What is Tahini?
You may have heard of tahini but never quite been sure what it is and whether or not it’s paleo. Well, tahini is a paste made from ground sesame seeds. It’s often used in the Middle East, North Africa, Greece, and Turkey, and it’s most commonly served as a dip, as a meat topping, or as part of hummus, baba ghanoush, and halva.
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How Is Tahini Made?
Manufacturers produce tahini by first first soaking sesame seeds in water and then crushing them. This separates the bran from the kernels. Next, they’re soaked in salt water, which makes the bran sink. The kernels are taken from the top, toasted, and then ground.
You can also make tahini yourself, using sesame seeds and olive oil. Simply heat the sesame seeds in a skillet, stirring them the whole time and being careful not to let them burn. Then add them into a food processor along with olive oil. Process the mixture and that’s it! Keep it in the fridge and at it to your meals as you please.
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.
What Is Tahini Like?
Tahini is like a nut butter in that it’s creamy and paste-like. It can be quite bitter, so more often than not, it’s eaten with other foods rather than alone. It has quite a nutty taste.
How Is Tahini Eaten?
Tahini should be stored in the fridge and can be kept for several weeks. It is often used as a dip. Try it with some roasted vegetables or anywhere you’d be tempted to use peanut butter (which isn’t paleo) or any other nut butter.
You can also use tahini to make hummus, though make sure to lose the chickpeas as they’re not paleo. Baba ganoush also uses tahini. This dish involves eggplant, salt, lemon juice, cumin, and garlic, so it’s good to go on the paleo diet.
In Arabic and Israeli cooking, tahini is used as a side dish, a spread, the base for soups, and as a condiment. In Turkey, fruit syrup is boiled down and mixed with tahini to make a sauce or a dip. In Iraq, it’s mixed with date syrup to make a sweet-tasting treat.
Tahini is a great food to experiment with and to combine with other foods. Make some up and see what you can do with it!
Is Tahini Paleo?
For a comprehensive look at whether or not tahini is paleo, see our article Is Tahini Paleo? But, to be brief, tahini is paleo because sesame seeds are paleo. Tahini is quite high in calcium and protein. It also contains omega-3 and omega-6 oils, amino acids, vitamin B6, fiber, copper, manganese, calcium, thiamine, and antioxidants. It’s therefore a pretty good option and it makes a great alternative to overly processed dips and sauces.
Be aware that tahini contains a lot of oil, which is a fat and so which has a high calorie content. While (healthy) fats are good for you, if you’re looking to lose weight, you’ll want to limit your intake of these. The majority of the fats in tahini are unsaturated.
Photo credit: jules
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