Basic Training: What is Tahini?

What is Tahini? 

Short answer:

Sesame seed paste

Long answer

A staple Middle Eastern food for centuries. Traditionally, sesame seeds are hulled (peels removed by soaking in salt water), roasted and ground between 2 large millstones, producing a deep beige/light brown paste. In Israel and Palestine, where you can find tahini on every dining table, the producers prefer the oil-rich seeds from the Humera region of Ethiopia for its fat content versus the sesame seeds you would use on a bagel, sushi or baked good.


Why do they love tahini in the Middle East?

One thing the different regions of the Middle East can definitely agree on is why they love tahini: they adore its delicious nuttiness, versatility and nutritious contribution to their diet.

It’s no wonder the Middle Eastern diet is all the rage now for its health benefits: Sesame seeds provide a crucial source of key vitamins and minerals, the good fats that keep them fuller longer and overall good health.

Savory or sweet, breakfast to dinner to dessert, tahini is incredibly versatile. In Turkey, it’s spread on bread and topped with honey for a nutty and sweet breakfast. All over the Middle East, it is mixed with: water and lemon juice to make a sauce; chic peas to make hummus; and eggplant to make babaghanoush, all accompanying fish, meats, and vegetables delectably. It is even the star ingredient in a regional favorite dessert- halva.


How do I use tahini?

You can use tahini either in its “raw” form or by mixing it with other ingredients to make a versatile sauce.

Raw tahini you can think of like any other nut/seed butter- as it sits, the oil separates from the rest of the seeds/nuts, so you have to stir it to get the desired consistency. Then, you can add it to smoothies, drizzle on yogurt, and spread it on bread or fruit. However, when first getting accustomed to tahini, some people find it too bitter and chalky to eat straight up.

Especially for tahini newbies, we think it really shines as an ingredient in a sauce/dip.  This means just mixing the tahini with liquids, spices, aromatics (garlic, shallots, even lemongrass)- basically, whatever you have lying around/whatever you like! Here are just a few ways we recommend incorporating tahini into your regimen:

  • Dip for veggies and crackers- this makes a great and filling snack 
  • Or, as a dip for seafood, chicken, meat and veggies that you've prepared- think of it as a saucy condiment (much healthier than regular ketchup) to spice up your meal
  • Spread it on a sandwich or wrap with turkey, eggs, deli meats, or any veggie lying around
  • Dress up your favorite salad with a creamy, NON DAIRY salad dressing 
  • Mix into your tuna/egg/chicken salad for a healthy alternative to mayo
  • Drizzle it on nachos or a baked potato for a non-dairy sour cream substitute

 Here are some recipes for inspiration. 

Where can I buy tahini?

You can find raw tahini now in most grocery stores, usually with the nut butters but sometimes in the Middle Eastern or international aisle. If not, ask them to start to carry it and head to your local specialty food, organic or Middle Eastern store.

We’re partial to the authentically made tahini by family-run companies in Israel and Palestine. Al Karawan, from Nablus, Palestine can be purchased online here and if you're in NYC, keep on the look out for Halva Kingdom's tahini, available in all different flavors.

For tahini sauce, if you have energy (it’s an arm workout!) and/or time (to clean the food processor) you can make it yourself.

Sound like a lot of work? Pre-order ready-made Sesamaise Tahini dips in 3 flavors: Tangy Original, Creamy Pesto, and Spicy Enough.


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