Tahini is a crushed sesame seed paste that is used in the cuisines of the Levant and the eastern Mediterranean, the South Caucasus, and in parts of North Africa.
This is a light brown sesame dip or paste, the texture of which can vary from one recipe to another depending on the amount of oil included. Tahini is an essential ingredient in the production of hummus, baba ghanoush and halva. It can also be served by itself, as a dip with bread.
What is tahini?
Tahini or tahina (طحينة) is made from sesame seeds and oil. The sesame seeds are roasted and ground to produce an oily brown paste. Tahini prepared with roasted seeds is called “raw tahini”. This is the recipe that is presented here.
The conservation of this sesame paste is the subject of several controversies. Indeed, some recommend refrigerating it to prevent it from spoiling on the shelves and becoming rancid due to its high oil content. Others, on the contrary, do not recommend this procedure, believing that refrigeration could make the product compact and difficult to handle.
Tahini has undisputed nutritional benefits. Indeed, it is a source of calcium, potassium, phosphorus and manganese. Its high protein and calcium content makes it an ideal choice for vegetarian and vegan diets when sesame is used and consumed in its unroasted form.
What is the origin of tahini?
The use of sesame dates back to Antiquity. Sesame was widely used in the Tigris and Euphrates regions of Mesopotamia. The earliest mention of sesame appears in a document written over 4000 years ago.
The document in question alludes to the sesame wines of the gods. However, tahini is mentioned centuries later, in the 13th century, in a hummus kasa recipe from an anonymous Arabic cookbook. The cookbook is Kitab Wasf al-Atima al-Mutada. Etymologically, the word tahini derives from the verb tahana which means “to grind”.
How to make tahini
In the Levant countries, tahini is prepared by adding salt and lemon juice. Some recipes add crushed garlic, parsley or cilantro. Sauces made from this sesame paste are common in Middle Eastern restaurants as a side dish or as a garnish.
Tahini can be expensive at the grocery store. Also, some brands may offer a more bitter tahini than others. This rancid or bitter taste is closely linked to the quality of the sesame seeds used or to a too long exposure (of several months) on the shelf.
Tahini can easily be prepared at home for a fraction of the cost of store-bought tahini. In addition, there is a good chance that the homemade tahini tastes better than that found commercially.
How to get a perfect texture
The quality of the sesame seeds and the fat that is introduced into the sesame paste play a key role in the texture and appearance of the tahini. Indeed, some recipes contain a few tablespoons of oil and have a compact texture. Other recipes add up to half a cup of neutral oil (grapeseed) or olive oil for a creamier consistency.
In addition, the tahini can be prepared without added oil. In this case, it will take longer to grind the sesame seeds. Also, the tahini will have an irregular appearance.
Many tahini recipes ask to grind sesame seeds and oil at the same time. However, in order to obtain a smoother texture, it is advisable to grind the sesame seeds and gradually introduce the oil.
In Turkey, tahini is mixed with pekmez (syrup similar to molasses) to make tahin-pekmez. This sweet dip is served with bread for breakfast or after a meal.
Hummus is a dip of mashed cooked chickpeas. It is traditionally prepared by adding tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and salt. Depending on the recipes and the regions in which it is prepared, there can be spices such as cumin, za’atar, or sumac in its composition.
Halva is a dense and sweet confectionery from the Middle East which uses tahini in its preparation.
In the Gaza Strip, a variety of red tahini is served in addition to the regular tahini. It is obtained through a long and more intense process of roasting sesame seeds. This red tahini is used in the preparation of a traditional dish called sumagiyya. It is a lamb stew prepared with sumac seasoned chard.
The popular Sichuan dandan noodles use sesame paste.
Tahini or tahina (طحينة) is a paste of crushed sesame seeds that is used in the cuisines of the Levant and the Eastern Mediterranean, the South Caucasus, and in certain parts of North Africa.
- 1⅔ cups golden sesame seeds
- 6 tablespoons vegetable oil (e.g. grape seed), or more
- Start by roasting the sesame seeds in a pan or in the oven at 350 F (180°C) for about 5 minutes, stirring regularly.
- Place the sesame seeds in a mortar and using a pestle, crush them until getting a very thick and crumbly paste.
- Alternatively, it is also possible to use a food processor.
- Add the oil and continue mixing until getting a thick, smooth paste.
- In order to obtain an even smoother paste, it is possible to add 1 or 2 tablespoons of oil, until the desired texture is obtained.
- Add a pinch of salt and mix one last time.
Transfer the tahini to a glass jar, close it tightly and store it for up to a month in the refrigerator.