 cup ice water. Once added, the texture will go from thick and almost gelatinous to smooth and creamy.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: It is best to give toum time to rest before serving, so it's a good idea to make it a few days in advance. This will help mellow the garlic flavor.

Toum sauce: Toum can indeed be made into a pourable yet still thick sauce, by simply whisking in more ice water and lemon juice at the very end, after the toum spread is fully formed and completed.

Storage: Refrigerate the toum in an airtight container up to 2 weeks.

Adapted with permission from Rose Water & Orange Blossoms: Fresh and Classic Recipes from My Lebanese Kitchen by Maureen Abood (Running Press, 2015).