The earliest known mention of tahini dates back to 3500 BC. It is a paste made from ground sesame seeds, it’s often blended into dips, such as hummus and baba ghanoush. Tahini-based sauces appear widely in Armenian, Turkish, Iraqi, Cypriot, Greek, East Asian, and Indian fare.
Tahini is sesame seed butter. The seeds are soaked in water, then crushed and hulled to take off the “coat,” or kernel. The kernels float to the top and are taken out. What’s left is toasted and soaked again in saltwater before being pounded into a paste. It has a thick, oily, and smooth texture similar to natural peanut butter.
One tablespoon (15 grams) of tahini contains the following:
- Calories: 90 calories
- Protein: 3 grams
- Fat: 8 grams
- Carbs: 3 grams
- Fiber: 1 gram
- Thiamine: 13% of the DV
- Vitamin B6: 11% of the DV
- Phosphorus: 11% of the DV
- Manganese: 11% of the DV
Tahini is a great source of phosphorus and manganese, both of which play vital roles in bone health. It’s also high in thiamine (vitamin B1) and vitamin B6, which are important for energy production. Tahini also has selenium. Just 2 tablespoons of tahini provide almost 15 percent of the recommended daily allowance of calcium.
About 50% of the fat in tahini comes from monounsaturated fatty acids which have anti-inflammatory properties and are linked to a decreased risk of chronic disease. Diets rich in monounsaturated fats lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Sesame seeds can help lower cholesterol. High cholesterol, especially LDL cholesterol, is a major risk factor for heart disease. In one study, patients with high cholesterol who ate about 4.5 tablespoons of sesame seeds a day for two months saw significant improvements in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels.
This may be because sesame seeds are packed with antioxidants, which protect cells from free-radical damage and prevent cardiovascular disease. Sesamin and sesamolin, in particular, are two potent antioxidants unique to the sesame plant that have been linked to heart health. They work by inhibiting cholesterol production in the body and blocking the absorption of dietary cholesterol.
Sesamin has also been studied in animals as a potential treatment for asthma.
Tahini also contains antioxidants called lignans, The antioxidants in tahini can help fight inflammation. In one study, patients with knee osteoarthritis who consumed 40 grams of sesame seeds per day saw improvements in knee pain and inflammatory biomarkers. Other lab studies have shown that the antioxidants in sesame seeds inhibit the production of inflammatory cytokines.
Tahini and sesame seeds may have antibacterial properties due to these powerful antioxidants. In some Central European and Middle Eastern countries, sesame oil is used as a home remedy for foot wounds associated with diabetes. In one study on the antibacterial capacity of sesame seed extract, researchers found that it was effective against 77% of the drug-resistant bacterial samples tested.
Tahini contains compounds that may improve brain health and decrease your risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases like dementia. In test-tube studies, sesame seed components have been shown to protect human brain and nerve cells from free radical damage. Sesame seed antioxidants can cross the blood-brain barrier, meaning they can leave your bloodstream and directly affect your brain and central nervous system.
One animal study suggests that sesame antioxidants may also help prevent the formation of beta amyloid plaques in the brain, which is characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.
Sesame seeds are also being researched for their potential anticancer effects. Some test-tube studies have shown that sesame seed antioxidants promote the death of colon, lung, liver, and breast cancer cells.
While tahini is generally a safe alternative for those with nut allergies, it is estimated that 1.6 million Americans are allergic to sesame seeds.
How to Buy
You can buy premade tahini at most grocery stores. Jarred tahini doesn’t always taste as good as fresh because it’s been sitting on the shelf for a while. It might taste bitter, astringent, or even slightly acidic and have a chalky mouthfeel. Good tahini, on the other hand, tastes slightly nutty, savory, and has a creamy texture.
Look for fresh, locally made tahini.
How to Store
Tahini will keep in a refrigerator for up to three months if it’s stored properly in an airtight container.
The natural oils in it may separate during storage, but this can be easily fixed by stirring the tahini before using it.
How to Cook
Tahini can be eaten straight from the jar, mixed with chickpeas for homemade hummus, or poured into batter. Try mixing it with basil, onions, garlic, and apple cider vinegar for a versatile green tahini sauce (great drizzled on roasted veggies). Or combine it with cacao and maple syrup for a sweet spread.
Tahini is easy to make at home.
- 5 cups sesame seeds
- 1 1/2 cups olive oil or vegetable oil
- Salt, to taste (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 F. Toast sesame seeds for 5 to 10 minutes, tossing the seeds frequently with a spatula. Do not allow to brown or burn. Remove the seeds from the oven, and let them cool for 20 minutes. You can also toast the seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat. Stir the seeds frequently until they are lightly colored but not brown, or about 5 minutes.
- Toasting the sesame seeds isn’t necessary. However, tahini made with untoasted seeds won’t be quite as nutty, and it might have a slightly bitter flavor.
Transfer the toasted seeds to a tray and let them cool completely.
Pour sesame seeds into the food processor. Slowly drizzle in the oil while the processor is running, blending for 2 minutes. Check for consistency. The goal is a thick, yet pourable texture. Add more oil and blend until desired consistency.
Add salt to taste.