What Is Tahini & How To Use It In Cooking?

14 March 2022

Tahini is the creamiest, nuttiest and tastiest sauce. The sesame-based condiment is delightful, and it’s a staple in Middle Eastern cuisines.

What Is Tahini?Photo By Canva

If you’ve tried Middle Eastern food, you surely know tahini. Still, the delicious condiment is unknown to many. That’s why we’ve put together a comprehensive guide to tahini.

What is tahini? And how to use it? What are the best tahini substitutes? Here’s all you need to know. Let’s explore the delicious world of tahini.

What Is Tahini?

Tahini is a condiment, dip and ingredient made with sesame seeds. The term tahini is derived from the Arabic term “tahaha,” which means “to grind.” Evidently, to make tahini, one must grind the toasted sesame seeds, but things are a bit more complicated.

The word tahini in English-speaking countries can be traced to 1930, but the condiment is much older than that. People have cultivated sesame seeds for 3,500 years. The oily seed has been a source of cooking oil for thousands of years, and it’s food as well, mainly in the form of toasted seeds or a ground paste.

Although sesame seeds are now a widespread ingredient used in many cuisines, including Asian cooking and new world cuisines, the tiny seeds have a special significance in the Levant region. The Levant is a historical-geographical area comprising the Eastern Mediterranean, Western Asia and Northern Africa. The region was once under Arab rule.

So, when we talk about tahini, we’re talking about Levantine and primarily Middle Eastern use of sesame seeds. The seeds are soaked in saltwater to separate the kernels from the bran; the kernels are then toasted and ground to form a paste.

How to Make Tahini At Home?

Tahini is more widely available than ever thanks to its growing popularity. Still, there’s a chance you don’t find it just when you need it the most. In that case, you might want to make yourself a batch of homemade tahini — it’s easier than it sounds!

To make an easy and reliable homemade tahini, get your hands on sesame seeds. Toast them slightly on the stove-top and transfer them to a food processor. Add a splash of neutral grain oil and pulse until you get a smooth paste. This is already good tahini. Adjust the amount of oil to get the desired texture.

To make a tahini sauce, which is also a fabulous dip, combine half a cup of tahini with three crushed garlic cloves, half a teaspoon of salt and two teaspoons of olive oil. Finally, combine the mixture with a quarter of a cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice and a teaspoon of finely chopped parsley.

Use your new favorite tahini sauce as a spread on sandwiches or pita, dip veggies in the sauce for a quick snack, or drizzle over heartier meals, like roast chicken for a quick and easy meal.

What Are The Ways to Use Tahini in Cooking?

Uses of TahiniPhoto By Canva

Tahini can easily be consumed on its own as a spread or dip. Sesame seeds are naturally oily, so tahini has a silky texture that doesn’t need other ingredients for flavor or consistency.

Still, tahini has several uses in traditional Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines. A typical tahini-based sauce often served as a side dish along with heartier dishes, consists of tahini, lemon juice, salt and a splash of water.

Hummus, the famous dish made with mashed chickpeas, also contains tahini along with lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Tahini is a popular sauce for chicken in Armenia and a typical spread in Greece, where it is part of the breakfast table.

In Cyprus, tahini is a classic dip for bread and when spread on a flat pita, it’s known as tahinopita. Tahini is also a common ingredient for breakfast items in Turkey, Iraq and Israel, where topping falafel with the nutty condiment is widespread. Tossing noodles with sesame paste is not uncommon in Eastern Asia, although they don’t refer to the sesame paste as tahini.

In other words, tahini is a spread, a dip and a sauce, and it’s also an ingredient in sweet and savory recipes worldwide.

What Are The Benefits of Tahini?

Tahini is delicious, but it’s also good for you. These are the most impressive health benefits of consuming tahini.

  • Tahini is nutritious. A single tablespoon of the sesame seed condiment contains over 10% of your daily needed intake of Thiamine, Vitamin B6, Phosphorus and Manganese. It is also high in monounsaturated fats and protein with relatively few carbs.
  • Tahini contains antioxidants. Sesame seeds are rich in lignans, potent antioxidants that bind with free radicals in your bloodstream, preventing oxidative stress. Free radicals are responsible for premature aging signs and chronic diseases.
  • Tahini might prevent diabetes. There’s evidence consuming tahini regularly can reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease by lowering triglyceride and cholesterol levels.
  • Tahini might be antibacterial. If applied to a wound, sesame oil might function as an antibacterial — it’s been used this way in traditional medicine in the Middle East for ages. Today there are better antiseptic alternatives, though.
  • Tahini might fight inflammation. Sesamin, a compound in sesame seeds, might be a natural anti-inflammatory that could treat local and chronic inflammation.
  • Tahini might prevent cancer. However, there are many types of cancer. Studies suggest sesamin and sesamol, two compounds in the seeds, might have anti-cancer properties in some cases. Although the results are encouraging, we still need more research on the matter.

What Are The Substitutes of Tahini?

Substituting tahini is not particularly easy, as sesame seeds are unique in flavor, composition and oil content. Still, if you’re looking for tahini substitutes, these might just do the trick.

  • Sunflower Seed Butter: This ingredient is remarkably similar to tahini, especially if you combine the seed butter with a dash of sesame oil. Of course, sunflower seed butter is harder to find than tahini.
  • Cashew and Almond Butter: These two nut butters make a deliciously silky butter with a similar flavor and texture to sesame paste. You might also need to add sesame oil to give the butter a runnier consistency.
  • Peanut Butter: If all else fails, peanut butter is not an inadequate substitute for tahini, especially if you’re only using small amounts. Peanut butter differs from tahini, but it’s definitely easier to find.
  • Toasted Sesame Oil: Toasted sesame oil, the dark kind, has an intense nutty flavor that could mimic tahini in many recipes, including hummus. If you need tahini’s flavor, sesame oil will work perfectly. If you need to emulate tahini’s texture, the tahini substitutes above are better alternatives. For flavor, though, toasted sesame oil tastes just like tahini.

There is no doubt that we all like to consume tahini in different ways. How do you enjoy your tahini?

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