Tahini is a staple of Middle Eastern cuisine and is essential for the traditional versions of tahini sauce and hummus. Tahini can be pricey and the best versions of it are not easy to find, even online. If you need some and don’t have any available, there are a few other ingredients that can play the same role in your dish. Try out one of the tahini substitutes below.
Your best bet: Make your own tahini
Tahini is fairly simple to make and requires only three ingredients: sesame seeds, salt, and oil. Ideally, you want to use hulled sesame seeds since they give the tahini a smoother texture and a less bitter flavor when compared to unhulled seeds. The oil should be mild-tasting like a light olive oil or even sesame oil. You will also need a food processor or a mortar and pestle.
Start with about a cup of seeds to about 1/4 cup of oil and grind until the mixture reaches the ideal smooth consistency. The more oil you add, the smoother and thinner your tahini will be. Add salt and store in the refrigerator to maximize shelf life.
If you want your tahini to have a nuttier flavor profile, toast the seeds ahead of time by stirring them in a skillet until they develop a pale tan color.
A decent second choice: Sunflower seed butter
As a popular seed butter, sunflower seed butter is widely available. It is commonly used as a peanut butter alternative for people with peanut allergies. It has a similar consistency as tahini and you can thin it out with oil if you want a pourable version. Opt for sesame oil to make its flavor profile a little more similar to tahini.
Like tahini, sunflower seed butter has an excellent nutritional profile with a variety of vitamins and minerals. It has a similar savory nutty flavor but without the mild bitterness that you will sometimes get from tahini. It works well in hummus and you can use it as a sauce for grilled meats or as a dip for flatbread.
In a pinch: Peanut butter
Any kind of peanut butter can work as a tahini substitute but natural peanut butter works best. You want it to have as smooth and thin a consistency as possible. The flavor profile of peanut butter tends to be a bit sweeter than tahini even when there is no sugar added but it still works as an alternative. It also has a stronger flavor so use less of it to keep it from taking over your dish’s flavor profile.
Peanut butter has the benefit of being more widely available and affordable than other tahini alternatives; however, it does have the downside of being an allergen for many people. Like tahini, peanut butter has a toasted nutty flavor and is versatile enough to work in sweet and savory preparations.
Sesame oil is a great option if you want the tahini flavor only. Sesame oil is the oil pressed from the sesame seeds so it has the flavor without the creamy texture.
Greek yogurt can work in many of the dishes that use tahini even though it is not a vegan option. It provides the same creaminess and body but none of the nuttiness.
Cashew butter is another nut butter with many of the same properties as sunflower seed butter and peanut butter. It can work perfectly well in many tahini applications like hummus and baba ganoush but is a little more expensive than other options.