Tahini as a Plant-Based Staple

two brighly coloured bowls one with homemade tahini in and the other with store bought tahini
Home-made Tahini (Top Left) and store-bought Tahini (Bottom Right)

Since moving to plant-based cooking, Tahini has become one of my staple ingredients. Previously, my only experience of Tahini had been many years ago when I tried it as a spread on toast. At the time, I found the taste extremely unappealing and did not go near it again until recently.  Little did I know back then, but it turns out that Tahini is highly nutritious and highly versatile in cooking adding a nutty flavour and creamy texture. Although I still don’t care for the taste as a spread, I now use it regularly for hummus, as a base for dressings and sauces and have even found it a tasty addition in granola.  

Not only has Tahini proved extremely useful today, I was surprised to learn of its rich history and the fact that references can be found as far back as the 13th century regarding its uses as a food dish, medicine, and currency. Although it has been a staple in many cuisines, especially in North Africa, Turkey, Greece and the Middle East for thousand of years, it did not make its first appearance in the USA until around 1940 and then only in health food stores. Now it is widely available in most supermarkets.

What is Tahini?

As a paste made from ground sesame seeds, Tahini is essentially sesame butter. Similar to the consistency of peanut butter, it is thick, smooth and oily. It has a nutty, earthy flavour but, unlike the nut butters, it is not sweet and can be a little bitter.

Nutritional and health benefits of Tahini

Tahini has an impressive nutrient profile and is low in sugar. It is a valuable plant-based protein as well as a source of fiber, healthy fats, and vitamins and minerals (including B vitamins, manganese, copper and phosphorous).

As well as having antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, the nutritional benefits include promoting healthy digestion, lowering cholesterol levels and improving heart health, helping to balance hormones and aiding with appetite control and feeling satisfied between meals.

two white bowls one with hulled sesame seeds and one with unhulled sesame seeds
Sesame Seeds: Hulled (Left), Unhulled (Right)

Can you make your own Tahini?

Absolutely! Tahini is very simple to make and, like other nut and seed butters, it can be made without any added oils. However, it will take longer to grind and the result will not be as creamy.  Store-bought Tahini is usually made from hulled sesame seeds, however, you can use unhulled and sprouted sesame seeds. Using the latter, the end product will not be quite as smooth, but will likely have a richer flavor and is potentially more nutritious.

The following quantities will yield about ½ – 1 cup of Tahini depending on the amount of oil used:

  • 1 cup hulled sesame seeds
  • 2 tablespoons of oil (mild olive oil, or a neutral oil such as grapeseed oil, and/or a small amount of sesame oil)
  • Salt (optional)

Method

food processor with blended sesame seeds
Crumbly paste after blending sesame seeds
  • Toast sesame seeds to enhance the nutty flavour and reduce the bitterness. Use a wide, dry saucepan over medium-low heat and toast for 3-5 minutes, stirring constantly until the seeds become fragrant and very lightly colored. This usually works better than an oven as they can burn very easily. Transfer to baking sheet to cool completely.
  • Add sesame seeds to a food processor and blend for about 1-3 minutes until a crumbly paste forms, then add 2 tablespoons of oil and process for 1 to 2 minutes, scraping down the sides as necessary, until the mixture forms a thick and fairly smooth paste. Add more oil as required until desired consistency is reached.
  • Add salt to taste.

How long can Tahini be stored?

Tahini can be stored, covered in the refrigerator, for at least a month. It may separate over time and, if so, just give the mixture a good stir before using.

Closing Thoughts

Products like Tahini are simple to make and can be a lot cheaper than buying store bought. One of the great things about making food from scratch is that you can control the ingredients added to suit personal needs and preferences. 

I am not sure I would have been tempted to try Tahini again if it had not been for the recipes I now use. It is definitely a must for plant-based eating and in my next article, I will be sharing some simple recipes for sauces and dressings using Tahini as a base. They are quick and simple to make but great for adding a variety of flavours to a meal.

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