What Is Tahini?

Tahini isn't just for hummus! Add this creamy, slightly nutty, rich ingredient made from sesame seeds to granola and brownies or make a dressing, marinade, or sauce for roasted vegetables, salad, and grilled meats.

Two jars of Soom tahini on a pink linen.
Summer Miller

What Is Tahini?

Tahini, at its most basic definition, is a paste made of ground sesame seeds. Sometimes the seeds are roasted; sometimes they aren’t. Unroasted seeds are considered raw.

People either tend to love it or hate it. If you’re on the "hate it" side, you might want to rethink your position and explore your sesame seeking options.

“To make tahini, sesame seeds are soaked in water (sometimes salted), then crushed so the hull separates from the tender inner germ. The seeds are then run through a centrifuge to separate and dispose of the waste before being roasted and ground between huge millstones,” Adeena Sussman writes in her most recent cookbook, Sababa.

When tahini is good, it should be homogeneous, creamy, thick but pourable, with a rich, nutty flavor. Sometimes it could taste slightly salty depending on how it’s processed, or darker in color which just means it was roasted more.

Bad tahini is bitter and dry tasting. If you’re not a fan of tahini, don’t hate all tahini—just hate bad tahini.

How to Pick Quality Tahini

So, you know what it should taste like now, and if you’ve been duped by the bitter stuff, don’t worry. It happens to the best of us.

I reached out to Adeena Sussman, author of Sababa: Fresh, Sunny Flavor’s from my Israeli Kitchen for some advice on picking the best tahini.

“I highly recommend Soom Tahini. It’s imported from Israel by three American sisters. They guarantee freshness and have high standards and practices,” Adeena said during a recent interview from her home in Tel Aviv.

While some oil separation is natural, there shouldn’t be a thick layer of oil on top.

“Good tahini should pour like a thick pancake batter,” Adeena says. “It should be unified. There shouldn’t be a layer of oil on top and sludge on the bottom.”

If you see thick, distinct layers, chances are the tahini isn’t fresh. If you can, try to look for jars with packaged by dates stamped on them.

How to Use Tahini

Tahini is shelf stable and can sit in a cool dry cabinet for up to a year, which makes it the perfect ingredient to have on hand.

Most people are familiar with using tahini in hummus, but there is no reason to stop with a creamy bean dip! Make tahini dressing to spoon over salads and roasted vegetables, or add tahini to smoothies and granola, or swirl it into brownies.

Try Tahini in These Great Recipes!