Adam Wolfers has news. Those tinned chickpeas in your pantry? They’re probably no good for hummus.
“Most brands seem to undercook them,” Wolfers says. “They must be intended for salads. Because if you’re doing a hummus, your chickpeas need to be quite soft. If you don’t cook them properly the skin stays on, and that’s what makes your hummus grainy.”
It’s the first thing Wolfers says when asked about the six popular, nationally available brands of chickpeas – Annalisa, Edgell, Coles, Woolworths, Annalisa Organic and Aldi’s New Season – Broadsheet tasked him with reviewing. (These brands were chosen because they are available nationally, meaning most readers will be able to easily purchase them. We avoided brands that are only available in one state.)
Wolfers is executive chef at Brisbane’s celebrated Middle Eastern restaurant, Gerard’s Bistro. Before that he ran his Jewish-Hungarian pop-up project Ételek in Sydney and spent years working in some of that city’s best restaurants, including Est, Marque, Monopole and Yellow.
Wolfers is a master of progressive Middle Eastern food, his passion forged during an upbringing that balanced the two Jewish sides of his family, one with an Ashkenazi (Eastern European) background and the other descended from a Sephardi (Middle Eastern, African, Indian) community, in Yemen.
In short, the dude knows his chickpeas. And he’s full of handy tips on how to prepare them at home. Most important? Buy them dried if you can, soak them overnight, and then add bicarb to your cooking water to help break them down faster. The Gerard’s kitchen uses Ord River chickpeas from Western Australia.
“We use dried chickpeas because there are so many variables with tins,” he says. “There’s an art to cooking a chickpea. It’s not just about throwing it in a pot and cooking it. Beyond bicarb, we add aromatics such as bay leaf, thyme and garlic. We cook it out and we skim it as it’s cooking, like you would with boiled potatoes, to remove that starch so it doesn’t go into the hummus.
Wolfers tends to steer clear of tinned foods, but he’s a father as well as a chef and understands that not everyone has time to soak and cook their own chickpeas. If you have a tin of chickpeas that’s not up to scratch? “Pop the top and eat a chickpea, and if it tastes chalky, put them back in the stock, add a little bit of water and cook them for longer.”
For this test, Wolfers enlisted a couple of his chefs and kept it simple, tasting the chickpeas straight from the tin. Keep in mind this isn’t a scientific trial; it’s a quick taste of each brand. Regardless, Wolfers has a keen eye for quality and he and his chefs kept notes as they went along, rating each brand out of five.
Among his discoveries: one popular go-to underperformed, a supermarket tin punched above its price range, and an Australian brand may have just come out on top.
Sample price: $1.50 at Woolworths
Listed ingredients: Chickpeas, water, salt
A popular brand at both Coles and Woolworths supermarkets, the Italian-made Annalisa tins tend to be sold in a higher price bracket and stick out with their striking blue labelling, which extends to the company’s other popular products such as tinned tomatoes, beans and lentils.
Wolfers found the Annalisa chickpeas – suspended in a cloudy aquafaba (the cooking water from chickpeas that’s often used as a plant-based replacement for egg whites) – to be of medium firmness, and they didn’t exhibit an unpleasant flouriness he found in some other tins.
“This was a better product than most cans,” Wolfers says, “particularly if you’re trying to make a hummus or something similar.”
A qualified win for Annalisa, then.
Annalisa Organically Farmed Chickpeas
Sample price: $1.60 at Woolworths
Listed ingredients: Organic chickpeas, water, salt
But not so fast, Annalisa. The Italian brand also produces an organically farmed tin of chickpeas. This one does away with the blue label for an earthy look and some chat on the side about organic farming’s “respect for nature and the environment”. It also carries the EU organic logo, which signifies a product contains at least 95 per cent organic ingredients.
So they’re legit, but are they any good? Wolfers and his team weren’t convinced, opening the tin to find a middling chickpea in a cloudy liquid.
“This one was much firmer and exceptionally floury, which basically means it wasn’t the greatest product,” Wolfers says. “It’s not going to mix down to create a very good hummus. But you could use them in a salad.
“You never know, maybe it was just this batch,” he continues. “And you can always cook these for longer to soften them up.”
Sample price: $0.80 at Coles
Listed ingredients: Chickpeas (60 per cent), water, salt
Not much to say here in terms of ingredients and design with the first of the supermarket brands: Italian produced chickpeas, water and salt in a plain (if eye-catchingly green) tin. But the Coles can’s reception from Wolfers and his crew was a little less ordinary.
“I hesitate to say it, but if you had to use it for hummus ... Coles was the winner,” Wolfers says. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Wolfers says the chickpeas had clearly been cooked with care, the final result leaving them relatively soft and not minerally or floury.
“The way we would cook the chickpeas, that matched it the most,” Wolfers says. “The boys and I all agreed, that’s actually a decent chickpea.”
New Season Chickpeas
Sample price: $0.75
Listed ingredients: Chickpeas (60 per cent), water, salt, antioxidant
New Season is Aldi’s house can of chickpeas, which are packed in a brightly illustrated tin and – as usual for the German supermarket chain – don’t carry the Aldi branding prominently on the label. Wolfers’s biggest takeaway with these Italian-produced chickpeas?
“It tasted like baked beans. It was weird,” he says. “I don’t know if they salt the brine but it tasted salty, which gave it that baked-bean taste. So you definitely wouldn’t be able to use the aquafaba for a meringue or anything like that.
“That’s one thing about cooking your own chickpeas – never add salt. People think of salt as helping break things down, but with pulses it firms them up … You add any salt after the cooking process.”
As for what to use the Aldi chickpeas for, Wolfers says they weren’t as firm as other brands so could potentially be used for a hummus. Otherwise: “It was quite floury. The taste was briny. I’d say this one was just average.”
Sample price: $0.80 at Woolworths
Listed ingredients: Chickpeas (60 per cent), water, antioxidant (ascorbic acid)
“Not much of anything, except flour.”
Those are the Gerard’s Bistro kitchen team’s unvarnished notes for the Woolworths house brand of Italian-produced chickpeas.
This can comes wrapped in a burgundy and blue label and announces in no uncertain terms it has “no added salt”, but that wasn’t enough to lift its rating with the Gerard’s Bistro crew. Beyond being floury, Wolfers says the product was too firm.
“I feel like some brands aren’t soaking their chickpeas before they cook them,” he says. “When a chickpea is dried in the sun, it shrinks up. If you rehydrate something and it expands, it will cook from that state. But if you try to cook it when it’s dry, it’s going to take a lot longer to hydrate – it’s just going to bubble away in hot water. It won’t cook evenly and will come out quite chalky.”
Still, the Woolworths chickpea isn’t beyond redemption.
“I’m comparing this with everything I had in front of me,” he says. “If I had them in my cupboard I’d still use them, but you’d have to cook them for longer.”
Sample price: $1 at Coles
Listed ingredients: Chickpeas (60 per cent), water, salt
Popular Australian brand Edgell makes it clear on its crisply detailed tin these Australian chickpeas have been soaked. Perhaps that’s why Wolfers gave them a qualified thumbs up over the competition.
They were lighter in colour and had a slightly stronger flavour compared to other brands, and were firm without being chalky. They come in a clear aquafaba, which Wolfers puts down to a lot of care going into their cooking.
“That firmness means they’d be really good for salads and that sort of thing,” Wolfers says. “For hummus, you’d still need to cook them a little longer. If I was making hummus, Coles would be best but, generally, I’d say Edgell had the edge.”
Previously in this series:
We Road Tested Tinned Italian Tomatoes So You Don’t Have To