Editor’s note: This is the first in an occasional series about the tenants of the LSU AgCenter Food Incubator.
Hummus was always in the refrigerator at the Thomas home.
Long before there were Lebanese restaurants in every Baton Rouge neighborhood serving the Middle Eastern food, the family spread mother Ruth Thomas’ hummus on sandwiches or dipped vegetables in it for a quick snack.
“We just ate it because that’s what we ate,” said Kathy Broha, who has turned her mother’s hummus recipe into a family business. “Italians would eat pasta and we would have stuffed grape leaves and always hummus.”
Since last year, Broha, 55, has marketed Ruth’s Hummus to area grocers, bringing a taste of “the old country” to south Louisiana. The dippable food made of mashed chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic has become popular over the past decade, but before it could be purchased in stores, the Thomas family hooked their friends on the creamy, garlicky specialty.
They would take batches of their hummus — a recipe brought over from Lebanon — to friends’ parties, and eventually, people began requesting it. When Lebanese restaurants became more popular in the Baton Rouge area, friends encouraged Broha to package and market the recipe.
“At that time your, national brands were coming on, so people were more aware of what hummus was,” Broha said. “I was working ... and the kids were in school. Who was going to do it?”
Both of Broha’s parents are children of Lebanese immigrants. Her grandfather’s surname was changed to Thomas at Ellis Island, she said, and the family kept their Lebanese pride while also striving to become American.
“A lot of pride, but every nationality has that,” Broha said. “But hummus is a staple (of Lebanese kitchens) I guess you would say.”
Last year, Broha read a news story that LSU planned to start a kitchen incubator program — a commercial kitchen local cooks could use to professionally market their recipes.
She applied at the first organizational meeting in early 2013 and brought a sample for the incubator program’s director, who accepted them into the program. When the incubator opened in July, Broha and her family began making their first batches.
Although their family had eaten the hummus recipe for generations, Broha had never learned to make it. Their now 85-year-old mother has always made large batches with no recipe.
In order to create an exact formula, Broha had to closely record every ingredient her mother added.
“We measured everything,” Broha said. “We said, ‘Put the garlic in your hand.’ But Mom’s hand is bigger than mine, so we counted (the cloves).”
Converting the recipe to a mass-production scale was simple with one hiccup. In the beginning they juiced lemons by hand. Then, to save money, they bought cans labeled “fresh squeezed lemon juice.” But the taste wasn’t quite right, Broha said.
“People probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference, but I could,” she said.
They returned to squeezing their own lemons, and LSU bought an industrial juicer so they could prepare ingredients in bulk.
“If we were going to do it as fresh and natural and the original recipe, that’s how we have to do it,” Broha said.
Broha watches the family operation closely to ensure consistent quality.
“She is our worst critic,” said her daughter, 26-year-old Ashley Broha. “It has to be just right.”
Ruth’s Hummus is available in Baton Rouge at Maxwell’s Market, Alexander’s Highland Market, Calandro’s, Calvin’s Bocage Market and Matherne’s.
It costs $1 more per carton than national brands at $4.99 to $5.99. Taste testing at stores is key to selling Ruth’s Hummus, Kathy Broha said. Their recipe has a garlicky, tart flavor many of the mass market brands don’t, she said.
“Once they taste it, they buy it,” Kathy Broha said.
Using Ruth’s Hummus:
Broha likes to use Ruth’s Hummus as a base to add more rich flavors.
Starting with the hummus, she adds sun-dried tomatoes, feta cheese, pine nuts and olive oil.
For a party, cut up pita flatbread into bite-sized slices for dipping. Hummus can also be used as a tasty condiment, she said. Slather hummus on warmed pita flatbread. Broha prefers grilled chicken as her pita filling.