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A sauce that goes with everything

I just got back from Aleppo last week and have already made this sauce twice. I had it for the first time alongside grilled chicken, but I’m convinced this sauce goes with everything. It’s that good. I’m not even kidding you.

I would classify this sauce as a mayonnaise of sorts, but not really. It’s not as overwhelming as a mayonnaise. On a side note, I find mayonnaise to be overwhelming; store-bought mayonnaise at least. It’s too rich, flavorless and, to be honest, its texture is too wobbly for my liking. This sauce is different. It’s not as wobbly — velvety would a good word to describe it, but it has its secrets.

mise en place

Most Arabs call this sauce toum (ثوم) or creme toum (كريم ثوم). Toum is also the word for garlic in Arabic. That’s because the sauce is loaded with garlic. Loaded. I have some Lebanese friends that will make this sauce with so much garlic that it will make a grown man cry and smile, all in one bite. My version isn’t so strong, relatively.

very, very slowly

There are different ways to prepare this sauce. Purists will make it with just garlic, lemon juice and oil — no egg white. And it emulsifies. I know it sounds like magic, and maybe there’s a little food magic at play, but it works. Fouad from The Food Blog makes his this way. According to Fouad slow and steady is the trick — 10 minutes to be exact.

Some home cooks will prepare creme toum with an egg white. That’s how I’ve been making mine. The emulsion happens quicker and the protein in the egg white will also help keep the sauce from breaking. It also lets you get by with using less oil. In the Middle East, you’ll find that restaurants and street vendors will start the emulsion with a tiny bit of cornstarch slurry or boiled potatoes to help stabilize the sauce for a longer shelf life. Either way you decide to go, as long as the garlic is prominent, this sauce will knock you off your feet.

toum sauce (كريم توم)

Garlic Sauce

Makes 3/4 cup


  • 5-7 cloves of garlic
  • 1 egg white
  • 3/4 cup, canola oil
  • 1-2 tsp. lemon juice
  • salt, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. In a small food processor (or a large one fitted with a small bowl), pulse the garlic and the egg white until you can’t see the garlic anymore.
  2. With the food processor on, slowly begin to add the oil in order to start the emulsion. Make sure that the stream of oil going in is no more than a thin thread, or you risk the possibility of your sauce breaking.
  3. Once all the oil has been added, add the lemon juice while the food processor is still running.
  4. Season the sauce with a little salt and refrigerate until ready to use.


Video of Shawerma place in Aleppo, Syria. Notice the creme toum spread on the pita bread:

Posted in Mezze, Middle Eastern, recipe, savory by Antonio Tahhan on December 17th, 2009. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

22 Responses to “A sauce that goes with everything”

Hélène Says:

This is one of my favorite sauce to eat with chicken but I have never made it. Thanks for the recipe 🙂

KJ Says:

OMGGGGGGGGGGG I’ve been looking for this recipe for centuries! THANK YOU!

Taste Traveller Says:

This looks like a lighter Aioli – yum!

Sil BsAs Says:

This is the first time I see an “emulsion” with egg whites! What a great idea, thanks so much!

Cheers from Argentina!

Dragana Says:

Sounds wonderful! I am going to try it with Meyer lemon juice (probably need to add more juice because they are less acidic). Thanks for the recipe!

Arlette Says:

Marhaba Tony and welcome back

THis is a new version to me using the egg whites, I usually do it like your friend Fouad, I have to try your version and see . Tony you need to add more Toum 3-5 is not enough to give the flavour!!!!
For some reason I cannot see the video

Antonio Tahhan Says:

Hélène: enjoy 🙂

KJ: sa7tein–I bookmarked your shawerma post so that I can make chicken shawerma with this sauce.

Taste Traveller: It sort of is, and it’s de-li-cious 😀

Sil BsAs: espero q le guste 🙂

Dragana: I’ve never tried it with Meyer lemon… you’ll have to let me know how it goes!

Arlette: Merci! Let me know what you think about the egg white version. I like both versions, but I find myself adding less oil when I use an egg white, which means I can get away with eating more 🙂 You’re right about the garlic–I originally made this recipe with 1/2 cup of oil (instead of 3/4cup) and forgot to adjust the amount of garlic. I’ve adjusted the recipe. Thanks!

SimplyHeaven Says:

Tried your recipe today with some home made fried chicken, ABSOLUTELY DELICIOUS!!!
Thanks for sharing Tony!

Maria Says:

Ooooh! This does sound delicious.

I too feel the same about the usual mayonnaise — too overwhelming; too gelatinous almost! I really have never ever enjoyed it with anything other than a tad in some tuna salad. But this, this sounds incredible and I look forward to trying it soon.

Fouad Kassab Says:

Hi Antonio

Found your great blog from the inbound link you provided on this entry. Thanks for linking to my site. Great recipe you’ve got there. My recipe isn’t exactly a purist recipe, it’s just different. Yours is equally valid, and probably much more common. The shawarma shop in Aleppo would probably be using your recipe instead of mine. I think the addition of the egg white makes for a much lighter and fluffier version than mine, which is more similar to mayo.

Keep up the good work

Mrs Ergül Says:

It sounds good! But I find myself staring at the chicken and pommes de frites more than the sauce!

tasteofbeirut Says:

Hi Tony!
I have to try this recipe for toom. I make mine with too much garlic, since it is so good for you and all and it is hard socially to be a garlic lover!

[eatingclub] vancouver || js Says:

Ooh, I love garlic sauce! Yours look absolutely fabulous: what garlicky goodness hiding inside that white smoothness.

jiana Says:

i’d like to try it…but what can i use other than canola oil??…

School Lunchbox: Chicken Shawarma Tuesday « mumstech Says:

[…] Garlic sauce (toum) – from the blog of Tony Tahhan […]

Rick Says:

Mine looks slightly lumpy. Suggestions?

Antonio Tahhan Says:

@Rick: I would try adding the oil more slowly. If it still looks clumpy, try thinning the sauce with a little bit of warm water

Inspiration and Improvising Dinner | The Kitchen Chemist & the Cook Says:

[…] really know what I was going to do. So I looked back at the Creme Toum recipe (find it here: garlic-y goodness) and thought to myself: time to do something new. I grabbed garlic, olive oil, eggs, and lemon […]

Six More Sauces Everyone Should Learn How To Make | Lifehacker Australia Says:

[…] time we mentioned a garlic white sauce, toum, which is a mayo-like sauce, but the “mother” of white sauces is Hollandaise. A lot […]

Malek Bohsali Says:

Hi Tony, thanks for the toum recipe. have you ever stopped on the road from Damascus to Beirut for a lebne sandwich? (a lighter, healthier version of cream cheese for the uninitiated) they have super thin flat bread, some sort of special creamy lebne which they spread with long, flat knives (rounded tips). seems like the shop has been there for centuries and is the best lebne sandwich I’ve had up to that time or since!
Regards, MB

Don Kraanbroek Says:

Arrived here via Lifehacker. I wonder if this shawarma joint still exists. Tragically most of Aleppo has been bombed into rubble.

james Says:

tried it, turned out great. What makes this different from mayonnaise, though?

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