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Great Good Things: Little Sesame
Organic hummus freshly spun in small batches that will make you very happy
Welcome to a relatively new column here on The Strong Buzz: Great Good Things. Here’s where I’ll share some of my favorite products in the food and beverage space that I think are worth your attention. I’ve already covered Joni, a fantastic sparkling verjus from Claire Matern. Now it’s time for you to meet Little Sesame.
As some of you may recall, I recently spent 10 days in Israel where most of my time was devoted to eating, particularly hummus. I returned to Brooklyn with a new appreciation for this humble food and its delicious relationship with warm pita and slices of raw onion and jalapeno, used as scoops to consume it in copious amounts at every meal of the day.
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I also came home with an understanding that much of the packaged hummus sold in our local groceries is, well, not so good. Sure, I can find hummus on par with the shuk at places like Shukette, Laser Wolf, Taim, Edith’s, Reunion, Miriam, and many other wonderful Arab-Israeli restaurants around the city, but from the grocery store it was not as easy. And then I found Little Sesame. And my life improved, simply because now I can have amazing hummus any time I want it.
Little Sesame is fantastic. It’s freshly spun in small batch hummus from organic regeneratively-farmed chickpeas. It’s rich and velvety, smooth and creamy, far more silken in texture than the airy fluffy sort you might be used to. Lemon juice is its only stabilizer and its added in just the right amount to bring up the flavor of the small list of ingredients. You can try the Classic, the Jammy Tomato, or the Caramelized Onion, but my favorite is the Herby Jalapeno; it’s got a nice kick. I send a pita and a half-pint to school with the kids for lunch weekly now. I am getting serious mom points.
But friends, Little Sesame is not just great hummus, there’s quite a cool story behind it too. Which really makes the product that much more interesting, right? The people behind it.
The company was founded in Washington, DC in 2016, in the basement of a Jewish deli, the creation of Nick Wiseman and Ronen Tenne, a pair of cooks who met working the line under Michael White at Alto in NYC. Ronen was a terrific line cook, but he became something of a legend for the homemade hummus he would serve at family meal. “He blew us all away with his hummus,” Nick told me. “It was amazing.”
When Ronen moved on to Marea, the two kept in touch, bonding over a desire to break out of the parameters of classic fine dining. “We wanted to have fun. We connected over the same spirit of how we wanted to approach food,” Nick said. And the idea of doing something with that family meal hummus was still lingering in his mind.
The pair reconvened after Nick had moved to DC to open his (super popular) restaurant DGS, a Jewish delicatessen. They got together and started testing recipes for hummus in the restaurant’s basement, digging into tahini sampling and the R&D for what would become the original hummus recipe for a pop up called Little Sesame. After two years as a pop-up, they opened a brick and mortar Little Sesame, a fast casual restaurant in 2018.
The key to their operation was not just the recipe, but the relationship they built with Casey Bailey, a fourth generation regenerative organic farmer who works 5000 acres under the big sky in Fort Benton, Montana. The cool thing about chickpeas is that they are a high-protein, healthy, nitrogen-fixing plant that adds diversity to the crop rotation. They help build healthier soil that captures carbon, rather than releasing it into the air. The more chickpeas, the better the environment. Nick and Ronen met Casey back when they first started tinkering with hummus recipes in 2016, ordering 50 pound bags of chickpeas. Now Casey is farming 500 acres of chickpeas exclusively for Little Sesame.
“We are able to keep all those acres going with regenerative farming practices,” said Nick. “It’s cool to watch that relationship scale and to support small farmers, and focus on the next generation, and making sure we are building a planet to leave to our kids. We are both young parents and that’s a big piece of how we want to grow the business.”
During the pandemic, the team shifted their model to work with World Central Kitchen where they prepared 100K free meals for the community. In the back half of the space, they built a lab to try to figure out how to create a packaged hummus that would be shelf stable, but that would maintain the integrity of their recipe. They enlisted some food scientists to help them out, including Cornell and Mizoni Food Labs. The process took two years, Finally, in 2021 they launched their first packaged hummus at Whole Foods.
These days they are working out of a 10,000 square food production facility where they still hand-slice their onions, freshly squeeze their lemons, cook down their jammy tomatoes, and puree their organic, non-GMO chickpeas. They are in 1000 stores across the Washington, D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles and the New York metro areas.
You can find it in Sprouts (nationally), Whole Foods Market (regionally), Foxtrot (Chicago), and Erewhon (Los Angeles), and online at Misfits Market, and many, many, more locations. Their own online ordering is not quite ready yet so to find the closest shop to your home, look at their nifty hummus finder. You can also try the hummus on a new Sweetgreen “Hummus Crunch Salad” nationwide.
My friends, this is the best hummus you will find on a shelf outside the shuk. Let me know what you think!