Tahini is an incredible condiment that works well in a variety of dishes, dips, dressings, and spreads. Love hummus? Tahini is a main ingredient! Depending on where you live, though, it can be hard to find and a little pricey. The good news is there's an easy and affordable way to make it at home!
What is tahini?
Tahini is a liquid-y, smooth paste made from sesame seeds. Think of it like how peanut butter is made from peanuts. Tahini is essentially a sesame seed "butter."
The word tahini comes from Arabic origin with roots from tahn, meaning "ground," and tahin, meaning "flour." It is a common condiment in Middle Eastern recipes, used as a dip on its own or added to hummus, baba ganoush and halva.
To make tahini paste, sesames are hulled to remove the outer layer known as the bran. They are then toasted and ground into an oily paste. It can also be made un-toasted with raw sesame seeds, which is known as "raw tahini" but it is less common.
What does tahini taste like?
Tahini has a creamy texture and a nutty, slightly bitter flavor. Hulled sesames tend to have a less bitter flavor than unhulled sesame seeds due to the bran, the outer fiber-rich layer of the sesame seed. Usually the ingredient list will tell you which type was used.
Although not as sweet as nut butters, tahini is easily adaptable to both sweet and savory dishes. The bitterness is not overly strong, allowing it to work well in a variety of dishes.
Is tahini vegan?
Tahini is vegan-friendly, containing only sesame seeds and the occasional oil or added salt. Sauces and dips made with tahini may not always be vegan but you can rest assured that traditional tahini is completely plant-based.
What is a good substitute for tahini?
If you can't find tahini and aren't able to make it at home, there are several similar pastes that can get the job done.
- Natural peanut butter
- Almond butter
- Sunflower seed butter
- Cashew butter
- Yogurt—The least similar but adds creaminess when needed.
Each one will attribute a slightly different flavor so keep that in mind when trying to find a replacement for tahini. Since tahini is also a thinner paste, you may need to add a little water to reach the same consistency. This is especially important in baked goods where liquid ratios must be maintained.
How to make tahini
To make your own tahini at home you only need one ingredient: white sesame seeds. For the best price, try to get them from the bulk bins. Many grocery stores will have a bulk section with a variety of nuts, seeds and grains for a fraction of the cost for what you'd find pre-packaged on the shelves.
Sometimes a neutral flavored oil like olive oil, rapeseed oil or even sesame oil is added to achieve the creamy texture. It's not needed but it does speed up the process.
You can also add a pinch of salt towards the end of blending, which is my preference to heighten the flavor even more.
Toast sesame seeds (optional): To make this easy tahini recipe, started by toasting sesame seeds in a large, dry skillet over medium-low heat. Stir often and stop cooking when they start to have a light golden color and become fragrant. If they turn brown, it's too late. Toasting enhances the nutty flavor and lessens the bitterness but you can skip this step if you prefer.
Alternatively, you can roast sesames in the oven. Preheat the oven 350°F and spread sesame seeds in an even, single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast the seeds, stirring a couple times, for about 5 minutes. They're done when the have a light golden color and are fragrant. Transfer the toasted sesame seeds to a large plate or tray and allow them to cool to room temperature.
Blend: In a food processor fitted with an s-blade, or a high-speed blender, add the sesame seeds and blend until a smooth paste forms. This can take several minutes as the seeds breakdown into a crumbly paste before finally becoming a creamy paste. Scrape down the sides as needed
If you want to speed up the process you can add 1-2 tablespoons of oil after a few minutes of blending. Process the tahini again to fully incorporate the added oil. You can continue adding 1-2 tablespoon at a time until it reaches the right consistency for your taste.
Finish and store: Lastly, to enhance the flavor, add a pinch of salt and blend to incorporate. Transfer to a sealable container.
How to store tahini
Tahini is best stored in a sealable, airtight container in a cool, dark place such as a pantry away from light, heat and moisture.
You can also store in the refrigerator to extend the life of your tahini even longer but it will become thicker if stored refrigerated.
Tahini can last several months, even years, if stored properly. Make sure to check if your tahini has gone bad before using.
Recipes with tahini
Creamy tahini goes great in a variety of recipes. Here are some of my favorite ways to use it:
Salad Dressings—Tahini makes a great base for a healthy salad dressing. Try this Maple Tahini Dressing.
Baba Ghanoush—Tahini is one of the main ingredients in the smoky eggplant dip! I love this easy baba ganoush recipe.
Hummus—Another classic tahini dip is hummus, made from garbanzo beans. This hummus recipe is a perfect introduction to this tasty spread.
Easy Homemade Tahini Recipe
- 2 cups raw white sesame seeds
- Toast sesame seeds (optional). Toasting enhances the nutty flavor and lessens the bitterness but you can skip this step if you prefer. Start by toasting sesame seeds in a large, dry skillet over medium-low heat. Stir continuously and toast just until the sesame seeds start to have a light golden color and become fragrant. Watch carefully as sesame seeds can burn quickly.Alternatively, you can roast sesames in the oven. Preheat the oven 350°F and spread sesame seeds in an even, single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast the seeds for about 5 minutes, stirring a couple times. They're done when the have a light golden color and are fragrant.Transfer the toasted sesame seeds to a large plate or tray and allow them to cool to room temperature.
- In a food processor fitted with an S-blade, or a high-speed blender, add the sesame seeds and blend until a smooth paste forms, scrapping down the sides of the food processor as needed. This can take several minutes as the seeds break down into a crumbly paste before finally becoming a creamy paste.
- To enhance the flavor, add a pinch of salt and blend to incorporate. Transfer to a sealable container and enjoy!