What is toum and what does it taste like?

Call it a sauce, a dip, a spread – toum is basically the jack-of-all-trades of the condiment world. According to Serious Eats, toum is like mayonnaise without the eggs (yes – it's vegan!) and it's rather ubiquitous in Lebanese cuisine. You may have found it served alongside Lebanese classics like shawarma but it has a nearly endless number of uses in your home kitchen. You can use toum to marinate chicken, add flavor to soups and pasta, or serve it as a sauce for roasted veggies. There's just one caveat: you must love garlic in order to enjoy it. 

The word "toum" actually translates to garlic in Arabic, according to The Elegant Economist, and traditional recipes rely on a combination of lots and lots of garlic and oil to create the condiment's characteristic creamy texture. The only other ingredients in this flavorful sauce are lemon juice, salt, water, and a little bit of patience if you want to make it yourself. Achieving a mayo-like consistency out of these humble ingredients isn't the quickest work in the world but the benefits of having a hefty supply of garlicky goodness on hand at all times are surely worth the effort. Here's how to do it.

Start with the freshest garlic to make toum at home

Because garlic does most of the heavy lifting in this recipe from Serious Eats (we're talking an entire cup of garlic cloves!), you want to choose the very best, i.e. super fresh. You can tell if your garlic has gone bad or not by checking that the cloves are firm rather than soft, smell like garlic, and appear white with no signs of spots or browning. Steer clear of pre-peeled cloves sold in bulk, since their muted flavor won't be quite as strong as you want for a tasty toum. Besides, there is a bevy of options for how to peel garlic; take your pick, and do it yourself! Finally, be sure to remove the garlic germ – that pungent, bitter-tasting green sprout found in the center of each clove.

Once your garlic is sufficiently prepped, add the cloves and two teaspoons of kosher salt to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely minced, or use a mortar and pestle if that's your thing. Next, add a tablespoon of lemon juice and keep mixing until a paste is formed. Finally, add an additional tablespoon of lemon juice and process until the mixture becomes smooth and fluffy. Now, you're ready to emulsify.

The key to the perfect toum is emulsification

According to The Spruce Eats, emulsifying is simply the process of bringing together two ingredients that aren't typically compatible; it's also how mayonnaise is made. In this case, instead of mayo's standard combo of egg yolks and oil, the two conflicting ingredients are the creamy garlic mixture you just made and a whopping three cups of oil. Yes, that sounds like a lot, but keep the faith – with a little patience and finesse, those simple ingredients will transform into utter deliciousness.

With the food processor running, slowly drizzle half a cup of olive oil, followed by a tablespoon of lemon juice into the garlic paste mixture. Repeat that process one more time, then begin alternating with a half cup of olive oil and a tablespoon of water until all of the oil has been incorporated. If you're using a mortar and pestle, you'll need to scale back and add just a tablespoon of oil and a few drops of lemon juice or water at a time. In the end, you'll have a creamy, dreamy, garlicky toum that will last in your fridge for an entire month. Spread it on your sandwiches, serve it next to kebabs, heck – eat it by the spoonful. We're not judging.