Lebanese Garlic Sauce, Toum

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Learn how to make toum, traditional Lebanese garlic sauce. This is the the Middle Eastern dip people go bonkers over! This thick, creamy garlic spread comes together with from just 4 simple ingredients and tastes great on just about everything. 

Lebanese toum garlic sauce, white fluff in a red and white dish with yellow spatula

Toum is to Lebanese food as parmesan cheese is to Italian: there are so many dishes that are more flavorful with toum that it’s a MUST to keep on hand at all times! Ethereal, light, smooth . . . toum is addictive, the ultimate expression of garlic. Most of us eat authentic toum as a popular condiment in Middle Eastern restaurants or Lebanese restaurants with pita bread, chicken, shawarma, kafta and more. In recent years, toum devotees are happy to find the thick garlic paste of a sauce available in grocery stores, too. 

I enjoy making Lebanese toum sauce an obsession in my own kitchen. I pursued toum-making to develop the recipe for my cookbook, and made it my business to question every person, chef and home cook alike, and read everything I could get my hands on to understand various methods. 

Then I put them all to the test, making every mistake possible to ultimately find the simplest way to successful homemade toum garlic sauce. 

A head of garlic in a small white containter with a metal lid

What is toum?

Toum is an emulsion of garlic, oil, lemon juice and salt. When combined properly, these ingredients form a creamy, thick paste or sauce that is often compared to aoli. 

Toum is all about the garlic, a sauce devised somewhere deep in Lebanese history to allow us all to eat garlic as a spread, a dip, a sauce, a joy. “Toum” is the Arabic word for, you guessed it, garlic!

Consider toum a condiment to for spreading (make the best garlic toast in the world with toum spread), as a dip, and as an accompaniment to all kinds of foods, especially grilled or roasted meats and vegetables.

Toum goes by all kinds of names: creamy garlic sauce, Lebanese garlic dip, garlic paste, garlic spread. Sometimes toum is a fluffy garlic sauce, and sometimes toum is a creamy spread or creamy sauce. These variations are determined by the amount of liquid in the mix (ice water droplets or fresh lemon juice).

What is the difference between toum and aioli?

Toum and aoli are alike in that they are both emulsions. Toum is an emulsion of garlic, salt, lemon and a neutral oil and can be thick enough to use as a spread. Traditional aioli is an emulsion of garlic and olive oil, but more often is a garlicky mayonnaise. Mayonnaise is a version of aioli that also contains eggs. 

Toum is a traditional Lebanese garlic sauce. Aioli is a traditional European sauce from France and Spain.

What does toum garlic sauce taste like?

Though toum includes oil, lemon, and salt along with the garlic, the flavor of toum is very forward and clear: toum tastes like light, airy garlic! The best garlic you have ever eaten! Garlic lovers, this is for you.

What is toum sauce made of?

The ingredients for Lebanese garlic sauce are just a handful:

Garlic is the main ingredient in toum. All of the other ingredients are there to support the garlic. Look for the firmest, freshest garlic you can find, squeezing the whole heads of garlic to avoid any hollow or old heads. Use at least one full cup of peeled garlic cloves. The greatest thing to happen to me as a cook recently is the organic peeled garlic cloves at Whole Foods. These, my friends, are a homemade toum game changer. No peeling of the garlic cloves anymore! That step was time consuming. Also, make sure the garlic does not have a green sprout in each clove. Remove them by cutting the clove in half and pulling out the sprout. Also this is a sign of older garlic.

Oil suspends the garlic in its emulsion. This is one of those rare Lebanese recipes that does not call for olive oil. Olive oil imparts a bitterness and color to toum that we want to avoid. Use a neutral oil, which is a flavorless oil such as canola oil, vegetable oil, avocado oil, grapeseed oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil. I typically choose expeller-pressed canola or avocado oil. 

Lemon juice. Most important thing to note about the lemon juice: fresh is best. Use fresh lemon juice for toum. The lemon juice adds a fresh, bright flavor dimension, balancing the strength of the garlic. It is also important to the emulsification process.

Salt is essential not only as a flavoring, but also to help all of that the slippery garlic gain the traction it needs at the start of processing. 

How to make creamy Lebanese garlic sauce (toum recipe).

The best way to make toum sauce is in a food processor (large or prep-sized). Here are my tried (and tried again!) and true step-by-step instructions:

Step 1: Prep the garlic cloves by peeling enough cloves to make about 1 ½ cups. If using pre-peeled cloves, all the better and a much faster process.

Step 2: In the bowl of a food processor, process the garlic and salt, stopping to scrape down the bowl of the processor several times.

Step 3: Introduce just a tiny bit of the oil. The initial introduction of oil into the garlic is the most critical step in making toum. Use a teaspoon for better control the first time adding oil, to dribble one droplet of oil, then two droplets, then three into the drip hole in the top of the food processor while it is running. Stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl, then run the processor again and add drops of oil one at a time. The less oil you add here very slowly, the more success for emulsion you’ll have.

Step 4: Keep adding the oil slowly, then in a slow steady stream. The garlic will begin to take on a slight creaminess as it accepts the oil correctly, then more and more creaminess as you dribble in more oil. When the oil is introduced too quickly or too much at once, it is more difficult for the emulsion to take. When this happens, the mixture becomes liquid that looks like garlic coated with oil, rather than a thick creamy sauce. Adding the oil takes a bit of a long time, but patience will yield results!

Once creaminess is achieved, and the emulsion is set, I’ve discovered that it really doesn’t matter how much more oil you add. Add much more to make a larger batch, or not a ton more for a smaller batch, and the flavor and texture are fine either way. Try one cup of oil to the cloves of two heads of garlic (about a cup depending on the size of your garlic) in a mini-processor. In a standard processor (about 11 cups), use at least 1 ½ – 2 cups of garlic cloves and up to 4 cups oil, which makes a big batch.

Step 5. Alternate now adding the oil in a slow stream and the lemon juice in droplets, until the toum is the consistency of thick yogurt. The consistency of a thick spread is best here, then the toum spread can be thinned out as needed to make dips and sauces.

smooth toum sauce in a food processor

How to make this Lebanese garlic sauce recipe without a food processor.

Make toum by hand the following way:

Use a whisk and a bowl or a mortar and pestle. Start with minced fresh garlic, about 8 cloves. Whisk or pound the minced garlic with ½ teaspoon kosher salt until creamy.  Start adding the oil one droplet at a time, whisking or pounding after each addition. The emulsion will begin to take and the toum will continue to look creamier. Keep adding the oil in droplets until you achieve a thick creamy consistency. Then add the oil in a slow, thin, steady stream while constantly whisking or pounding/stirring. Stop as you go and alternate with adding lemon juice just a few droplets at a time until the toum is a fluffy texture and spreadable.

What to eat with garlic sauce?

Toum is a staple of Lebanese cuisine because it goes so many directions. It’s fabulous with anything that loves garlic: in salad dressings, thinned a bit as a dip for pita bread, pita chips, veggies, or a favorite way to eat toum is as a sauce for Grilled Chicken Shawarma or Shish Tawook, Grilled Chicken Skewers

Try toum as a spread for your next batch of garlic bread. Spread on top of slices of good bread and broil until toasty. 

A tablespoon of Lebanese garlic sauce makes a great base layer for a white pizza, or any pizza. So much flavor!

Use toum as a sandwich spread. And, there may be no better dipping sauce for french fries than garlic toum, such a great thing.

Eat toum alongside a juicy rotisserie chicken, for example, to ramp up flavor.

Frequently Asked Questions

What if the emulsion breaks and the mixture is liquid?

This surely happens to most toum-makers at some point or another. The liquid will not be toum sauce, but can be put to use in recipes such as vinaigrettes, pasta sauces, that kind of thing. Try again making sure the initial addition of oil takes place very slowly.

Where to buy toum garlic sauce?

Commercial toum is available more and more. Check out Anne’s Toum and other toum sauces at Whole Foods and other specialty shops. These are a good option when you can’t made your own, but homemade garlic sauce always tastes best, tough.

Is toum garlic sauce made with egg whites?

Some recipes do call for raw egg white as a way to make the mixture hold together better. 

What if my toum has a very strong garlic flavor?

The strength of the garlic flavor depends on the freshness and general flavor of your garlic cloves. If your toum is burning or too strong, know that it will mellow on its own over several days in the refrigerator. Add the strong toum to other ingredients such as yogurt or tahini to make a sauce that is includes the toum but is not as strong.

How to store toum?

Keep toum in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

How long does garlic sauce keep?

It’s amazing: toum will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for months at a time. 

Can you freeze toum?

Store toum in the refrigerator than in the freezer. Freezing toum does not extend how long the toum keeps since it keeps so well in the refrigerator.

Can you use an immersion blender to make it?

No, the immersion blender does not have enough blade surface area to properly pulverize the garlic and create an emulsion.

More Lebanese with Garlic

Garlic Tahini Eggplant

Easy Cabbage Salad with Garlic and Lemon

Garlicky Sumac Shrimp Grill

Garlicky Lebanese Lentil Soup, Rishta

Toum garlic sauce in a dish with yellow spatula
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Toum, Lebanese Garlic Sauce

By Maureen Abood
One simple way to peel a whole head of garlic is to loosen the cloves, then shake them like crazy in a glass jar or between two large metal bowls. This releases the cloves from the peels for the most part. Toum made by hand is delicious, though not as smooth and light as toum made in the food processor. If your toum is too bracing in garlic flavor, whisk in more ice water and lemon juice, which will also make it saucier. Let the toum rest in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a few days. The flavor will mellow with time. Serve toum with any grilled meat or fish, as a dip with bread or chips, or in vinaigrettes or any recipe you want to add garlic to. The toum will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks.


By hand:

  • 8 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup neutral oil, such as canola or safflower
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons ice water

For small-batch, In a mini-processor:

  • 1 cup garlic cloves, peeled (from 2 heads)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup neutral oil, such as canola or safflower
  • Juice of 1/2 of a lemon
  • 2-3 tablespoons ice water

For large-batch, in a standard processor:

  • 1 1/2 cups garlic cloves, peeled (from 4 heads)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 to 4 cups neutral oil, such as canola or safflower
  • Juice of 1 lemon


  • To prepare the garlic, slice the cloves in half lengthwise and remove any green sprouts. Worth the effort here, as the sprouts contribute to burn and bitterness.
  • If making toum by hand, mince or grate the garlic on a fine grater into a medium bowl. Set the bowl over a towel or use a non-skid bowl, to hold it in place as you whisk. If making toum in a processor, blitz the garlic with the salt until it is minced, stopping to scrape down the bowl as you go.
  • Take your time here. Whisking constantly or with the processor running, use a teaspoon to drop a droplet of oil into the garlic. Stop and scrape down the bowl. Then add another droplet, stop and scrape, then another. Continue in this way even though at first it seems like nothing is happening.
  • Once the garlic begins to look a bit creamy, you can add the oil a couple of droplets at a time, stopping and scraping the bowl down as you go. Stay with it.
  • Continue in this way until the garlic becomes thick and spreadable. Once the emulsion is fully formed and what you have looks like a thick white spread, you can increase the speed of adding the oil. Rather than droplets, add the oil in a slow, thin, steady stream while processing or whisking. Stop and taste and keep adding more oil if the toum is too strong. Don’t be surprised if this process takes up to 15-20 minutes.
  • Finish by processing or whisking in the lemon juice and ice water. 

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Author: Maureen Abood
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  1. Maureen your recipe for garlic (Toum) spread is fun, elegant and delicious. Our family LOVES it.
    The fact that it keeps so well in the refrigerator helps for a “make ahead “ recipe to keep on hand.
    I will try your lemon juice suggestion for the next batch. Toum-alicious!

  2. Thank you for covering all the angles with this wonderful toum recipe! This is why your recipes are always fail-safe, Maureen. I have never made toum, and now I can’t wait to give it a try. Thanks again.

  3. This is one of my favorites but I’ve never tried making it. Would it work in a blender or is food processor the way to go?

    1. Holly, great question…I would need to test it out in a blender. I suspect the blade action just isn’t enough, though. Maybe in a Vitamix. If you have a processor, go with that!! Let me know what you think!

  4. Always look forward to your recipes but even more so the stories that attach to them….(you really are a great writer, make the reader feel we are right there with you) . I’ve tried and tried to attempt this heavenly garlic spread of goodness and always comes out chunky and gooey, although still very edible not all that appealing. Lived in California for years before moving back home to MI, there was a restaurant called Zankou that served Toum with their rotisserie chicken that was just perfectly smooth, creamy and just the right amount of garlic, I could never replicate it, but I think you’ve done it with this recipe my friend….thank you so much for sharing your secrets and your whispers with us. Can’t wait to try it.

    1. How beautiful Danielle! Thank you for your generous words. I’m excited for you to try the toum! Let us know how it goes!

  5. Made this yesterday and it turned out perfect. Amazing that something so simple can be so delicious, it is very similar to Greek skordalia.Thanks for the recipe and detailed instructions.

  6. I followed your instructions for the big batch of garlic and my whole family was obsessed with it! They even said it was better than the garlic spread we normally buy in Dearborn restaurants, which are heavily populated by the most authentic Lebanese restaurants. Thank you for a wonderful recipe!

  7. What a wonderful recipe instruction! Love how much detail you’ve put into this. I had toum the other night in Portland for the first time and fell in LOVE. Went back home to MT and made it today per your large batch recipe and it didn’t get very fluffy. The mix emulsified but wasn’t the same consistency as what we got at the Lebanese restaurant. I made sure to add in the oil per your instructions/very slowly, drip by drip. Also, the garlic taste was SUPER bitter in the final product…any tips for counteracting this? There were no green stems to remove. Your recipes look amazing! After eating at the Lebanese restaurant I immediately went online when I got home and bought your cookbook as it was so highly recommended! Really looking forward to trying more Lebanese recipes!

    1. Hi Katherine! I’m happy you’re here and impressed you went after the toum! You aren’t alone in experiencing the bracing heat of that much garlic. This will subside and mellow out in the next few days, and after a week the toum is pretty near perfect, depending on your garlic. So I like to keep the toum on hand rather than making and using it right away, to give it time to calm down. You’ll want to try the elephant garlic that’s now more readily available; it’s not as strong as smaller garlic. As for the consistency, I’ve been doubling up the amount of garlic and find that the emulsion is much fluffier and stronger when I start with more garlic (2+ cups cloves).

  8. I have a Lebanese friend who taught me how to make this many years ago. Her recipe has one large raw potato with those other ingredients and it it s fantastic. But unfortunately you can’t use olive oil for this one which would make it healthier. And in order for it to be fluffy you must use a food processor and slowly drizzle the oil in. Thank you for sharing!

  9. I made this last night and it turned out fabulous as far as looks go and consistency. When I tasted it, I realized I had left out the salt! Yummy garlic taste, but definitely needed salt. Can I go back and add salt or will it break the
    emulsion? Thanks for any help!

    1. Hi Susan–so glad you have your toum ready to go! You can stir in a little salt at a time and the emulsion should be just fine.

  10. I just made this. Perfect consistency…until I added the water and lemon juice. How do I save this? It went from paste to vinaigrette.

    1. Oh Carlette, this sure can happen. Toum can be tough! I have not had luck trying to “fix” a broken toum emulsion. Best to start over. I’m not sure what your factors were that caused your broken emulsion but it is often to do with the speed at which the liquid is added–must add one drop at a time.

  11. Maureen, thank you for explaining how emulsions work and for the wonderful recipe!

    Carlette, I was able to save a previous batch of liquid Toum by putting the whole batch (still in the food processor cup) in the freezer for 10 mins or so – it thickened the oil enough to create resistance for the food processor blades and my Toum whipped back up to its fluffy state in no time. I used avocado oil but I’m sure this trick will work regardless of the type of oil you used.

    1. I’m SO excited to try your freeze method to fix a broken toum emulsion! Also intrigued to try this with avocado oil. Thank you!

      1. There was the sweetest little Shawarma spot on Commercial Drive in Vancouver B.C. Canada, right close to the Broadway skytrain station, and it was there i first experienced Toum and OMGOSH, I couldn’t stop ordering my meals there largely (but not only) because of the fabulous Toum – just like yours! I am immensely excited to have found you and your site. It’s all gung-ho from here! THANK YOU FOR YOUR WONDERFUL RECIPES and precise directions!!!

        1. Toum is just such a key flavor maker! I’m excited you’re going to make toum, game-changer! Keep us posted…

  12. Hi thanks for posting this recipe and more importantly the discussing the method.
    Too many people post this recipe and just say alternate back and forth slowly.
    I found your method of salt plus garlic then oil and lemon at the end to take a lot of guesswork out the process.
    I also used some others suggestions of refrigerating my olive oil, immersion blender blade half, and blending container as I live in a hot area. Thanks again!

  13. Hi maureen
    hope you are doing fine in this quarantined phase of life ! a big hello from OMAN (muscat)
    waiting to give your recipes a try this ramadan .
    sending loads of warm hugs !

  14. Hi Maureen. I just love garlic sauce..a chef had taught me to add the ingredients you have mentioned, he also added egg whites…what is the difference. Also, what is the alternative for kosher salt.

    1. Lisa, you could try vinegar, perhaps not as much quantity as the lemon juice. I have not tried this but if you do we’d love to hear how it goes.

  15. I used a teaspoon of salt with the 5-6 cloves and it was way too salty, but I did get the emulsion with the whisk! And then I worked in more garlic and oil in the blender. Emulsion broke when used the lemon juice but saved the whole thing by restarting and adding more garlic and oil to start the emulsion and then adding in the broken toum and oil in very slowly, and then doing extra blender cycles if it looked like the emulsion was getting weak. Nice to know I can do this, but I think I need a food processor.

      1. It works great with an immersion blender — better than my food processor. The trick with the immersion blender is to do it in a jar so that the blender at the bottom isn’t much smaller than the jar itself. Then the emulsification happens really quickly and gets thick. There’s a great article on how to emulsify from J. Kenji López-Alt (two-minute mayo recipe which I HIGHLY recommend). The mayo came out great and I applied the same vortex principle to my toum and it was amazing.

  16. I just sent you a note on Twitter, but here goes: my toum has 8-10 garlic cloves, 2 tblsp chilled lemon juice, 1 tsp lemon zest, 1 tsp sea salt. 3 tblsp mild oil, 1/3 c cooked, mashed, cooled starchy white potato. I will email you the recipe I was given years ago from a dear friend.

  17. I have had 3 failed attempts at making toum. It tastes wonderful but is too thin. I have tried all the “tricks” and still can’t get the correct consistency. I’m thinking that the problem is that I’m not Lebanese. I soooo want to be able to make a batch that looks like yours!

    1. Maria, I hear you! But you can do this! Try starting with lots and lots of garlic cloves and just little drops of oil (with salt), by hand.

  18. I just made this and it emulsified great, but it tastes just a little oily. I used canola oil (at least I’m pretty sure I did). Any suggestions?

    1. So glad the toum worked for you Danny! Add more lemon juice and/or ice water to loosen and give the toum sauciness. You can also mix the toum with yogurt and/or tahini when you turn it into a sauce to serve.

  19. I’m so thrilled to read this recipe! In 1975 I was in Tegucigalpa, Honduras and loved what I now know was a serving of toum at a posh restaurant. I’ve hungrily thought about that spread ever since, and now I know what it was and that I can make it myself! Thank you so much for your extremely helpful and detailed recipe that I will make soon. I found my way to your site after reading an article about a new start-up, Annie’s Toum, which is exploding. You have other great recipes that I’d love to try, as well. Cheers!

    1. Cora that is so exciting, to be making toum after all these years since first trying it! Thank you so much and we’ll love to hear how it goes!

  20. Hello I fell in love with toum/garlic sauce years ago from a restaurant called Lamias in Mi, it was served on a chicken shawarma but I always got extra sauce thought I try to make it myself first time failed but tried again, came out so good even my picky 16 year old tried it and loved it . I don’t like the spicy so it was toned down a lot. I made it again yesterday and it was not as thick as last time because I added more lemon juice and some oil to mellow it out. My question is can I thicken it back up if I put it back in the food processor? And also since my kids love it I want to make a a larger batch, so to mellow it all the way out but still that garlicky taste should I add more oil or lemon? (Thanks In Advance )

    1. Hi Cerise. Thickening completed toum can be a challenge. You could try pureed cooked potato (mashed potatoes). You can always increase the recipe for toum; more garlic is easier to make anyway! To soften the garlic flavor add lemon, yes, and more liquid such as ice water. Also you can try using elephant garlic (very large cloves) as these are not as pungent as standard garlic.

  21. I have wrestled with making toum in the past, until I happened upon a recipe by Yumna Jawad, which has always been successful. I just pulled it out to compare, and now it’s no surprise, you are fully credited, and Yumna’s recipe is adapted from yours. We love this recipe, and use it on many things. Thank you so much!

  22. I have a Lebanese dad, and I live in SA. I have just made Toum for the first time. It is so absolutely delicious! We are eating it for lunch on slices of hot buttered toast!
    Thank you Maureen.

  23. Dear Maureen, I would love to make your Toum and wonder if I could substitute avocado oil for the canola or safflower oil? I would appreciate hearing back from you.
    Have a blessed holiday.


    1. Hi Jeanette! Yes, you can use avocado oil for toum–BUT, your toum will be light green in color rather than pure white, and will have a slightly different, vegetal flavor from the avocado oil. Thank you for asking! Let us know how it goes!

  24. Hello Maureen,

    I would love go make your Toum Garlic Sauce. Would it be okay for me to use my Vitamix to prepare Toum? I love garlic slathered on almost everything. Thank you for this luscious recipe!


    1. Hi Jeanette–with blenders the blades are much shorter and more challenging to create an emulsion. But with persistent, relentless stopping and scraping down the sides of the blender it should work for you!!! The most delicious thing in the world…!