Tahini: The Seed Butter At The Heart Of Middle Eastern Cuisine

Tahini is made from sesame seeds soaked in water before being toasted. The toasted sesame seeds are then ground into a paste. Tahini is sometimes made with hulled sesame seeds, sometimes the hulls are left on.

The oldest sesame seeds discovered by archaeologists came from the Indus Valley in what is now Pakistan. They date back to about 4,600 years ago and are believed to be evidence that the sesame plant was domesticated by that time. Archaeologists believe that sesame originated there and then spread to Mesopotamia around 2000 BCE. It became one of the prevalent crops in China around 200 BCE.

Sesame seed oil was the only oil that the Babylonians used and would later on be used by the Ancient Egyptians.

In Ancient Greece, Hippocrates placed a high value on sesame because of its nutritional benefits.

The word tahini comes from the Levantine Arab word for grind, which is tahina or tahiniyya. Other names for it in English include sesame paste and sesame butter.

While sesame seeds are grown all over the world, the best ones are believed to be Humera ones from Ethiopia.


Tahini flavor profile

Tahini has a toasted nut flavor similar to sesame seed oil and the consistency of natural peanut butter. Sesame seeds are not as sweet as nuts so you should expect a slightly bitter aftertaste but it shouldn’t be too bitter. Excessive bitterness is a sign of low-quality tahini.

Health benefits of tahini

One of the reasons that tahini has been prized for as long as it has is its high nutritional value. Tahini can boost your health because it contains nutrients like:

  • Vitamins: Tahini is rich in B vitamins. It contains high levels of thiamin, riboflavin and niacin. It also contains a modest amount of vitamin E.
  • Minerals: Tahini is a good source of many minerals including magnesium, calcium and iron.
  • Fiber: Sesame seeds contain a lot of fiber, which means that tahini does as well.
  • Antioxidants: Tahini contains a lot of antioxidants including a lignan called sesamin.

Having tahini in your diet may help to lower your risk of developing certain conditions such as:

  • Cancer: The lignans in tahini — called sesamin and sesamol — show potential for lowering cancer risk.
  • Diabetes: Tahini contains a significant amount of monounsaturated fats, which have shown promise for decreasing the risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: The antioxidants in tahini fight inflammation, which makes it a potential treatment for inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.

Common uses

Tahini is used on its own as a dipping sauce for flatbread or as a condiment and it is an essential ingredient in a variety of dishes. Tahini is an essential ingredient in hummus. The proper full name for hummus in Arabic is hummus bi tahina (hummus with tahini). You will also see tahini in recipes for the eggplant dip called baba ganoush, another Middle Eastern favorite.

In Turkey, tahini is served for breakfast alongside the fruit molasses called pekmez as the Middle Eastern equivalent of peanut butter and jelly. Another version of the same thing is consumed in Iraq, where the fruit molasses is replaced with date syrup. Egyptians add tahini to the fava bean stew known as ful medames along with hot peppers. Tahini is used to coat fish before it is roasted and is sometimes served with lamb.