Tahini: A Simple, Healthy, and Delicious Way to Upgrade Your Meals
As an Egyptian, I ate a lot of tahini growing up. This nutty paste made of ground sesame seeds was a pantry staple of ours. While you may know it more commonly as one of the key ingredients in hummus, it’s a popular condiment in its own right in many North African and Middle Eastern countries. A very basic sauce called Tahina (made up of tahini paste, vinegar, salt, cumin, and water) is found on most table spreads. It’s tangy, rich, and gives most accompaniments a more full-bodied taste.
A paste consisting of ground sesame seeds, Tahini is creamy and contains no dairy, which is why it is quickly becoming more and more popular in plant-based cooking. Tahini has a mild, nutty flavor and is packed with good fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. It’s also used in many sweet dishes and growing up I had it often with honey and bread. To me, this was more normal than having peanut butter and jelly, which I only discovered later in life.
Tahini is not only a super versatile ingredient, but it’s also a great food to incorporate more of in a plant-based diet. It’s a good source of plant protein (about 3g per tablespoon), packed with antioxidants, and is a good-for-you fat. Plus, studies have shown that the main active ingredient in sesame seeds, sesamin, has anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties, making it good preventative food and one that may be used in treatment. Research has also found that sesamin possesses potent lipid-lowering properties, meaning it has the potential to lower cholesterol.
Tahini is a Good Fat Packed with Nutrients
Registered dietician Anita Abdul-Karim, explains that while tahini is considered a fat, it contains lots of beneficial nutrients too, saying, “Tahini has a good amount of fiber and protein. Per 1 tablespoon Tahini has eight grams of fat, two grams of fiber, and close to half a serving of protein (3g). This makes tahini a great source of fat compared to other fats which contain hardly any protein and fiber, although they have their own benefits. For example, olive oil contains zero fiber and zero proteins but is a great alternative to animal fats because it’s a plant-based fat which is known to support heart health, and so is tahini.”
She adds that “along with its macronutrient components, tahini is a good source of the micronutrients phosphorus, selenium, and copper, just to name a few. Phosphorus helps with bone formation, selenium is a powerful antioxidant that aids in preventing cell damage, and copper is essential for the iron formation and plays a role in blood clotting and blood pressure.”
Tahini Can Help Boost Your Calcium Intake
It’s also a source of calcium and iron which, Mariam Metwally, accredited practicing dietitian and nutritionist, explains that most women need more of, especially if you’re eating a plant-based diet. “A lot of women I work with don’t consume enough calcium, it’s so important to make sure you’re getting enough for healthy bones, to protect against osteoporosis (which women are at a higher risk of thanks to menopause).” She recommends, "If you’re using tahini to help reach your calcium intake, the unhulled version while being less traditional, is significantly richer in calcium, with 182mg per tablespoon, it’s over half the calcium of a glass of regular milk.”
She adds, “Another reason to be focusing on calcium intake for women, plus the vitamin B6 also found in tahini is for the prevention of PMS!”
“While it’s definitely rich in the good things, be mindful it is a dense source of energy so as with all things, having it in balance with meals is a great idea.”
7 Delicious Ways to Use Tahini
1. In dips like hummus and Mutabal
Tahini is a key ingredient to making creamy hummus but also works great with a variety of ingredients to make a dip for chips or veggie sticks. There are some delicious tahini-based Middle Eastern dips that are versatile and easy to make, like Mutabbal, a simple dip made with eggplants, garlic, and tahini. It’s creamy and smoky, perfect on its own with some crackers or bread or as an accompaniment. Muhammara is another favorite, packed with flavor, it elevates the taste of any meal. It’s made with roasted red bell peppers, tahini, walnuts, and lemon juice, with the option of adding chile and pomegranate molasses.
2. In Smoothies
Tahini is an easy way to add some thickness and richness to any smoothie. Just 1 tablespoon of tahini will make your smoothie creamy and mildly nutty. It’s a dreamy flavor combination with banana smoothies, but will also go well with berries and anything with chocolate.
3. On toast
Use it the way you’d use nut butter or other seed butters. Tahini on warm toast with some honey or agave on top is a delicious and nutritious way to start your morning or have as a snack. But you can get creative and top it with fresh apple slices or a fruit compote. Or make it savory, topping it with some marinated eggplants or peppers.
4. In a sandwich/wrap
In the Middle East, falafel and shawarma sandwiches/wraps are where we see tahini shine. A simple dressing called Tahina is prepared, adding some vinegar to the tahini paste until it loosens up, then topping it with some water, lemon juice, salt, and cumin, to make a light sauce that is then slathered in a shawarma or falafel sandwich. The same can be done with any sandwich ingredients, as the mild sauce lends itself to many flavor combinations.
5. Salad dressing
I’ve been using Tahina, the sauce I mentioned earlier, as a salad dressing. Its runny consistency dresses leafy or grain-based salads with ease, allowing its vinegary flavor to coat everything. It’s also possible to use tahini in different dressings, like blending it up simply with avocado, water, lemon, and salt. Its richness helps bulk up your salad, sustaining you throughout the day.
6. In baked goods
As a base for halva and other candies, the taste of sesame is almost synonymous with Middle Eastern sweets. But the flavor lends itself to most sweet things and is delicious with chocolate, maple and honey. Tahini cookies have become more prevalent everywhere, and on Instagram, you can find hundreds of recipes for tahini chocolate-chip cookies. It’s also possible to use tahini to make delicious gluten-free baked goods, acting as a replacement for flour and fat.
7. In your coffee or latte of choice
One of the least known uses for tahini is as a dairy replacement in your coffee, matcha latte, or any warm beverage of your choice. Taking the logic of bullet coffee, blending hot coffee with a fat, tahini works both as a fat, a flavor and “milk” when it emulsifies, creating a creamy drink. And coffee, matcha and other flavors like turmeric or chai spices pair really well with tahini, making it a versatile ingredient for all dairy-free hot drinks.
Anita Abdul-Karim is a registered dietician (MS), based in St Louis, MO. She’s also the author of the book, “Bad Bitches Don’t Diet: A True Philosophy About Food”
Mariam Metwally is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutritionist (BSc, Master NutrDiet) based in Sydney, Australia. Her areas of focus are women’s health, fertility, preconception to postnatal nutrition and eating disorders. You can find her on @tayyibnutrition on Instagram.