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Curious about tahini?
You’re probably at least somewhat familiar with sesame tahini, since it’s at the foundation of many delicious hummus recipes. But tahini also has a ton of utility on its own. From tahini dressing for salads to tahini desserts, you can do so much with this versatile ingredient, and you can even make your own.
Here’s everything to know about what’s behind the best tahini, from answers to common questions like “what is tahini sauce” and “what is tahini used for?” to a round-up of some of our very favorite tahini recipes from around the web. Let’s dig in.
First let’s answer the big question: what is tahini made of?
Tahini is a Middle Eastern condiment made of ground sesame seeds. There are several different variations and techniques for making sesame tahini, including using raw or toasted sesame seeds and using them hulled or unhulled.
In all cases, the sesame seeds are ground into a paste that has a nutty flavor and smooth texture that’s similar in many ways to peanut butter. It can be used as a dressing, a dip, and a spread, and it’s also a staple ingredient in dishes like hummus and halvah. Because of its delicious flavor, tahini is a popular baking ingredient too, and it can be used to make everything from tahini cake and cookies to tahini brownies and pies.
What Does Tahini Taste Like?
Tahini has an undeniable and assertive sesame seed flavor. It’s quite rich and a little can go a long way, especially when you’re using it as a component in recipes. Depending on how you’re using it, tahini can take on sweet or savory notes, and often lends a hint of bitter as well.
As for its texture, tahini tends to be oily, much like natural peanut butter.
History and Origin
Tahini has a long and storied history, with mentions of this much-loved sesame paste first appearing in documents from the 13th century. It originated in Persia, though you can find early references to sesame paste in other locations as well, including Israel, Africa, Turkey, and Korea.
Tahini’s original name is “ardeh,” and for a long time only the wealthy could afford it. Today, it’s a mainstay of modern Middle Eastern cuisine and other cuisines around the world, and you’re just as likely to find it in your hometown grocery store as you are in specialty markets and restaurants.
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Tahini has a number of health benefits, but there are also some drawbacks to be aware of.
In terms of the benefits of tahini, there’s research out there showing that sesame seeds can help protect the heart by lowering blood pressure and reducing bad cholesterol. It may also be able to reduce bodily inflammation and aid in the prevention of certain types of cancer cells.
Of course, benefits like these are related to consistent and controlled consumption of sesame seeds and are unlikely to apply to the occasional use of tahini dressing or spreads. Still, it’s helpful to know that the main ingredient of tahini does have a number of advantages and that you shouldn’t feel bad about incorporating it into your diet.
So why is tahini bad for you? Like many other types of seed and nut products, it has high concentrations of omega-6 fatty acids, which you’ll want to balance out with leaner fats like omega-3s. As long as you don’t have a sensitivity or allergy to sesame seeds, however, you should be just fine to enjoy it in moderation.
Hint: Looking for a tahini substitute? If sesame seeds aren’t your thing, cashew butter, almond butter, or peanut butter all work great in its place. And if you just don’t have it on hand, you can use a bit of sesame oil as a tahini substitute that works to replicate its flavor and fat content.
Tahini has a naturally high oil content, and as such, you’ll probably want to refrigerate it after opening. That being said, many people do keep their tahini in the pantry, though that will shorten its shelf life.
Regardless of how you store your tahini, make sure to keep it well covered. And if you’re going to put it in the fridge, note that it may be more difficult to stir the tahini and reincorporate the oils that have separated, since cooling your tahini will cause it to have a slightly more solid consistency.
Tahini is a popular and easy-to-locate ingredient in pretty much any grocery store. Head to the ethnic foods aisle if your grocery store has one, or check out the specialty condiments section where things like jarred olives and exotic olive oils are displayed. You may also find tahini in the nut butter aisle.
Just like any other ingredient, it pays to use the best tahini you can find. If you’re not impressed with your grocery store’s options, or if you just can’t locate it, head online for a wider selection. You can also make it yourself!
Now that you know what tahini is, let’s look at some of the many ways that you can use it. Here are some of our favorite tahini recipes, starting with a quick way to make it on your own.
1. Easy Tahini Recipe
You only need three simple ingredients to make this tahini recipe from Inspired Taste:
- Sesame seeds: Go for hulled or unhulled, keeping in mind that hulled sesames are lighter in color than their unhulled counterparts.
- Oil: You’ll want to use a neutral oil to make your tahini, such as avocado oil or vegetable oil.
- Salt: A pinch of salt can add depth of flavor to your tahini, though it’s not required.
To make your tahini, lightly toast your sesame seeds in a dry and shallow pan over medium-low heat. When they start to become fragrant, add them to a food processor and blend until finely ground. Add three to four tablespoons of oil and a pinch of salt, then blend again.
2. Tahini Lime Salad Dressing
Tahini goes great with citrus notes, which is why the Tahini Lime Salad Dressing recipe from Nourish Every Day is a total standout. Use it on your favorite salad, or drizzle it on top of roasted veggies for an unexpected kick.
3. Tahini Cookies
You’ve had peanut butter cookies, now take it up a notch with tahini cookies. The recipe from Epicurious uses a touch of honey to bring out the tahini’s subtly sweet notes, plus extra sesame seeds as a wonderful textural garnish.
Halvah is a fudge-like candy made with tahini. Try it out with this recipe from the New York Times, which requires just five super simple ingredients to make.
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