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Best Food Forward: Tahini

When Chanie Nayman suggested tahini for this week’s column, I practically jumped out of my chair with excitement. Those who follow me @busyinbrooklyn know that it’s one of my favorite ingredients. Tahini is so much more than the sauce we add to falafel balls. Let’s dip in!

Tahini is a butter or paste made from ground sesame seeds. Although tahini is usually made with hulled sesame seeds, sometimes you can find it as “whole sesame,” meaning that the hull (the seed case or husk) was used as well. It's a little healthier, but it’s also darker, stronger tasting, and more bitter. Another thing to look out for is whether the tahini is raw or if it’s made from toasted sesame seeds.

Fresh tahini is discernible from older tahini in that its texture is rich and evenly saturated with its natural oils. In older tahini, the oils separate, so simply use a spoon to stir it back in until creamy. And if the tahini on the bottom of the jar solidifies, you can blend it back in (together with the oil) by pureeing until smooth in a food processor or blender.


In general, tahini does not need to be refrigerated; however, since it contains so much oil, it can go rancid over time (you’ll smell it if it does). Keep it sealed tightly in a cool, dry place, away from sources of heat and humidity.

TIP: Store your tahini upside down to prevent oil separation.


When a recipe calls for tahini, it’s referring to raw tahini from a jar, not the prepared tahini you’d ind in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. Prepared tahini from a takeout counter or grocery usually has water, garlic, lemon, salt, and
other spices added to it.


Tahini works in both sweet and savory applications. I love making it into a dressing for chicken salad or broccoli, by adding fresh ginger, garlic, lime juice, soy sauce, and hot sauce to it. For dessert, I swirl some raw tahini paste into a brownie mix and serve those brownies with vanilla ice cream, silan (aka date syrup or date honey), and halva.


Tahini contains more protein than milk and most nuts. It’s a rich source of B vitamins, vitamin E, and important minerals, including magnesium, iron, and calcium.


It could be you've noticed how the tahini gets very thick when you add water to it. That’s because it's made up of carbohydrates, among other things, and when a small amount of water (or other liquid) is added to it, a portion of each carbohydrate molecule is drawn to the water. Clumps of carbohydrates appear, and as the amount of water is increased, more clumps develop, causing the tahini to thicken. But if you add enough water, the tahini will loosen and thin out.


You can also find black tahini on the market, made from unhulled, black sesame seeds. Black tahini has a very pungent flavor and is often used in Japanese cuisine.

Tahini Nice Cream

I love making banana soft-serve, commonly referred to as “nice cream,” in the summer, because it gives you the ice cream fix you need — minus the guilt!

  • 4 ripe bananas, peeled, sliced, and frozen solid
  • ⅓ cup tahini paste, plus more for topping
  • 1 Tbsp silan (date honey — may sub regular honey), plus more for topping
  • ¼ tsp pure vanilla extract
  • ⅛ tsp cinnamon
  • pinch of sea salt
  • cookie crumbs, for topping (optional)
  • sesame seeds, for topping (optional)

Place bananas, tahini, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt in a food processor and blend until creamy. Serve immediately, topped with more tahini, silan, cookie crumbs, and sesame seeds, if desired.

(Originally featured in FamilyTable, Issue 647)

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Tagged: Best Food Forward