Last Updated on June 13, 2022
The Recipe for the World’s Strongest Lebanese Garlic Sauce
Toum, a Lebanese garlic sauce that’s a staple of Lebanese cuisine, might just be the tastiest thing on Earth (or at least in the Middle East). For those who’ve tried it, toum will be forever on your mind due to its amazing balance of lemon and garlic which goes exceptionally well with savory BBQs…and if you haven’t had the chance to try it yet, don’t worry—you soon will!
Lebanese Garlic Sauce, Toum, Aioli: Background & Terminology
In Lebanon they call it “Toom” or “Toum” which literally means garlic. Our Egyptian siblings call it “Tooma”… Our Greek cousins have a similar version which they call “skordalia” and in Spain it’s referred to as “Aioli”. In the US it is generally referred to as garlic sauce, however the fact of the matter is that it’s closer to being a thick and fluffy paste than a sauce. The intent at the end is the same, and whatever the name is, a successful garlic sauce has a white, creamy texture similar to that of mayo, sour cream or “Labneh” and with a pungent aroma of lemony garlic, and a mouth-watering tong-tingling blood-pressure-lowering flavor that is a perfect marriage between garlic and lemon juice.
This garlic paste goes very well with many BBQs, especially chicken Shawarma, grilled chicken, kebob BBQ and Chicken Shish Tawook (featured above). You can also spread it over baked or boiled potatoes along with a sprinkle of Cayenne pepper and dried mint, and it also tastes wonderful if you wrap it in a pita bread along with some salty cheese and grill it in a panini grill. Finally, some may be surprised but we tried it spread over Kibbeh Nayyeh (raw kibbeh) and it was out of this world. Check out our Chicken Shawarma , Chicken Shish Tawook, or Lebanese Grilled Chicken recipes.
How to Make Toum: Garlic Sauce Secrets
One day while discussing the process of making this garlic sauce with a dear family friend, Dr. Hisham Abdallah who is a Biotech scientist, and while complaining about how delicate making this sauce is, he pointed out that the reason the sauce breaks is likely due to certain violations that are happening to the process of “emulsification.” It turns out that a chemical reaction called “emulsification” is at the very heart of the making of the garlic sauce.
Simply put, emulsification is a process which allows liquids (water) and oils to “mix,” and turn into a “cream” in the presence of an emulsifier or emulsifying agent, and with the help of an external mechanical force such as grinding, shaking, stirring, spinning, or even using ultrasonic waves. The sequence in which oils and water are added, and the ratios also matter a lot and an imbalance can easily break the emulsification process and turn the ingredients back into a liquid state. That is exactly what happens when our garlic paste breaks in frustration as it gets overwhelmed with oil.
The process of emulsification is used in the beauty and medical industry to make creams and beauty products, and it’s the same process used in making Mayonnaise and vinaigrette, and of course, this Lebanese Garlic Paste.
Lecithin is a common emulsifier that is used in the food industry in making creamy food products. It is found naturally in eggs and in soy beans. That is why some folks use an egg white in making this garlic dip in order to help speeding the process of emulsification and to increase the chances of success. However we personally don’t like using raw eggs in our garlic dip mainly because we feel that it leaves an undesirable subtle aftertaste, even though many folks don’t even notice it due to the potent flavor of garlic. Instead, we depend purely on the emulsifiers that naturally occur in the garlic. This along with some patience, and a careful following of the procedure, should yield an egg-free successful fluffy garlic paste. If one wants to go the extra step, Soy Lecithin which can be found in specialty baking stores, or on Amazon, can also be used as an added emulsifier in making this garlic dip. Mira, a molecular gastronomy blogger noted that Lecithin shouldn’t alter the taste if used in small quantities.
In-Depth Understanding of the Emulsification Process
If you’d like to nerd it out like I did, check out this video from Stella Culinary on the process of emulsion or emulsification.
The Harvard video features a chef from Spain who showcased how emulsification works in the making of Garlic Aioli. He made the Aioli using at least 10 different methods. Also check this in-depth Emulsion Guide for Cooks from Stella Culinary.
Traditional Toum Preparation Method
The Lebanese garlic dip was traditionally made using a pestle and mortar. Our mothers, bless their hearts, would first add the freshly peeled garlic cloves and salt to the pestle and hammer it away until it’s completely crushed. Then, they would add a tiny bit of olive oil (1/2 teaspoon) and hammer away for a minute or so, and then repeat this step for perhaps 30-40 minutes until the oil has been used, while adding a few drops of lemon juice throughout. Another way to do it is to wait on adding the lemon juice until the end. Both ways work.
Modern Preparation Method
Over time, the garlic paste making process slowly moved to food processors and olive oil was substituted with vegetable oils which made the dip less biting and even whiter.
The exact same concept of emulsification applies when making the garlic sauce in a food processor. Oil must be added at an extremely slow rate while the food processor is constantly running, and the oil pouring must stop occasionally for a few minutes to allow the garlic paste in the processor to absorb the new oils.
Feature Video: Chef Kamal Making His Toum Recipe
Chef Kamal is a Lebanese American Chef and food blogger with some amazing recipes. I recommend checking his book on Traditional Lebanese Cuisine. Below we feature his video of making this Lebanese garlic paste and I love how he simplified the process and broke it down in very simple and easy steps. Check out his video below:
Now a side note that I heard in Chef Kamal’s video, and which I’ve also heard from many other food bloggers and chefs, and I used to also believe it myself too… There is a belief that if the ingredients are contaminated with water, the sauce will break. However after I’ve researched the process of emulsification, and watched the above two videos from Harvard and Stella Culinary, I’m not sure that this is fully accurate anymore. The nature of the process of emulsification is that it needs water molecules to bind the oil molecules. Water is a must. Garlic naturally has water, just like all veggies, and lemon juice also has water. So when we add garlic and lemon juice during the process, we’re practically adding water. In fact, the Harvard video shows the Spanish Chef making Aioli (similar to our garlic sauce) with water droplets, instead of lemon juice. I’ve also tried that at home and got a successful fluffy garlic paste with using water (and adding the lemon juice at the end).
So what we need to be careful about then are the ratios of oil to water: if you have too much oil, it breaks, and if you have too much water (or lemon juice), it breaks just like Chef Kamal noted. The ratio must be respected and for those who like to geek it out here is a nice guide below from Stella Culinary on the ratios (look for the 2nd row, Mayonnaise & Aioli):
Toum Recipe for the World's Strongest Lebanese Garlic Sauce
- 3 Heads garlic pealed
- 4 cups vegetable oil Avocado/canola/sunflower/peanut etc…
- 1/2 cup lemon juice fresh
- 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
- Ensure that all ingredients are at room temperature for a more reliable outcome. Also if you are using a large food processor make sure you use at least 3 heads of garlic otherwise smaller quantities of garlic won't be easily reached by large blades.
- Add the garlic and salt in the food processor and run for 10-20 seconds.
- Stop processor, scrap garlic down the sides, then run processor again for another 10-20 seconds. Repeat process 3-4 times until garlic starts to turn pasty.
- From this point onwards, turn the processor back on and keep it on until the end.
- Start adding the oil slowly in a very thin stream. After adding the first half cup you will start seeing the garlic emulsify and turn into a shiny paste already.
- While still running, add ½ teaspoon of lemon juice very slowly, in a thin stream.
- Wait on it a few seconds until the lemon juice is well absorbed then go back to repeating the same process of slowly adding ½ cup of oil in a thin stream, waiting a few seconds, then adding ½ teaspoon of lemon juice until you’ve used all ingredients. This process should take 8-10 minutes.
- To ease the process, you could add an egg white initially to help emulsify the paste
- Try to use gentle/neutral oils so the flavor isn't too pungent as with using olive oil
- If you can't get it successfully the first time around, don't throw the resulting sauce away. You can use it as a BBQ chicken marinade.
- The Lebanese Garlic Paste goes really well with Chicken Shish Tawook, Chicken Shawarma, Grilled Chicken, Grilled Kibbeh and pretty much any earthy BBQs.
I had about a cup of grape seed oil and then some olive oil, so I just used what I had. Ended up using 3 cups of oil in total and it was very thick, likely due to the olive oil. To make this more of a sauce and less if a thick Mayo consistency, I think I will mix some with a small amount of yogurt. But for now, I’m enjoying it by the spoonful. So delicious!
I tried the recipe..came out beautiful…added only 3 cups of oil…can you add jalapenos to this process?
I did it with a stick blender in the tall cup that it came with. Peeled one head of fresh garlic (no germs) topped with joy ice of a meter lemon, probably a half tsp salt, whizzed that up to a paste, topped that mix with about as much volume of oil as the garlic mix, keeping the stick blender in the cup and it emulsifies effortlessly every time. Good if you don’t want to make a massive quantity.
First had this at a farmers market in Palm Springs 4 or 5 years ago and became addicted. My wife found a recipe from Mamas Lebanese Cuisine, not Kitchen, but it’s the same recipe. The person also says not to use olive oil, not because of flavor but rather that it won’t come out right but doesn’t elaborate.
But what I wanted to say was that I hope people aren’t scared off by all this “pungent” talk. The garlic’s pungent bite mitigates by the second day and gets milder as time goes on to where it’s really just a pleasantly intense garlic flavor.
I made the paste tonight and it turned out perfectly. The only issue I had was that my 14 cup food processor stopped while I was adding the second half of the 4th cup. So it got more than 3.5 cups but less than 4. My lemon yielded almost .5 cup and I got all but about a tablespoon in. My garlic was a loose packed cup, I’m sticking with this as the texture and taste are both amazing. Thank you for sharing this recipe.
if you want a less biting taste to the garlic, add the lemon juice into the food processor along with the garlic – the acidic lemon juice denatures the allinase limiting the formation of allicin.
Greg thanks for the tip i’ll give it a shot next time we do the garlic paste.
My food processor has an an emulsifying disk ( a plastic disk apparently for making mayonnaise). Do you think I can use it while adding the oil to the crushed garlic, instead of the metal blade ?
Eddy it’d be interesting to try the emulsifying disk in your food processor to make the Garlic paste. I’ve never tried it. But I’ve mostly had success with the regular blades, my key to success was simply having enough garlic in there.. like 2-3 heads. If the size of the food processor is large and the quantity of garlic is too little it’ll be very difficult pulling a good garlic paste.
Made this with my daughter this afternoon. It was looking fabulous and while I was in the middle of adding my 4th 1/2 cup it split! I was going so slowly that my arm was tired so I thought I was doing it right. Anyways, is it possible to use less than 3-4 cups of oil for this? I tried adding a cube of ice as suggested but it couldn’t be saved. Will it still taste good even though it’s now liquid?
Jamie-Lynn I’ve had this issue of the garlic paste breaking so many times! It’s frustrating. Regarding quantity of oil and lemon, you can adjust them to your liking. Some people thought that we used so much oil which is fine. If you use less oil the garlic is more pungent so you may have to add a bit more salt or lemon juice. Bottom line is do it to your liking and you can sample test before adding to make sure it’s good enough.
Thank you very much for your response! We’re eager to try again soon!
So my third try, I was almost there. It finished fluffy, but there was a bit of oil on the top. so I turned the cuisinart on again, and
as it was pulsing, it turned into a soup.
I’m not sure if my cuisinart if working now. It doesn’t start
Can you tell me what I’m doing wrong?
Geri if you’re ok using raw eggs, if you add a raw egg white to the garlic before you start making the paste it helps tremendously in making it work. Raw egg white is an emulsifier and helps bind things together.
Please fo not use the cuisinart, that could be the only problem I see. The rest you are doing perfectly! 🙂
I’m glad I found your site. I needed some guidance into making garlic paste. I’ve made it once and it was easy and turned out perfectly.
but now I’ve done it four times and it always a soupy mess. I’m sure
to add the oil slowly but it never turns out. I have followed the recipe completely but no luck after the first try. I’ve even tried using egg white, (2-3) and it still doesn’t work. I use a small processor for the start with garlic and salt to make sure its a paste.
Then I transfer it to my cuisinart. What do you think my problem is?
thanking you in advance for any help/suggestion.
Hi! Thank you so much for publishing this recipe! It’s perfect and exactly what I remember! Question. Is it possible to freeze this? The recipe makes such a large amount that my family can’t possibly use all of it and I’d hate to waste it!
Leah you’re welcome. It’s my experience and others that if you freeze garlic, it looses its pungent bite and becomes too mellow. It doesn’t hurt to try it. If you want to store it for a longer term, you can put it in an airtight container, and add a Sarawn Wrap/Plastic film and fit it tight on top of the garlic paste to minimize air bubbles, then close the lid and store it in the fridge. It should last 1-2 months that way.
Don’t freeze it. I once did and it separated and became liquid. I know I have the same issue with the amount.
This sauce taste too much kind of garlicy and the restaurant one taste better, maybe the shawarma places adding some stuff or hidden reciept.
You could simply reduce the amount of garlic, or add more oil and lemon. Oil reduces the intensity of garlic.
I was so nervous to make this as I was using a blender. I added everything as directed but may have added the lemon juice too much at a time because I ran out of lemon juice before I was out of oil. I ended up only using 3 cups of oil as I was too worried it would split. It turned out delicious!
How long does it keep in the fridge?
Sir my garlic sauce turned watery
Y is that
Fathima the garlic sauce/paste requires a chemical process called emulsion to take place otherwise it turns watery. The video we have on the recipe page shows exactly in what order and quantity to add the ingredients in the food processor in order to reach emulsion.
Hello! I just completed my first try, and although it did not “break” it is shiny, and rather than fluffy, more clumpy; it also has sort of a green color. I used 4 cups oil to three beautiful fresh heads, but not the full amount (one lemon’s worth) of juice, as at 1/2 teaspoon between each 1/2 cup of oil – it just wasn’t the full amount – any suggestions? It appears in the video that Chef Kamal uses much more lemon juice. It tastes pretty burn-ey and strong, too. I’ll add that rather than 10 minutes, it took me about an hour to add the oil and lemon – part of that time was turning off my Cuisinart to let it cool down. Thank you!
We found that the toum would have a greenish tinge if we didn’t remove the germ from the garlic cloves. It was still delicious, but the green tinge looked vaguely suspicious. Removing the germ also changes the taste – a bit less bitter – but <3 garlic! <3
So remove the germ from each clove if the greenish color bothers you.
Great recipe. Thank you!