It’s light and fluffy, healthy and vegan. It can be a snack or a meal, a spread or a dip. Ask engineers and scientists to create their own recipes for a competition, and you can bet that they’re going to take it seriously.
It’s hummus — and an annual event celebrating the stuff is quickly becoming a staple of MIT’s Independent Activities Period (IAP). This year’s MIT Hummus Taste Off on Jan. 19 had something for everyone. Unless, of course, you’re not fond of chickpeas.
“All we’re asking is that you give chickpeas a chance,” says Eliad Shmuel, program director for MIT Hillel. Known as the “hummus junkie” around campus, Shmuel helps organize the annual event, which is sponsored by MIT Hillel, Grad Hillel, MIT-Israel Program (MISTI-Israel), MIT Students for Israel (MITSI) and Association of Student Activities Large Event Fund (LEF).
“The MIT Hummus experience brings many of the Israeli-related groups on campus together,” Shmuel says. “It’s a great cultural event that promotes healthier eating and brings people together in the exploratory spirit of IAP.”
This year’s event featured hummus vendor giveaways, live music, and the crown jewel of the event: a homemade hummus taste-off. Each year, teams of students, faculty and staff work together to create their own unique hummus creations for the competition. Attendees taste each team’s hummus and vote for their favorite.
True to the MIT spirit, the teams bring innovation and inventiveness to the (buffet) table. Flavors range the spice spectrum from cumin to curry and grapefruit to ginger.
“The MIT students treat this very seriously, like they are working in a lab,” Shmuel says. “They test their recipes, measure and document everything, and go out of their way to find the right ingredients.”
Chris Bolin, a mechanical engineering graduate student, said his team took a step-by-step approach to making their “Lonely Ortego” hummus, inspired by an Ortega spice packet that they said looked lonely because no other group took it. “It was a very piecemeal process,” Bolin says. “We added some ingredients, and then tasted it, and then added some more until we found a good flavor.”
While Bolin’s group took an experimental approach, other groups had a strategy. “We competed last year, so over the course of the year, we’ve had some time to think and plan,” says Dennis Wilson, a sophomore in electrical engineering and computer science and resident of Bexley Hall. “My roommates and I cook a lot, and we make hummus almost once a week. We also make a lot of masala because it is easy and delicious. So we decided to integrate the spices of masala into hummus.” Potatoes and cauliflower gave their “Masala Hummus,” a chunky texture.
According to Shoshana Gibbor of MIT Hillel, no store-bought hummus can compare to the taste of homemade. “It’s lighter, fluffier, and fresher tasting,” says Gibbor, who just returned from a trip to Israel with a group of MIT students as part of Birthright Israel.
Winning the MIT Hummus Taste-Off is a coveted honor. Not only does the winner receive the glory of knowing their hummus was voted the best tasting, they also get their hummus recipe professionally made and labeled by Cedar’s Mediterranean Foods, a hummus company out of Haverhill, Mass.
This year’s winner was the “Bentry and Lolpert’s Silk Road Hipster Hummus with Grapefruit Black Tea Infusion,” created by junior Leah Alpert, senior Molly Kozminsky, graduate student Jeff Guo, freshman Katelin Schutz, and sophomore Jamal Elkhader. Taster Noreen Finn, event planning assistant for the Campus Activities Complex, said this was her favorite because “it was surprisingly sweet.”
Although there could only be one winner, the hummus creators say they find enjoyment in just participating in the event. “It’s a lot of fun, no matter who wins, and we’ll still keep doing it,” Wilson says.
Check out the MIT Hummus Experience website to view past winners’ recipes and start dreaming up your own hummus creation for next year’s event.