Tahini is a thick paste made from hulled, ground sesame seeds. Sometimes the seed kernels have been lightly roasted, and sometimes they are left raw.
How tahini is made
Sesame seeds are soaked in water and then crushed to separate the outer skin from the kernels. The crushed mixture is then soaked in salt water, causing the outer skins to sink. The floating kernels are skimmed off the surface, toasted (or left raw), and ground to produce a paste.
Because of tahini's high oil content, many manufacturers recommend refrigeration after opening to prevent it from spoiling.
Uses of tahini in plant-based cooking
Tahini is exceptionally versatile because it doesn’t have a domineering or cutting flavor, it blends well with many textures, and it lends creaminess to dishes. The best known food containing tahini is hummus, where cooked garbanzo beans are mashed with tahini, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and sometimes additional spices or ingredients. Babaganoush is another well-known dip that includes tahini, along with roasted, smoky mashed eggplant.
Those of us who love falafel are very familiar with tahini sauce. It’s a mixture of tahini paste, lemon juice, garlic, and water. This sauce goes with many foods besides falafel: cooked vegetables, grains, and many kinds of savory fritters or burgers.
Tahini serves well in the marinade for Baked Tofu, also as a binding ingredients in No-Oil Basil Pesto. For a no-oil approach to grilled sandwiches, you can spread a very thin layer of tahini on the bread instead of butter.
Tahini can be the basis of delicious and creamy oil-free salad dressings, including Green Goddess Garlic Dressing, Gracious Vegan Mexican Salad with Creamy Lime-Cumin Dressing, Spinach Salad with Curry Dressing, and Gracious Vegan Oil-Free Tahini Dressing.
Sesame seeds are very nutritious, providing dietary fiber, lignans, antioxidants, and Vitamin B1, among other things. Lignans have been shown to have a cholesterol-lowering effect in humans, as well as help prevent high blood pressure.
Raw or toasted?
I usually use the toasted kind of tahini, because it’s available more places, is less expensive, and tastes better to me. But some people swear by the raw stuff.
Where to find tahini
Tahini is available in many sizes, in glass or plastic containers, in most grocery stores, usually near the peanut butter or in the “ethnic food” aisle. There are many brands. It’s also available online.