What Is Tahini Good For?

Creamy Tahini with meme Seeds

creamy tahini paste with sesame seeds

Sesame seeds are often sprinkled on soups, salads and main dishes for garnishing or to add a slightly nutty taste. But did you know that these versatile seeds can also be used to make a rich paste that complements hummus, falafel and pita? This sesame seed paste is known as tahini, and it’s an essential supporting ingredient in the Middle Eastern, Greek, North African and Turkish cuisine.

Whether you’ve already tasted tahini or it’s the first time you’ve heard of it, you should familiarize yourself with this ingredient to find out the health benefits that it provides and how you can integrate it into your diet.

What Is Tahini?

Also called sesame seed butter, tahini is basically a thick paste made of finely ground sesame seeds mixed with a small amount of oil.1 It has been used in Eastern cuisines for thousands of years already. In fact, it’s believed to be from Persia (now commonly known as Iran), where it was called “ardeh,” which means “holy food.”2

Tahini is recently gaining popularity in the Western culture as one of the vital ingredients that make up a good hummus. Besides hummus, tahini is also the base ingredient of numerous dishes, including baba ghanoush, which is a flavorful eggplant dip, and halva, a delectable dessert that’s famous in the Middle East.3

Because of its versatility and the depth of flavor that it provides, tahini has been recognized by The New York Times as one of the “mother sauces” that cooks should master.4 Aside from its rich taste, you can also receive optimum health benefits from consuming this ingredient, thanks to its valuable nutrients.

Health Benefits That You Can Get From Tahini

Sesame seeds may be small, but they’re actually big on nutrients. Consuming them in the form of tahini allows your body to efficiently absorb all the benefits that they have to offer.5 Here’s how this dish can help improve your overall health:

Helps boost brain health

Tahini is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which may help improve your brain health and reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.6,7

Helps support normal immune function

Tahini contains copper, iron, selenium and zinc—all of which may help maintain a healthy immune system, since they’re vital in the production of white blood cells and the function of several enzymes.8

Promotes heart health

Since tahini is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, it may help reduce harmful cholesterol levels and lower the risk of heart disease and stroke.9

Helps strengthen your bones

Tahini has high amounts of magnesium and phosphorus, which may help improve your bone density and lower your risk of developing osteoporosis.10,11

Provides cancer-fighting antioxidants

Tahini is a great source of antioxidants, especially lignans,12 which may help reduce the risk of hormone-related cancers, including breast, uterus, ovarian and prostate cancer.

Regulates blood sugar levels

The high magnesium content of tahini makes it helpful for managing blood glucose levels.

Other Culinary Uses of Tahini That You Can Try

As mentioned above, some of the common uses for tahini include hummus, baba ghanoush and halva. Plus, it can be enjoyed as a dip for falafel and pita bread. But aside from these, there are also other ways to enjoy this savory ingredient. Here are some good examples:

  • Drizzle it over fresh greens: The rich, nutty taste of tahini complements the freshness of organic vegetables, making it a good salad dressing that’s quick and easy to create.
  • Spread it on gluten-free toast: Tahini is a healthy and tasty alternative to commercially processed spreads that contain trans fats.
  • Mix it with your soup: Adding tahini to your soup thickens its consistency and gives it a slightly nutty taste.
  • Use it as a veggie dip: You can add herbs, lemon juice and a small amount of seasoning to tahini to make a dip that’s perfect for raw vegetables.
  • Pair it with meat: The mild taste of tahini makes it a great condiment for different types of meat dishes, such as roasted chicken or lamb.

How to Make Tasty Homemade Tahini

Making tahini on your own is quick and easy, not to mention that it tastes better too. It requires only two ingredients: sesame seeds and oil. One of the most important aspects that you should consider when making your own tahini is the type of sesame seeds that you’re going to use.

Tahini is usually made from hulled sesame seeds, since these provide a smooth texture and a slightly bitter taste. Unhulled seeds may also be used, but their end product tends to be bitterer, rougher in texture and darker in color. Tahini that’s made from unhulled sesame seeds may also have a higher nutritional content than those made from hulled seeds.13

The method for making tahini is the same regardless of the type of sesame seeds that you choose. Here are the steps to make a homemade tahini based on a recipe from Inspired Taste:14

Tasty Homemade Tahini

Ingredients:

1 cup sesame seeds

2 to 4 tablespoons light olive oil

Procedure:

  1. Toast the sesame seeds in a wide saucepan over medium-low heat to enhance their nutty flavor. Make sure that you stir the seeds constantly until they become lightly colored and fragrant, then transfer them to a baking sheet to cool.
  2. Grind the sesame seeds in a food processor for one minute until they form a crumbly paste.
  3. Add olive oil into the mixture, one tablespoon at a time. Process for one to two minutes, scraping down the sides as necessary, until the mixture forms a thick and smooth paste. You may opt to add more oil until you get the consistency that you like

To store the tahini that you just made, transfer it to an airtight container and place it inside the refrigerator. When stored properly, homemade tahini may last for around six months. The mixture will likely separate over time. Don’t be alarmed if this happens, and simply stir it well to redistribute the oil.15,16

Try This Delicious Tahini Sauce Recipe at Home

Homemade tahini can be enjoyed as is. But if you’re looking for additional flavors, then you should mix it with other healthy ingredients to make a tasty tahini sauce. Try this recipe from The Spruce:17

Tasty Homemade Tahini

Ingredients:

1/2 cup tahini paste

3 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup lemon juice

1 teaspoon parsley, finely chopped (optional)

Procedure:

  1. In a food processor, combine the garlic, tahini paste and salt.
  2. Remove the mixture from the food processor, then add the olive oil and lemon juice. If the mixture is too thick, add a teaspoon of warm water until you get the desired consistency.
  3. Mix in parsley, then serve immediately or refrigerate

This appetizing tahini sauce can be used as a salad dressing to give your greens an earthy flavor. You can also use it as a dip for appetizers or snacks. Plus, it works well as a condiment for a variety of main dishes.

What Are Some Good Substitutes for Tahini?

There are a number of delectable dishes that includes tahini, but what if you’re allergic to sesame seeds or you simply don’t have an access to homemade or commercial tahini? The good news is that there are several alternatives that you can use as a substitute for this ingredient. These include:18

The alternative ingredients mentioned above not only tastes as good as tahini, but they’re just as nutritious too. You can substitute any of them to continue enjoying healthy and savory meals.

Tahini Nutrition Facts

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Nutrient Database, two tablespoons of tahini provides approximately 178 calories, 6 grams of carbohydrates and 1.4 grams of dietary fiber.19

The same serving of tahini also contains 16 grams of fat, most of which are healthy types that are beneficial for your overall health. Plus, it’s a great source of B vitamins, particularly thiamine. To get a better understanding of the nutritional value of tahini, take a look at the table below:20

Sesame Paste

Serving Size: 1 tablespoon
  Amt. Per
Serving
% Daily
Value*
Calories 6  
Calories from Fat    
Total Fat 1 g  
Saturated Fat 0 g  
Trans Fat 0 g  
Cholesterol 0 mg  
Sodium 9 mg  
Total Carbohydrates 0 g  
Dietary Fiber 0 g  
Sugar 0 g  
Protein 0 g  
Vitamin A   0%
Calcium   0%

*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

A Word of Caution About Tahini: Consider Its Lectin and Omega-6 Content

While tahini provides a wide array of desirable health benefits, it has a few drawbacks too. One of this is its lectin content. Lectin is a sugar-binding plant protein that may cause leaky gut by hindering the absorption of nutrients in the intestines. Consuming it in high amounts may lead to a slew of health problems, including weight gain, abnormal endocrine function and increased blood viscosity, among others.

To prevent these negative effects, you have to reduce the lectin content of the sesame seeds that you’re going to use to make tahini. You can do this by simply soaking the seeds overnight. You may also opt to use sprouted sesame seeds, as it has a lower lectin content.

Tahini also has high omega-6 content, so make sure that you don’t eat too much of it to avoid an imbalance with your omega-3 levels. Keep in mind that the key to enjoying tahini without wreaking havoc on your health is by eating it in moderation.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Tahini

Q: What does tahini taste like?

A. The flavor of tahini may vary according to the type of sesame seeds that is used to make it and the method of how it’s made. Tahini made from hulled sesame seeds usually has a smooth and delicately bitter flavor, while those made from unhulled seeds tend to have a bitterer taste.21

Roasting the sesame seeds before grinding them into paste also makes a difference on the end product. Tahini made from roasted sesame seeds tends to have a stronger nutty flavor.22

Q. Is tahini vegan?

A. Yes, tahini is vegan, since it doesn’t contain any animal-derived ingredients nor is it processed using animal products. In fact, is often used in various vegetarian and vegan dishes.23

Q. Is tahini gluten-free?

A. Some commercial tahini brands may contain gluten,24,25 so if you’re planning to buy one from the grocery, make sure that you’re purchasing a product with a gluten-free label. Better yet, make your own tahini at home to ensure that you’re using only wholesome ingredients.

Q. How long does tahini last?

A. The shelf life of tahini may vary depending on how it’s made. When stored properly, it may last for around six months.26

Q. Do you need to refrigerate tahini?

A. You don’t actually need to refrigerate tahini, although doing so may lengthen its shelf life.27 You may simply store it at room temperature, away from heat and direct sunlight.28