What Is Tahini?
Tahini is a thick paste or sauce made with roasted ground sesame seeds that is popular for its versatility and use as a complementing sauce for a variety of dishes. The name itself, “tahini”, is the Arabic word for ground sesame seeds.
Historically, the use of sesame seeds in food preparation has stretched back thousands of years – it was being cultivated in India as of 5000 BC, and there is reference to harvesting and preparing sesame seeds as early as 3500 BC.
Sesame seeds have also been praised in early history for their nutritional properties and health benefits: in ancient Greece, they were used in certain types of medicines and remedies and in traditional Indian remedies sesame seeds are touted as a food that promotes well-being and nourishes the body.
Tahini is a common staple around the world in a variety of countries, including Japan, Korea, China, Turkey, Israel, certain African countries and the Middle East. Tahini originated in the Persian Empire where it was initially named “ardeh”, and was typically consumed by wealthy individuals who were able to acquire the required ingredients. (Source)
The sesame-based sauce has multifaceted uses and is a staple of popular dishes throughout the aforementioned regions. Tahin Pekmez is a well-liked dip found in Turkey that is prepared by mixing grape molasses and tahini, in Greece tahini is served as a dipping sauce for grilled meat dishes, and in Israel tahini is a common addition to falafels (fried balls typically made from a combination of chickpeas or fava beans), and shawarma (grilled meat that can be prepared from lamb, beef or chicken).
In the Middle East and North African region, tahini is an essential accompaniment to a wide variety of dishes, from grilled meats to vegetables, salads, and sandwiches or as a dipping sauce. Certain East Asian countries add tahini to noodle-based dishes to add flavor. Tahini is a key ingredient in the preparation of hummus, a spread that is beloved all over the world. (Source)
Sesame seeds are abundant in nutrients, containing higher levels of phyto-sterols than any other type of nuts or seeds, as well as being high in iron: 28 grams of sesame seeds contains thrice as much iron as the same-sized portion of beef liver.
Two tablespoons of tahini provides 14 grams of poly or monosaturated fats (fats that are beneficial to health), two grams of saturated fats, three grams of fiber, and five grams of protein. This same portion of tahini also delivers a healthy dose of vitamins to reach your daily requirements: 24 percent of magnesium, 22 percent for phosphorus, 14 percent for iron, 12 percent for calcium, and 30 percent of thiamin. (Source)
Tahini is also a source of other essential minerals such as zinc and copper, and can help reduce the risk of copper deficiency as well as promote general metabolic well-being.
Sesame seeds contain vitamin E, amino acids, and other fatty acids that are important to good health, and studies have revealed that consuming sesame seeds (or the equivalent portion in tahini) can increase the body’s absorption of compounds such as tocopherol, the fat-soluble nutrients contained in vitamin E that contribute towards prevention of cardiovascular diseases and certain cancers. (Source)
Is Tahini Paleo-Friendly?
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The Paleolithic diet (or Paleo diet) consists of eating only foods that would have been available in the Paleolithic area, such as leafy green vegetables, seeds, meat, nuts, and fish. Any food item that was not available to be hunted or gathered during the Paleolithic era is to be avoided: meaning processed foods, sugary items like candy and soda, and grain-based foods such as pasta and cereal.
The Paleo diet is less about the amount of calories consumed and more about focusing on eating the right foods until your body is satisfied. As carbohydrate-rich processed grains and foods are not a part of the diet, carbohydrates may be acquired through eating certain vegetables and fruits such as sweet potatoes, bananas, and leafy greens. (Source)
Although nuts and seeds are permitted on the Paleo diet, they should not be consumed to excess. Tahini, with its multitude of nutritional and health benefits (such as lowering cholesterol rates) is considered Paleo although it is recommended to consume it in moderation and prepare it fresh rather than buy it at the store. (Source)
Is Tahini Keto-Friendly?
[color-box color=”blue”]Check out our guide to the Keto diet[/color-box]
A ketogenic diet (also known as a keto diet) involves restricting carbohydrates to encourage the body to produce ketones. The body produces glucose and insulin whenever a high-carbohydrate food is consumed, and glucose is the converted and used as energy, meaning that the body does not need to burn fat for energy and stores it instead.
Ketosis occurs when the body is low on food, and ketones are burned as the primary source of energy. The goal of a ketogenic diet is to prompt the body into this state by starving it of carbohydrates (rather than excessive calorie restriction, which can be dangerous).
Meat, leafy green vegetables, dairy products high in fat, vegetables that grow above-ground and nuts and seeds are the foundation of the keto diet. Carbohydrates are highly restricted, as the fewer carbohydrates are consumed the faster the body will enter ketosis. Foods that contain grains, tubers, sugar, and fruit (exempting avocados) are all discouraged. (Source)
Meat that is preferably from grass-fed animals, vegetables low in starch, and healthy fats such as butter and coconut oil may be consumed freely. Nuts and seeds – including sesame – may be eaten occasionally, in moderation. As tahini is essentially ground sesame paste, it is considered keto. (Source)
Is Tahini AIP-Friendly?
[color-box color=”blue”]Check out our beginner’s guide to the autoimmune protocol[/color-box]
The autoimmune paleo diet (AIP diet) involves following a diet to reduce inflammation in the gut that may worsen certain diseases of the autoimmune system. Autoimmune disorders result in the body attacking itself in places such as the tissue of the brain, salivary glands and thyroid gland, and the intestines – among other area.
By eliminating foods that can cause gut irritation and eating foods that promote healthy intestinal mucosa, the AIP diet aims to improve overall health and reduce the body’s tendency to self-attack for individuals with autoimmune disorders.
The AIP diet consists primarily of grass-fed meats, poultry and fish, healthy fats such as coconut and olive oil, fermented foods, non-seed herbs, and fruit (in a limited quantity). Grains, nuts and seeds, dairy products, beans and legumes, nightshade vegetables such as tomatoes and chili, vegetable oils and eggs are all prohibited on a keto diet.
All of the foods that are prohibited on an AIP diet are considered to be inflammatory to the gut, and contribute to an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine. As tahini is made from sesame seeds, it is not a viable food option on the AIP diet. (Source)
Uses For Tahini
Tahini is a versatile paste, and can be used as a side dish, sauce, or appetizer for a variety of dishes.
Tahini is a key ingredient in hummus, a spread that is popular all over the world and may be consumed with vegetables, on bread or crackers, or used as a dip for a variety of other food items depending on your preference.
Tahini can also be used as the base for salad dressings (or used by itself as a salad dressing) as it is tasty, low-fat, and can be mixed with other ingredients to create unique, zesty dressings.
Israeli and Middle Eastern cuisine often include tahini on the side as a dipping sauce for meat dishes such as grilled chicken and kofta (grilled beef), and it can also be drizzled over sandwiches such as shawarma or barbecued meat.
A variety of creative recipes exist using tahini as an ingredient, such as adding it to classic sauces such as pesto, or mixing tahini with sweet syrups such as maple or honey for a unique flavor. (Source)
As tahini is made from sesame seeds and olive oil, it may be used in both vegetarian and vegan dishes as well as providing essential nutrients that are especially important in diets that do not allow for the consumption of meat, fish, and dairy products.
Tahini can be modified to suit your personal tastes: one vegan recipe suggests an Asian-inspired version of tahini, adding ginger, rice vinegar and garlic. Tahini can also be used as a flavorsome sauce to such popular vegetarian and vegan dishes as sautéed vegetables, rice, quinoa and noodles. (Source)
Health Benefits of Tahini
Sesame seeds have been found to be beneficial when it comes to treating certain conditions as well as reducing the risk of conditions resulting from high blood pressure and cholesterol. The seeds contain sesamin and sesamol, which are special type of lignans (polyphenols that are found in plants) that have been shown to reduce cholesterol.
A study in which participants consumed approximately 40 grams of tahini on a daily basis for four weeks resulted in a decrease of cholesterol of 6.4 to 9.5 percent. Once the subjects stopped consuming the daily portion of tahini, their levels of cholesterol returned to their original level over the course of four weeks.
Another study reviewed the effects of tahini on arthritis. Individuals suffering from osteoarthritis of the knees were given either 40 grams daily of ground sesame seeds (the approximate equivalent of two tablespoons worth of tahini) or Tylenol and glucosamine twice daily. The subjects who were given sesame paste performed better on tests to measure the movement-related difficulties associated with osteoarthritis of the knees, as well as reporting less pain and avoiding the potential side effects of Tylenol.
Due to its high magnesium content, consuming tahini can also promote bone density and potentially reduce the risk of osteoarthritis in women who are postmenopausal as well as naturally decreasing blood pressure over time. (Source)
Are There Different Types of Tahini?
Tahini comes in many forms and it’s available in jars, cans, and in dehydrated form. Generally, lighter forms of tahini are considered tastier, but we recommend trying both types to see which you prefer.
Hulled And Unhulled
You can choose between hulled and unhulled sesame seeds. To make hulled tahini, the sesame seeds are not completely ground down. Tahini made using unhulled seeds is much better in terms of nutrition that tahini made from hulled seeds. To demonstrate the difference between the nutritional profiles of the two, one tablespoon of unhulled sesame seeds contains about 88 milligrams of calcium, whereas one tablespoon of hulled sesame seeds contains just five to ten milligrams. That said, the majority of the calcium contained in the hulls is in the form of calcium oxalate, which is harder to absorb than normal calcium. This means that, even though the unhulled variety contains more calcium, you might not benefit that much more from eating unhulled tahini instead of hulled tahini.
You’re unlikely to find unhulled tahini in your local grocery store, but look out for a darker paste named “sesame butter” in stores that sell Middle Eastern produce. The chances are that this version of tahini will have been made from unhulled seeds. If you’re shopping for tahini online, make sure to check with the company you’re considering order from, to find out whether or not the sesame seeds in the tahini you’re considering buying have been hulled.
Hulled tahini is not as bitter as the hulled version.
Raw And Roasted
You can also choose between raw and roasted tahini. Raw tahini is the better option from a nutrition standpoint, because, if possible, you want to make sure that the food you buy is not heated to high temperatures and doesn’t contain any added extras. Raw tahini contains more nutrients than roasted tahini. If you’re buying tahini, be careful not to choose one that contains added oils.
How To Make Tahini
Preparing tahini is quite straightforward, as it is essentially just roasted sesame seeds that are ground into powder and mixed with olive oil.
The required ingredients are sesame seeds and olive oil, with one cup of sesame seeds and approximately three tablespoons of olive oil resulting in about three quarters of a cup of tahini. The recipe may be adapted to create more tahini, and the more olive oil is used the thicker the paste will be (which is typically best for preparing tahini to make hummus, for example).
Firstly, sesame seeds must be roasted – preferably in a large skillet – until they are a golden brown color. As sesame seeds can burn easily, they must be stirred frequently.
Once the seeds are sufficiently roasted, they must be allowed to cool for a period of several minutes before adding them to a food processor (in the past, the seeds were grounded manually) and combining with olive oil and mixing until a thick paste is formed.
Aside from being simple to prepare, tahini is also long-lasting: freshly made, it can last in a refrigerator for a period of several months. Depending on preference, it may be garnished with lemon or mixed with garlic, chili and other spices. (Source)
The ideal tahini paste should not taste too bitter, and be thick and creamy rather than watery, but still distinctively hold the consistency of a sauce (i.e. be pourable, not chunky).
Tahini is also sold in grocery stores in a pre-prepared form, with many individuals choosing to add to and adapt the paste to their tastes. In Israel, there is a popular green version of tahini which involves adding chili peppers, coriander, and parsley to tahini and then mixing together to create a spicy, zingy sauce.
Another recipe utilizing pre-prepared tahini sauce as a base involves adding salt, water, parsley leaves, crushed garlic and lemon to the mixture and stirring constantly until the desired taste is acquired. (Source)
Aside from the roasting process, tahini’s taste can be affected by where the sesame seeds used originated from: food writer and chef Adeena Sussman states that sesame seeds originating from the Humera region of Ethiopia have a deeper flavor than seeds grown elsewhere, likely due to the soil they are grown in, which is rich in minerals. (Source)
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