Spreading Tahini

Tahini is a spread made from ground sesame seeds. Traditionally, it is made by soaking the seeds overnight, after which they are crushed in order to separate the hulls from the seeds. The crushed seeds are then put into salted water, which allows the hulls to sink and the seed kernels to float to the top of the water where they can be skimmed off. The seed kernels are then either immediately ground (for a hulled raw tahini) or toasted and then ground into a paste. Some tahini is made with the hulls intact. This variety, often called sesame butter or sesame paste, is more bitter than its hulled counterpart, but more nutritious.

Tahini originated in ancient Persia where it was called “ardeh,” or “holy food.” Sesame seeds, sesame oil, and tahini were reserved for the aristocracy for centuries.

Their popularity spread throughout the Middle East, Africa, the Mediterranean, India, and the rest of Asia. Sesame seeds were so precious, ancient Assyrians reportedly negotiated prices in them as well as silver.

The ancient Greeks used sesame seeds as food as well as medicine. Hippocrates (460-377 BC) praised sesame seeds for their high nutritional value.

India’s traditional medicine classifies the sesame seed as “sattvic” or pure because it nourishes and builds the body, mind & soul. Asian legends laud sesame seeds as a symbol of immortality.

Tahini is mentioned as an ingredient of Hummus Kasa, a recipe transcribed in an anonymous 13th century Arabic cookbook, KitabWasf al-Atima al-Mutada.

Turkish aviators of World War II were thought to have superior physical and mental capabilities than their counterparts of other nations. Their daily diet invariably included tahini, which was thought to be the source of their stamina and concentration.

Although sesame butter, paste, or tahini made from the whole sesame seed has a stronger nutritional profile, tahini made from the white sesame kernels is more commonly used and still provides some good stuff: it is naturally low in sodium, has no cholesterol, and is a good source of thiamine, magnesium, healthy fatphosphorus, zinccopper, and manganese.

Tahini can:

  1. Give you energy and alertnessThiamine in tahini maintains your energy supplies, coordinates the activity of nerves and muscles, and is critical for brain cell and cognitive function. Phosphorus helps you use carbohydrates and fat, store energy, and contract your muscles. It also promotes proper kidney function, heartbeat, and nerve conduction.
  2. Promote cardiovascular health. Thiamine in tahini maintains your energy supplies, coordinates the activity of nerves and muscles, supports proper heart function, and is critical for brain cell and cognitive function. The magnesium in tahini reduces high blood pressure. In addition, tahini contains two unique substances: sesamin and sesamolin. Both of these substances belong to a group of special beneficial fibers called lignans, which lower cholesterol, prevent high blood pressure, and increase vitamin E supplies. Phytosterols are compounds in plants that have a chemical structure very similar to cholesterol, and may reduce blood levels of cholesterol and enhance your immune response. Tahini is rich in the amino acid, arginine. An enzyme called nitric oxide synthase (NOS)—found in many of your body’s cell types—can use arginine to help produce nitric oxide (NO), which is a muscle relaxant. When NO causes the smooth muscles around your blood vessels to relax, the space inside your blood vessels can expand, allowing blood to flow more freely and creating a drop in blood pressure. In the same way, NO can improve erectile function in men.
  3. Prevent migraines. The magnesium in tahini prevents the trigeminal blood vessel spasm that triggers migraines. The calcium in tahini seeds helps prevent migraine headaches.
  4. Reduce asthma symptoms. The magnesium in tahini prevents airway spasms.
  5. Build strong bodies. Phosphorus helps in the formation of bones and teeth and synthesis of protein.Zinc helps prevent osteoporosis of your hips and spine. The copper in tahini plays an important role in the activity of lysyl oxidase, an enzyme needed for the cross-linking of collagen and elastin—the ground substances that provide structure, strength and elasticity in blood vessels, bones, and joints. Manganese in tahini activates enzymes for using several key nutrients, helps synthesize fatty acids and cholesterol, and facilitates protein and carbohydrate metabolism and formation of bone. The calcium in tahini helps prevent the bone loss that can occur as a result of menopause or certain conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. The iron in tahini is an integral component of hemoglobin, which transports oxygen from your lungs to all body cells, and is also part of key enzyme systems for energy production and metabolism. Hemoglobin synthesis also relies on the copper in sesame seeds; without it, your red blood cells cannot properly use iron.
  6. Provide relief for rheumatoid arthritis. The copper in tahini can reduce some of the pain and swelling of rheumatoid arthritis, because it is important in a number of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant enzymes.
  7. Fight free radicalsManganese in tahini is a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase, which disarms free radicals produced within the mitochondria (the energy production factories within your cells). Sesamin in tahini can protect your liver from oxidative damage.
  8. Help prevent cancer. The calcium in tahini helps protect colon cells from cancer-causing chemicals. Phytosterols in tahini can decrease your risk of certain cancers.
  9. Keep you slim. The arginine in tahini can form polyarginine peptides, which can block activity of an enzyme called tissue-nonspecific alkaline phosphatase, or TNAP. When TNAP activity is shut down, your fat cells (adipocytes) tend to create less fat.
  10. Improve your moodMagnesium in tahini is essential for the biochemical reactions in your brain that boost your energy levels, and is good for fighting depression. Copper in tahini plays a role in the conversion of dopamine to norepinephrine, which affects your body’s biological response to stress, and is also involved in pain, cognition, mood, and emotions. Calcium triggers the release of neurotransmitters every time a neuron fires, and disturbances in calcium levels can produce anxiety, depression, irritability, impaired memory, and slow thinking. Iron is vital for a stable mood—its highest concentrations in your brain are located in areas related to mood and memory. The abundant proteincalciumcoppermagnesium, and zinc in tahini can improve your capacity to convert alpha linoleic acid (ALA),  the omega-3 essential fatty acid in sesame seeds, into eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA and DHA are great for boosting your mood, and low levels of of DHA  have been associated with increased risk of suicide.

Nutrients in 1 Tablespoon of Tahini from unroasted kernels (non-chemically removed seed coat)

Nutrient

Amount

Daily Value

thiamine

0.2 mg

15%

magnesium

49.4 mg

12%

fat

7.9 g

12%

phosphorus

111 mg

11%

zinc

1.5 mg

10%

copper

0.2 mg

10%

manganese

0.2 mg

10%

protein

2.5 g

5%

fiber

1.3 g

5%

Calories

85

4%

iron

0.9 mg

4%

niacin

0.8 mg

4%

folate

13.7 µg

3%

potassium

64.3 mg

2%

calcium

19.7 mg

2%

carbohydrates

2.5 g

1%

pantothenic acid

0.1 mg

1%

vitamin B6

0.021 mg

1%

riboflavin

0.017 mg

1%

vitamin A

9.4 IU

0.09%

sodium

0.1 mg

0.0083%

cholesterol

0 mg

0%

You can find tahini in well stocked grocery stores, health food stores, or Middle Eastern specialty stores. In most grocery stores, you’ll find it near the peanut butter. Alternatively, it’s really easy to make, especially if you have a high-speed blender like a Vitamix or a Blendtec. It’s just sesame seeds blended into a butter. That’s it. They can be raw, toasted, with or without their hulls, soaked or not. Experiment and decide which you like best. Raw whole seeds (with their hulls) soaked for a few hours and then drained provide the most nutrients.

Sesame oil is highly resistant to rancidity, so you can keep tahini fresh for an extended period of time, as long as it’s in an airtight container. Some people recommend keeping it in the refrigerator as well, which could potentially extend its life to several years. Make sure that any utensil that goes into the tahini is completely clean and dry. Even a few drops of water can cause a jar of tahini to go bad.

If your tahini sits for an extended period of time, the oil and solids may separate. Stirring them back together can be difficult, although it is possible. If you are unable to stir them back together, or you find some solids at the bottom of the jar, you can use the sesame oil for cooking and blend the solids into dressings.

Tahini is used in North African, Greek, Turkish, and Middle Eastern cuisine. Tahini is served as a dip on its own or as a major component of hummus, baba ghanoush, and halva. Here are some ideas for using tahini:

  • Spread it on toast, bagels, crackers, pita bread, waffles, and pancakes
  • Add a spoonful to smoothies
  • Drizzle it over fruit salad
  • Blend it with chickpeas, garlic, lemon juice, and salt to make hummus
  • Stir some into hot cereal porridge
  • Blend it into a salad dressing
  • Make it into a sauce for grains and vegetables
  • Try it over greens
  • Turn it into sesame milk by blending a tablespoon with a cup of water and a few drops of maple syrup
  • Use it in place of peanut butter in recipes for cookies
  • Use it as a binder in savory patties and loaves, such as my Holiday Roast
  • Make baba ganoush by puréing roasted eggplantgarlic, tahini, and lemon juice, and use it as a dip for vegetables or as a sandwich filling
  • Stir it into hot cooked Asian noodles with tamari, garlic, ginger, and scallions
  • Make a sweet snack by blending dates, figs, raisins, and tahini, then rolling balls of the mixture into coconut flakes, cocoa, or carob powder
  • Blend a tablespoon with frozen fruit such as bananas, peaches, or mangoes, a dash of vanilla and a little water for a creamy frozen treat
  • Spread tahini on a banana and drizzle it with melted dark chocolate
  • Use tahini in place of mayonnaise in a sandwich with avocado and other veggies
  • Top falafel with tahini sauce

This blog uses the latest nutritional data available from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), and the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration), as well as nutritional data provided by food growers and manufacturers about their products. We believe the information on this website to be accurate. However, we are not responsible for typographical or other errors. Nutrition information for recipes is calculated by Living Cookbook based on the ingredients in each recipe based on statistical averages. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients, and other factors.

This blog is not a substitute for the services of a trained health professional. Although we provide nutritional information, the information on this blog is for informational purposes only. No information offered by or through this blog shall be construed as or understood to be medical advice or care. None of the information on this blog should be used to diagnose or treat any health problem or disease. Consult with a health care provider before taking any product or using any information on this blog. Please discuss any concerns with your health care provider.

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