Interesting yet too often underrated, tahini is a go-to ingredient in many Middle Eastern dishes. What would hummus be without tahini? Its appeal lies in its versatility. This simple paste made of finely ground sesame seeds and oil can be used to prepare dips, sauces, salad dressings and more. In fact, tahini is an integral food of many culinary cultures — not only for its usefulness, but for its great nutrition profile.
Cooking with Tahini
Tahini can be purchased at most large supermarkets and is prevalent in ethnic stores with Middle Eastern or Mediterranean products, but it also can be made at home. First, choose hulled sesame seeds to create a smooth texture with less bitterness than unhulled seeds. Lightly toast the seeds in a pan over low heat, using caution to avoid burning them. Once toasted, pulse the seeds in a food processor until crumbly. Then add a small amount of neutral-flavored oil (such as vegetable oil) and puree until smooth. It can be challenging to achieve the same consistency as commercial varieties, but homemade tahini tastes just as good.
As for how to use it, the options are seemingly endless. Since tahini has emulsifying properties, it works well in salad dressings by preventing separation while adding flavor and creaminess. Showcase its earthy, nutty flavor profile in cookies, soups and sauces. Or mix it with olive oil, lemon and minced garlic for a perfect marinade for chicken or shrimp.
Nutritional Qualities of Tahini
A one-tablespoon serving of tahini contains 89 calories, 2.6 grams of protein, 3.2 grams of carbohydrate and 8 grams of fat, with 3 grams of that fat being heart-healthy monounsaturated and 3.5 grams being polyunsaturated. Besides being a form of healthy fat and vegetarian protein, tahini also contains minerals including calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium, and provides 12 percent of the Daily Value of the B vitamin thiamin.
Using Tahini in Foodservice
In grocery stores, tahini can be found either in the ethnic aisle or near the nut butters. Other options for purchasing this versatile ingredient include specialty gourmet or Middle Eastern and Mediterranean grocery stores and online retailers. Follow the manufacturer’s storage instructions, but know that tahini can last safely for about three weeks to several months after opening if stored in the refrigerator. Light, heat and air can damage tahini, so be sure to store it covered and sealed in a cool, dry place or in the refrigerator to maintain freshness.
A layer of oil may form on top of the paste, but don’t skim it off. It is a natural barrier that protects the tahini from moisture loss, rancidity and oxidation. Instead, stir the oil into the paste to reincorporate it before using. If your tahini smells musty and stale, it’s likely rancid and should be discarded.
Sara Haas, RDN, LDN, is a Chicago-based dietitian and chef. She is a Stone Soup blogger and author of sarahaasrdn.com.
Whole-Wheat Tahini Cookie with Lemon-Tahini Glaze
- [110 grams] ½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
- [190 grams] ¾ cup, plus 1½ tablespoons tahini
- [70 grams] ⅓ cup brown sugar, packed
- [70 grams] ⅓ cup granulated sugar
- [4 grams] 1 teaspoon (5 milliliters) vanilla extract
- [50 grams] 1 egg
- [130 grams] 1 cup whole-wheat flour
- [5 grams] ¾ teaspoon baking soda
- [80 grams] ½ cup, plus 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
- [25 grams] 2 tablespoons (30 milliliters) lemon juice
- [1 gram] 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- In a stand mixer or large bowl with an electric mixer, beat butter, tahini and both sugars until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and egg, and mix until well incorporated. Scrape mixture from beaters and sides of bowl with a spatula.
- In a separate medium bowl, sift flour and baking soda together.
- Add flour mixture to butter mixture and stir gently to combine, being careful not to over-mix.
- Cover dough with plastic wrap and allow to chill in the refrigerator for about 2 hours.
- Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats and set aside.
- Using a tablespoon, scoop and roll dough into one-inch balls and place about 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets.
- In a ramekin or small bowl, add 2 tablespoons powdered sugar. Using the base of a glass about 2 inches in diameter, first dip in powdered sugar to coat, then flatten dough balls to almost the diameter of the bottom of the glass, about 1½ inches. Be sure to recoat the bottom of the glass with powdered sugar each time.
- Bake for 8 to 9 minutes. Cookies are done when the edges are golden and the centers are slightly tender. Remove from oven and let cool for about 5 minutes before using a spatula to transfer onto a wire rack to cool completely.
- Make the glaze by whisking ½ cup powdered sugar, 1½ tablespoons tahini, lemon juice and lemon zest in a small bowl until completely smooth.
- After cookies are completely cooled, use a small spoon to drizzle tahini glaze over cookies; allow glaze to set at least 20 minutes before serving. Serves 21.
- Dough can be made up to two days before baking.
- Cookies stored in layers separated by parchment paper in an airtight container should keep well in the freezer for up to 3 months.
SERVING SIZE: 2 cookies (30 grams)
CALORIES 154; TOTAL FAT 9g; SAT. FAT 4g; CHOL. 19mg; SODIUM 73mg; CARB. 16g; FIBER 1g; SUGARS 10g; PROTEIN 3g; POTASSIUM 72mg; PHOSPHORUS 97 mg