Known as ‘white gold’ in Middle Eastern cuisine, it is a widely used and treasured ingredient, famed for its versatility and savoury-sweet nutty taste. Pronounced “ta-hee-nee”, this vegan-friendly condiment is made from toasted ground hulled sesame seeds. It can be served alone as a dip, used as a sauce or added as an ingredient in many middle-eastern inspired recipes. Similar to peanut butter in texture – creamy, smooth and oily and rich in calcium too – its versatility makes this protein-rich paste high on every chef’s shopping list.
The velvety texture and high un-saturated fat content add to its appeal, as when mixed with water tahini has dairy-like qualities that are hard to recreate in a plant-based diet. Carnivores can enjoy the taste drizzled over meat and mixed into stews, while vegetarians and vegans can dress up their salads, mix it in to soups (who knew?) spread it on toast or simply dip your veggies.
Author and chef of East by West, Jasmine Hemsley, uses tahini as a staple when cooking. “Protein-rich, creamy and a key ingredient in houmous – what’s not to love? And it works in sweet recipes just as well as savoury. I love that the goodness of those little seeds is so easy to digest when blended into a seed butter. It’s great in salad dressings too and to add moisture to dishes where you might otherwise use mayo.”
How To Use Tahini
Dressings and Sauces:
Hulled tahini works best for dressings and sauces because it adds a creamy, light, earthy flavour to dishes without any bitterness. If you’re looking to replace cream in sauces or soups, tahini is a great alternative, and not as calorie-laden.
Contrary to normal cooking techniques, when a small amount of water is added to tahini, the tahini becomes thicker rather than thinner, so it works as a great soup thickener. If, however, you add too much water, dressings can become bitter, so start with approximately one-part tahini to two-parts liquid (water, vinegar etc.) and experiment from there.
Herbalist, Adriana Ayales says: “I never get tired of a big pile of kale, quinoa, and tahini dressing. I love making a big batch of dressing using tahini, olive oil, lemon, salt, and chickpea miso and massaging it into a fresh pile of curly kale and some black quinoa. Creamy, nurturing, and full of yum!”
Don’t be tempted to just bung some tahini into your soup for a complete transformation. Instead, scoop two cups of your soup aside and blend with tahini before adding it to the whole mixture. Your soup will go from bland to delicious in seconds, and feel extra filling and comforting too.
Tahini adds thickness to foods – it’s a binding ingredient, so perfect for homemade burgers, stews, omelettes and any dish that may need a fuller texture and roasted flavour. Don’t be afraid to experiment.
If you’re making your own vegan chocolate, fudge, or are simply looking for something yummy to drizzle over your frozen bananas, tahini will add a flavoursome kick and give rich body and flavour to creamy desserts.
A whole food tahini (that contains no emulsifiers) will separate in the jar. This is a sign of a good quality brand. Tahini comes in two colours: a dark and a light. Although a dark tahini paste is more nutritious it will be far more bitter in taste than the lighter coloured variety. Consider shelf-life too. Like most foods, tahini will have a best before date, but storage is also a factor. Keep tahini in air-tight containers to extend its shelf-life. The smell of rancid oil is unmistakeable, as is mould in the jar, so use your best judgment to know when it’s time to chuck out.
If you don’t fancy yourself as the next Gizzi Erskine or Jamie Oliver, making your own tahini paste will be low on your list. However, with just two ingredients, it’s almost impossible to get it wrong. Plus, it’s less costly too. Simply roast raw sesame seeds in a dry pan over medium heat, stirring them frequently. Toast the seeds until they are lightly coloured (but not brown) and fragrant, about five minutes. Transfer the toasted sesame seeds to a tray and let them cool down. Grind the cooled toasted sesame seeds in a food processor for two to three minutes to form a crumbly paste then add two tablespoons of oil (olive, rapeseed or sesame). Adapt the texture by adding more oil and season with salt. Transfer to an air tight container or jar to keep fresh.
Who knew such tiny seeds can deliver so many nutrients?
*Immune-boosting copper, iron, selenium and zinc
*Bone strengthening magnesium and phosphorus improve bone density
*Rich in cancer-fighting antioxidants
*Omega-3 fatty acids promote a healthy heart and boosts the brain
*High levels of blood sugar that regulates glucose levels
Substitutes For Tahini
If you’re allergic to sesame seeds, this doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the mouth-watering recipes and flavours of tahini. Instead, use almond butter, hempseed butter, macadamia nut butter or chickpea flour to create the same consistency. These alternatives taste as good as tahini and are just as nutritious, too.
Try out our top six tahini recipes from healthy wraps to gooey brownies, or check out these recipe books for even more tahini greatness.