Here's all you need to know to buy, store, and cook with tahini, a delicious and versatile Middle Eastern condiment.

Tahini has been made around the Mediterranean, Middle East, and North Africa for centuries, and many cuisines the Middle East use it as we do salt and pepper — it is a flavoring agent found on the table for every meal.

What Is Tahini and What Is It Made From?

Tahini is a thick paste made from ground sesame seeds. Sesame seeds are very high in oil — it makes up about half their weight. Some brands contain additional oil, salt, or other ingredients.

A primary ingredient in traditional Middle Eastern hummus, tahini is used as a flavoring agent and thickener for sauces and dressings. It can even be baked into desserts. Basically, it's the Middle Eastern answer to peanut butter.

What Are the Different Types of Tahini?

Tahini comes in two types: hulled and unhulled. In hulled tahini, the outer shells of the sesame seeds have been removed so the tahini paste is paler and creamier than unhulled tahini. Hulled tahini contains less fiber and is less nutrient-rich. Unhulled tahini contains the whole sesame seeds, and it has a slightly more bitter taste.

In addition, tahini paste is either raw or roasted. Raw tahini is lighter in color and less strong in flavor, and it has a higher nutrient content than roasted tahini.

Tahini ranges in color from lightly sandy to deep brown. The lighter styles are made from hull-less sesame seeds that are crushed and may be roasted or raw. Roasted versions are a bit darker and stronger in flavor than those made with unroasted seeds. Very dark varieties, often found sold in blocks, incorporate sesame seeds with the hull on. These can be quite textured and gritty, and have a strong, toasted flavor that some people find a bit bitter.

Chef John's Tahini
Chef John's Tahini | Photo by Buckwheat Queen

Tahini Nutrition

Tahini has many of the sesame seed's nutritional value intact. Because it's made from a seed that is high in oil, it offers essential fatty acids and is also high in calcium, making it an excellent nutritional source for anyone avoiding dairy. Although tahini provides a good amount of protein and minerals and it is high in unsaturated fat, it is also high in calories so it should be enjoyed in moderation. A tablespoon of tahini goes a long way.

How to Buy Tahini

In most grocery stores, tahini is either in the aisle with other condiments like peanut butter or in the aisle with international foods. You can also find it at a specialty or Middle Eastern grocery. It is sold shelf-stable in glass or plastic jars and is not refrigerated.

How to Store Tahini

Stir your tahini well before using, as the oil separates during storage. Once opened, you may have to vigorously stir the oil back into the sesame paste. Store the jar in your fridge to prevent spoiling. Tahini keeps for many months, but the oils will go rancid over time. As with all food, the nose knows –- taste and see if it's to your liking before incorporating it into a recipe.

How to Make Tahini

If you're looking to make your own tahini, the good news is that the process is super simple. Ingredient-wise, you'll only need sesame seeds, oil, and some salt if you prefer it. Spread 1 cup of sesame seeds onto a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees F, stirring every few minutes, for 10 to 12 minutes, until fragrant.

Once cooled, transfer toasted sesame seeds to a blender or food processor and add 1/4 cup oil (we prefer olive oil or sesame oil). Blend until completely smooth, adding salt to taste, and adding additional oil if necessary. Store in the fridge in a sealed container.

Get the Recipe: Tahini

How to Use Tahini

  • Mix it into appetizers
    Tahini originates in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cooking, where it's used to flavor appetizers and spreads such as hummus and baba ghanoush, salad dressings, and sauces for falafel. Tahini is most widely used as the main ingredient (behind chickpeas) in traditional hummus, giving a notable and appealing nutty flavor to this Middle Eastern staple. You can also add a spoonful to pureed carrots or beets for a vegetable hummus that is lovely to look at and tastes great — an excellent option for a party appetizer.
  • Whisk it into a dressing
    Tahini makes an excellent vinaigrette ingredient — its thick texture gives the illusion of a cream-based dressing for salads and dipping vegetables. Try adding some to your favorite dressing recipe, or add some soy sauce or vinegar to tahini as a vinaigrette base.
  • Incorporate it into a sauce
    You may also use tahini as a savory sauce by thinning with water and adding lemon juice and chopped garlic for flavor. This condiment can be used on anything from roasted vegetables to grilled meats. You can even use it to make barbecue sauce.
  • Blend it into breakfast
    Tahini make an excellent addition to smoothies and oatmeal -- just stir or blend in a spoonful, which will lend both flavor and nutrition. You can also mix tahini and honey together, with or without cinnamon, for a delicious plant-based spread to enjoy on bagels, English muffins, or toast.
  • Try it in your desserts
    For a healthy sweet ending to meals, sweetened tahini can also be drizzled over a fresh fruit platter. Blend it with a spoonful of honey or maple syrup and thin with water until the consistency is to your liking. Swirl some into your brownies or try making cookies. Tahini has even found its way into ice cream.
Honey-Cinnamon Tahini Spread with breadsticks on the side
Honey-Cinnamon Tahini Spread
| Credit: Allrecipes

Tahini Substitutes

Have a recipe that calls for tahini, but none in the fridge? No worry. Since it is essentially a paste made from seeds, most nut butters can be used in a pinch — just make sure you are opting for an unsweetened jar. Try a spoonful of smooth peanut butter, cashew butter, or sunflower seed butter, which more closely mimics the flavor found in tahini. You can also add a few drops of sesame oil, which will add a similar flavor but won't help with consistency and texture, so it's best when used in conjunction with a mild nut butter such as cashew butter.