Nutty, earthy, with the slightest hint of sweet and a slightly bitter aftertaste; those are the immediate flavor sensations that I experience when I taste Tahini.
Tahini is a paste made from ground up sesame seeds. Traditionally, the seeds are hulled first, which removes some of the bitter aftertaste that can be part of the tahini experience, however, not all versions use hulled sesames because the nutritional value changes. Hulled sesame seeds equals decreased nutrient density, albeit a sweeter tahini. If you are going to make your own tahini one way to decrease the bitterness and still leave the hull intact is to soak them overnight.
Tahini is a common ingredient in a variety of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines and has been for thousands of years. The first recorded reference to Tahini was found in written manuscripts from 4,000 BCE in the Fertile Crescent regions. It has since made its way around the world into a wide variety of cultural cuisines. If you’ve ever eaten hummus, baba ganoush, or halva then you have had tahini. It’s also great just as a nut butter spread on toast or veggies.
From a nutritional perspective, tahini’s health benefits vary depending on whether or not the sesame seeds are hulled. Tahini with the hull has much higher nutrient content. For the most nutritional impact you would want to have tahini that is from raw, unhulled sesame seeds and go for the organic if it’s an option. Tahini is a rich source of a variety of vitamins and minerals. It’s very high in copper, which research demonstrates can have a beneficial impact on rheumatoid arthritis. It’s also high in magnesium, potassium, and calcium. Studies suggest that these minerals can help with things like protecting against colon cancer, decreasing bone loss, lowering blood pressure, and also PMS.
One caution about sesame seeds; they are high in oxalates, which is what makes them bitter, so cooking or soaking is in order to break them down.
Curious how to use tahini? Try this amazing recipe:
- 1/2 lb beets, scrubbed clean, cooked, peeled, and cubed
- 2 TBS tahini sesame seed paste
- 5 TBS lemon juice
- 1 small clove garlic, chopped
- 1 TBS ground cumin
- 1 TBS lemon zest (zest from approx. 2 lemons)
- Generous pinch of sea salt or Kosher salt
To cook the beets, cut off any tops, scrub the roots clean, put them in a covered dish with about 1/4-inch of water in a 375°F oven, and cook until easily penetrated with a knife or fork. Peel once they have cooled.
Place all ingredients in a food processor (or blender) and pulse until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings and ingredients as desired. Chill and enjoy.