Making hummus for a living is the last thing former flight attendant Teo Liwen, founder of Holymoleydips, imagined she would do. But here she is, churning out hundreds of containers of hummus for her loyal fans, in a shared kitchen every week.
It all started when the 29-year-old travelled frequently to cities in the Western hemisphere as part of her flight attendant work. Brought in by Middle Eastern immigrants, hummus has long existed in those areas as a snack, typically eaten with chips, pita bread or veggie sticks.
“I went to Australia, New Zealand, Europe and the United States. Their supermarkets are always full of hummus and their various flavours and different brands,” said Teo.
On the other hand, Singaporeans have only started warming up to hummus and other Mediterranean dips such as babaganoush.
Teo’s first brush with hummus was from the Adam Sandler comedy You Don’t Mess with the Zohan. The actor played an Israeli soldier obsessed with hummus. As it is made of chickpeas, it suited the Jewish dietary requirement where meat and dairy cannot be consumed together. Hence, its popularity in Jewish cuisine and its excessive comedic use in the movie.
While much can be debated about the stereotypical portrayal of Israelis, the movie was a memorable first encounter of hummus for Teo.
“When I left my flight attendant job, I was craving for hummus but I couldn’t find the same brands I found in the West. I tried making it on my own, so I can satisfy my cravings. So that’s how Holymoleydips started,” she said.
A year of trial and error
Teo had no formal training in food preparation, so getting her recipes right down the type of packaging used took her a year. Prior to making hummus full-time, she was mulling a career transition from a flight attendant to a pharmaceutical sales rep. It didn’t work out, and she decided to heed her calling.
Despite knowing nothing about making hummus, she persevered, armed with a passion for food and a steely determination.
“I’ve always been very interested in food. In my four years of travelling as a flight attendant, I would always Google what good food there is in the cities I visited,” she said. “ I’ve always had a cooler bag in my luggage. A third of my luggage would be filled with food brought back from my trips,” she said.
Her first obstacle was choosing the right type of chickpeas for the hummus. For starters, she chose fresh chickpeas instead of canned ones, as the latter is high in sodium. “I didn’t think back – I set my mind out to it and it was a steep learning curve,” she said.
“I had to figure out how long to soak the chickpeas and boil them for, and to what level of softness,” she continued. “It was the same level of trial and error for the flavourings,” said Teo.
In the end, she chose to use chickpeas from the United States. The ones from India, the world’s largest chickpea producing country, didn’t quite suit her recipe requirements. “I felt that the texture and taste weren’t right,” she said.
“I cold-called wholesalers and went to them as I was still starting out. I wasn’t getting income for a year as I have already left Singapore Airlines. Thankfully, I’ve saved a lot of money and it really helped to sustain me,” she explained.
Teo also tweaked the taste of her hummus to local palates. A traditional hummus is very smooth and creamy and is often laden with a copious amount of olive oil and a sprinkling of saffron.
Holymoleydips’ hummus is slightly more chunky, with a milder taste. “After many taste tests with friends and family, they feel that the traditional hummus tends to be too rich,” she said.
Four flavours to mark Holymoleydips’ debut
Holymoleydips was officially launched online in November last year. Two weeks later, it debuted at Farmers’ Market @ Central Singapore. A new entry into Singapore’s burgeoning artisan food scene, Holymoleydips is the city state’s very first hummus dip, made and packaged locally.
She also wanted her dips to suit most dietary requirements, so they are vegan, dairy-free and has a low glycemic index.
Holymoleydips is also preservative-free, unlike store-bought options, which use additives and preservatives to lengthen their shelf lives. She advises first-time customers to finish the hummus within three days of opening, and to keep it chilled at 3 to 5 degrees Celsius.
She recommends dipping the hummus with crackers, corn chips, pretzels, vegetable sticks, warm pita bread or breadsticks. Hummus can also be used in meat dishes, as a sandwich spread or as a salad dressing, she added. “The possibilities are endless,” she said.
Holymoleydips’s four flavours are the Classic, which is a no-frills blend of chickpeas, tahini, spices, fresh lemon juice and olive oil; Harissa and Habanero, which is a spicy combination of harissa and habanero peppers, along with other roasted red peppers and caramelised onions.
Her Marmite and Caramelised Onions flavour, which Teo describes as an experiment with marmite, its salty taste balanced with caramelised onions. “This flavour came as a eureka moment. Marmite is vegan so I thought I would try adding it to the hummus,” she said. It turned out well, as it is now a favourite among her customers.
Then there is the vibrantly-hued Spicy Purple Sweet Potato Hummus, for those looking for a natural sweetness in their dips.
Her fourth and perhaps most unusual flavour is Valrhona Chocolate, a chocolate-flavoured hummus. Hummus is a savoury dish, so a dessert-like chocolate flavouring boosted by dates, muscovado sugar and vanilla extracts, is rather unique.
“People are always associating hummus with something savoury so a sweet hummus is something they cannot comprehend,” said Teo. “Kids love chocolate – and instead of having refined sugars and treats, they can have this. It is also popular among ladies who love their chocolate but want to keep their waistlines,” she added.
Teo (front row, second from left) with her friends and family at the Sprout farm-to-table festival
Gearing up for expansion
Holymoleydips retails at S$10 to S$14 for a 200-gram container. All her products are personally delivered by Teo as she has yet to find a food delivery company that she can trust.
“I cannot risk food spoilage and I’d rather deliver it myself, and hand it over personally to the customer. This means I deliver according to customers’ preferred timing. If the timing changes, it can be quite a headache as I have other deliveries to make,” she said.
Now that she is thinking of expanding, she may have to entrust her deliveries to a third party. Holymoleydips is currently available for pre-order only. With her hummus catching on, she is also considering a move to her own rented kitchen.
She may also enlist extra help, as her aunt and herself are the only ones making the hummus for now. She is planning to obtain a halal certification and a gluten-free certification in time to come.
Teo also takes part in farmers’ markets regularly. “I want to see my customers’ facial expressions when they taste the hummus. Their expressions are very real,” she said. Her customers are also a great source of feedback, she noted.
For example, they have suggested smaller product offerings for greater convenience. So she launched the Snack Pack. The Snack Pack comes with pretzels or chips and is a healthy snack for those on the go. The packs can also be brought onboard flights as the dips measure just 100 grams. “Customers can snack on this instead of chips or chocolate on the plane,” she said.