What is Tahini? Origin, Taste, and Uses Explained

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Tahini is a paste made from ground sesame seeds. It’s a common ingredient in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia. It’s made by grinding hulled sesame seeds to a smooth paste, and is used in many dishes.

Let’s look at everything you need to know about this delicious ingredient.

What is tahini

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What is Tahini?

Tahini is a condiment made from ground sesame seeds that is a major ingredient in Levantine and South Asian cuisine. It is a staple in many parts of the Middle East and North Africa, where it is commonly used as a dip or dressing for vegetables, chicken, and lettuce. Tahini is known for its simple yet dreamy taste, which tends to be slightly bitter and nutty. It is usually made from sprouted sesame seeds and is thick and creamy, ranging from savory to slightly sweet depending on how it is prepared.

The Different Types of Tahini

While tahini is most commonly made from sesame seeds, it can also be made from other nuts such as almonds or cashews. These different types of tahini will have a slightly different flavor and body, but they are all essentially a pureed mixture of nuts and oil. Tahini can also be described as similar to peanut butter in texture and flavor, but with a more creamy and oily consistency.

How to Use Tahini

Tahini is a versatile ingredient that can be used in a huge variety of dishes. Here are some suggestions for how to use tahini:

  • Drizzled over roasted vegetables or chicken
  • Used as a dip for carrots or other raw vegetables
  • Incorporated into salad dressings or sauces
  • Spread on sandwiches or stuffed into pita bread
  • Added to ice cream or chocolate chunk cookies for a nutty flavor
  • Used as a base for a hearty and savory dip, such as baba ghanoush


The word “tahini” is a Levantine Arabic word that means “to grind.” It comes from the root ط-ح-ن‎ (ṭ-ḥ-n), which is a verb that means “to grind” or “to mill.” The word “tahini” accurately refers to the paste that is produced when sesame seeds are ground into a spreadable consistency. In colloquial Arabic, the word for tahini is ṭaḥīna or ṭaḥīniyya, which is a more accurate pronunciation of the word.

The Greek and Hebrew Connection

The word “tahini” is derived from the Arabic word, but it has also been adopted by other languages. In Greek, the word for tahini is “tachini,” and in Hebrew, it is “tahina.” The spelling “tahini” is the most common in English.

Tahini in Indian and Middle Eastern Dishes

Tahini is a versatile ingredient that is used in a variety of dishes, including hummus, baba ghanoush, and halva. In Indian cuisine, tahini is often used in chutneys and curries. Tahini is also a popular ingredient in vegan and gluten-free cooking.

The Popularity of Tahini in Western Countries

Tahini has become increasingly popular in western countries in recent years, as people have become more interested in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. Tahini is now widely available in grocery stores and is used in a variety of recipes, from salad dressings to desserts.

The Origin of Tahini

Tahini has a long and fascinating history, originating in Persia and making its way to the modern-day Middle East. Here are some key points about the history of tahini:

  • Tahini has been around for centuries, with evidence of its production dating back to ancient Assyria.
  • The Greeks also used tahini in their food, with Hippocrates praising its high nutritional value.
  • Tahini remained a product of the aristocracy for centuries, with negotiated prices and availability.
  • In the Middle East, tahini became increasingly popular and readily available, used in numerous hearty dishes like falafel and sandwiches.
  • The modern production of tahini involves grinding hulled sesame seeds, often lightly toasted, into a smooth paste.
  • Tahini is sometimes called sesame butter, as it has a similar texture to nut butters like peanut butter.
  • Tahini is now widely available in standard grocery stores and online in the international foods section.
  • Tahini is an excellent source of oils and is praised for its pure and nourishing qualities that build the mind and body.

Legends and Lore: Tahini in Asian and Turkish Culture

Tahini has been lauded as a symbol of strength and stamina in Asian and Turkish cultures. Here are some interesting facts about tahini in these cultures:

  • Asian legends laud tahini as a food that provides superior physical and mental capabilities.
  • Turkish aviators in World War II were known to eat tahini regularly, with investigators pointing to its probable role in their stamina and physical endurance.
  • In Turkish culture, tahini is invariably included in the daily diet, with its auspicious benefits appreciated by all.
  • Nowadays, tahini is widely appreciated for its wonderful taste and health benefits, with companies like Hashem providing an Israeli touch to this holy land product.
  • Tahini can also be used in cookies and other baked goods, adding a unique and delicious flavor to any recipe.

What Does Tahini Taste Like?

Tahini has an earthy and slightly bitter taste that is unique to sesame seeds. The flavor is not overpowering, making it a versatile spread that can be used in a variety of dishes. The taste of tahini can vary depending on the kind of sesame seeds used, the roasting process, and whether the tahini is made from hulled or unhulled seeds.

The Texture of Tahini

Tahini has a creamy and smooth texture, similar to peanut butter. The texture can vary depending on the type of tahini you choose, with some being milder and smoother than others. Raw tahini tends to be lighter in color and has a slightly grainy texture, while roasted tahini is darker and smoother.

The Presence of Bitterness in Tahini

Tahini has a distinct nutty flavor that resembles that of peanut butter, but it also has a slight bitterness that is associated with sesame seeds. This bitterness is more pronounced in unhulled tahini, which is made from sesame seeds that still have their outer cover or hull. However, the bitterness is generally mild and not unpleasant.

Ways to Improve the Taste of Tahini

There are several ways to improvise the taste of tahini to your liking, such as:

  • Adding a little maple syrup or honey to sweeten it up
  • Adding a refreshing tinge of lemon juice to balance out the bitterness
  • Adding a pinch of salt to enhance the natural flavor of the sesame seeds
  • Adding a little water to thin it out and make it more sauce-like

The Health Benefits of Tahini

Tahini is associated with several health benefits, including:

  • Being a good source of protein and healthy fats
  • Being relatively low in calories
  • Being particularly vital for the absorption of certain vitamins and minerals, such as calcium and iron
  • Being known for improving the immune system and reducing the risk of blood clotting
  • Being rich in oxalates, which are compounds present in rhubarb and other plants that have been linked to reducing the risk of kidney stones

How to Use Tahini in Different Dishes

Tahini is a versatile ingredient that can be used in a variety of dishes, such as:

  • Adding it to hummus for a creamier texture and nuttier flavor
  • Using it as a sauce for grilled meats or vegetables
  • Adding it to salad dressings for a creamy and nutty taste
  • Using it as a spread on toast or crackers
  • Adding it to smoothies or ice cream for a strong and nutty flavor

Choosing the Right Tahini

When choosing tahini, it’s important to check the label and choose a readymade brand that suits your liking. Some things to consider are:

  • Whether the tahini is made from hulled or unhulled sesame seeds
  • Whether the tahini is raw or roasted
  • Whether the tahini is made from white or darker sesame seeds
  • Whether the tahini has a presence of husk or hull, which gives it a slightly bitter taste

In conclusion, tahini is a delicious and healthy paste that has a unique flavor and texture. It’s a versatile ingredient that can be used in a variety of dishes, and there are several ways to improvise the taste to your liking. Whether you’re adding it to hummus or using it as a sauce, tahini is a great addition to any kitchen.

How to Use Tahini: Preparation and Storage

  • Tahini paste can be made at home by grinding sesame seeds in a food processor or high-powered blender until it turns into a paste. This requires a bit of work and patience, but it’s an excellent way to ensure that the tahini is fresh and flavorful.
  • If you’re buying tahini from the market, make sure to check the label for any added ingredients. Some brands may add oils, sugars, or other flavorings that can alter the taste and texture of the tahini.
  • Tahini can also be made with other nuts, such as almonds or sprouted seeds, for a different flavor profile. Just follow the same process as making sesame tahini.
  • If you notice that your tahini has separated or become too thick, simply whisk it together or add a bit of water to thin it out.

Storage Tips

  • Tahini should be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator to prevent it from going rancid. It can last for several months if stored properly.
  • When you’re ready to use the tahini, give it a good stir as the oil may have separated and risen to the top.
  • If you’re not sure how much tahini you’ll need, plan on using approximately 1/4 cup for every 8 ounces of recipe.
  • If you love tahini and use it frequently, buying in bulk can be a better option as it can be expensive to purchase small jars.
  • To eliminate the tiny burn that can happen when making tahini on the stovetop, constantly stir the paste with a spoon until it darkens slightly. Once it begins to darken, shut the lid and turn off the heat. The residual heat will continue to cook the tahini until it stops turning darker.
  • Flavored tahini is also available in the market today, giving you a wide range of options to choose from. Fruity flavors like avocado or a pinch of cinnamon can be an excellent addition to your appetizers, salads, and spreads.
  • Tahini is widely used in traditional Middle Eastern cuisine, giving appetizers like baba ghanoush and hummus their appealing flavor. It can also be pureed with carrots or beets for a lovely dip option at your next party.
  • Tahini can be used as a dressing for salads, and it’s thick illusion can be fixed by whisking it together with a bit of water or lemon juice.

Tahini vs Peanut Butter

Tahini and peanut butter are two popular food items consumed daily by millions of people around the world. Despite having the word “butter” in their names, they are entirely different in terms of their origin, taste, texture, and nutritional value. In this section, we will briefly explore the major differences between tahini and peanut butter, and help you choose the right item for your kitchen.

Origins and Base Ingredients

  • Tahini originated in the Middle East and is made entirely from ground sesame seeds.
  • Peanut butter, on the other hand, is a staple food item in the US and is made by grinding roasted peanuts.

Texture and Appearance

  • Tahini has a smooth and creamy texture, similar to that of natural peanut butter.
  • Peanut butter has a slightly coarse texture and a yellow appearance.

Taste and Aroma

  • Tahini has an earthy and slightly sweet taste, with a subtle bitterness.
  • Peanut butter has a sweet and nutty flavor, with a distinct aroma.

Nutritional Value

  • Tahini is an excellent source of proteins, healthy fats, and minerals like calcium, iron, and magnesium.
  • Peanut butter is also a good source of proteins and healthy fats, but it also contains stabilizers, preservatives, and flavors, along with added sugar.

Usage and Substitutes

  • Tahini is a versatile item that can be used as a dip, spread, dressing, or sauce. It is also a common ingredient in hummus, baba ganoush, and other Middle Eastern dishes.
  • Peanut butter is a popular item for breakfast and lunch, and is commonly used as a spread on bread, crackers, or fruits. It is also used in baking cakes, cookies, and other desserts.
  • Tahini can be substituted with other nut or seed butters like cashew, sunflower, or pumpkin seed butter.
  • Peanut butter can be substituted with other nut butters like almond or cashew butter, or with Greek yogurt.

Making and Availability

  • Tahini is made by grinding raw or roasted sesame seeds and is easily available in most markets. It does not require any preservatives or additives.
  • Peanut butter involves a more complex process of roasting, grinding, and stabilizing the nuts to create a creamy type. It is available in various forms, with or without preservatives, flavors, or sugar.

Tahini vs Hummus: What’s the Difference?

When it comes to taste and texture, tahini and hummus are quite different from each other.

  • Tahini has a rich, nutty flavor and a smooth, liquid texture. It is often used as a sauce or dressing for dishes like falafel, shawarma, and grilled meats. It can also be used as a dip on its own or mixed with other ingredients to create a variety of different sauces.
  • Hummus, on the other hand, has a thicker, creamier texture and a milder, more savory flavor. It is commonly used as a dip for pita bread or vegetables, but it can also be used as a spread on sandwiches or as a topping for salads.

Health Benefits

Both tahini and hummus are nutritious foods that offer a variety of health benefits.

  • Tahini is a good source of vitamins and minerals, including calcium, iron, and magnesium. It is also high in healthy fats and protein.
  • Hummus is a good source of protein, fiber, and healthy fats. It also contains a variety of vitamins and minerals, including folate, vitamin B6, and vitamin C.


So there you have it, everything you need to know about tahini. It’s a delicious and versatile ingredient that can be used in many dishes and it’s worth trying.

It’s a great way to add flavor and texture to your food, and it’s a perfect dip for vegetables. So don’t be afraid to give it a try!

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Bitemybun's family recipes with complete meal planner and recipe guide.

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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.