What Is Tahini?

Last Update: October 9, 2023

If there were an award for most versatile pantry ingredient, tahini would be a front runner. This creamy condiment can do a lot more than flavor hummus, and we’ve got sweet and savory recipes that’ll fuel you from breakfast to dessert. Get ready to take your tahini love to the next level!

History of Tahini

Tahini is made from one ingredient—ground sesame seeds—which have been cultivated for thousands of years. The oldest seeds ever found come from Pakistan’s Indus Valley, dating back almost 5,000 years! It’s also believed Egyptians used the seeds (called sesemt) for medicinal purposes and to scent perfume.

Today, sesame seeds are grown in different parts of the world like India and Africa, and if you ask chefs and home cooks where the best tahini comes from, you’ll get a few different answers.



For food writer Adeena Sussman, the best sesame seeds are found in Ethiopia, where they’re known as Humera seeds. Adeena said they’re “prized for the soil in which they’re grown … it’s very rich in certain minerals and grows other things that imbue the seeds with deep flavor.” Philadelphia’s Chef Michael Solomonov also favors white Humera seeds, and even commissioned a local company to make tahini for his restaurant using seeds from a town in Ethiopia’s northwestern Tigray region.


When cookbook author Maureen Abood wants ethereally smooth hummus, she turns to imports from her native Lebanon. “The flavor of the tahini should be nutty and lightly, pleasantly bitter,” she wrote in the Washington Post. “I’m partial to imported Lebanese tahini; they go easy on the bitterness and are emulsified from the get-go.”

What is Tahini Made Of?

Tahini is made by grinding sesame seeds into a creamy paste—it’s basically peanut butter made from sesame seeds instead of peanuts.

Just like other nut and seed butters, there are different varieties of tahini to choose from. There’s simple, plain tahini made from roasted sesame seeds and sesame oil, tahini blended with other seed butters, and sweet tahini dressed up with flavors like vanilla or dark chocolate and sea salt.

Take a look at your tahini ingredients to make sure the one you choose is right for your intended use. For savory uses like hummus, plain tahini with minimal or no added ingredients is your best bet; flavored tahini is a unique and tasty choice for baking, topping ice cream, or drizzling over fruit. Note that some tahinis included added salt while others are unsalted. The flavor of tahini can also vary depending on whether it was made using roasted or raw sesame seeds.

Nutritional Benefits of Tahini

Here are a few good reasons to enjoy tahini on a regular basis. In a 2 tablespoon serving, you’ll find:

  • 8 grams protein
  • 4 grams dietary fiber
  • 1 mg iron
  • 80 mg calcium

How to Make Tahini

You can always pick up a jar, but it’s easy to try the DIY route, especially since tahini is only one ingredient! Just grab yourself a cup of sesame seeds and a food processor. Once the motor is running, stream in a small amount of neutral oil (like canola or grapeseed) to help the smooth consistency form more quickly. Run the food processor on high speed for 3 to 5 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Homemade tahini can be refrigerated for up to a month, and separation is normal—just stir it up before using!

Tahini and Hummus

Hummus originated in the Middle East (in Israel it’s often eaten with breakfast!), and is made with a short list of pantry-friendly ingredients: chickpeas, tahini, lemon, and salt. In the U.S., hummus helped make tahini famous. NBC News reports that in 2016, 1 in 4 homes stocked at least one hummus brand in the house, and it’s quickly risen as a top snack for everything from potlucks to school lunches. Here’s one of our favorite, easy recipes for basic tahini.

Creamy Hummus With Avocado Oil

Master this recipe and you can riff with all kinds of additions like pumpkin purée to red peppers. It’s gluten-free, vegan, and dairy-free, perfect for accommodating a range of diets, plus, it’s ready in under 10 minutes!

Tahini Recipes

There’s more to tahini than a smooth bowl of hummus. Try these savory and sweet recipes reveal some unique ways to use this all-star ingredient.

Savory Tahini Recipes

From salad to chicken, there’s no shortage of ways to add a little tahini to your dinner plans.

Raw Tahini 3 Ways

Tahini might be a mainstay in every batch of hummus, but there’s a lot more you can do with this spread! We’re smitten with the raw version of this spread and use it from crunchy apple toast to falafel—and yes, even brownies!

Lemon Garlic Cauliflower Dip

While not technically hummus because it’s made with cauliflower, but tahini still lends earthy nuttiness to this veggie-forward dip.

Colorful Kale Salad With Sweet Tahini Dressing

Nothing against a tart vinaigrette, but when it comes to sturdy kale, a creamy salad dressing really holds up. This one blends tahini, honey, evoo, and lemon for a perfect pour.

Tahini Egg Salad

We skip the mayo and use tahini for a creamy dressing that pairs beautifully with perfectly cooked hard-boiled eggs. A vibrant mix of avocado, radishes, and roma tomatoes add texture for this energizing lunch.

Currant Kofta With Tahini Dipping Sauce

Kofta are the Middle East’s version of meatballs. The lamb is tender and flavored with spices like allspice and nutmeg, then studded with dried fruits and nuts. Pair them with a crunchy cucumber salad, and an addictive tahini sauce.


Tahini Chicken

This bird gets its flavor thanks to a tahini, garlic, and spice marinade. Fresh herbs add freshness and sesame seeds add a touch of crunch. Serve it with a simple salad for a perfect, comforting supper.

Tahini chicken

Stuffed Sweet Potatoes With Tahini-Turmeric Dressing

These spuds are loaded with sautéed greens and avocado, then drizzled with a golden tahini-turmeric sauce. It’s a totally satisfying plant-based main or side dish.

Stuffed sweet potatoes

Sweet Tahini Recipes

Tahini in treats? It works! Reach for tahini with cakes, cookies, and bars.

Nut Bars With Yogurt Sauce

For a grab-and-go snack, try these nut bars made with a medley of pecans, almonds, walnuts, shredded coconut, and rolled oats. Tahini and honey help bind each square, and they’re drizzled with a yogurt sauce that’s laced with hemp extract oil.

Tahini-Pear Cake

This light tea cake is gluten-free, buttery, and flavored with … tahini! It lends a subtle nuttiness that pairs well with fragrant pears. Serve it with a warm cup of tea for an afternoon treat!

Tahini-Pear Cake
Tahini Date Cookies

Fill your cookie jar with these sophisticated morsels that are chewy, sweet, and just the right amount of salty.

Tahini date cookies

Tahini Granola Breakfast Cookies

Start your day on a wholesome note with breakfast-ready cookies. They’re filled with almonds, oats, and pecans and binded with honey and tahini. Grab one on your way out the door!

Tahini Granola Breakfast Cookies

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Nicole Gulotta

Nicole Gulotta is a writer, author, and tea enthusiast.

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