What exactly is tahini?

And why you should put it on literally everything

Published May 6, 2022 11:00AM (EDT)

 (Ty Mecham / Food52)
(Ty Mecham / Food52)

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You know tahini as the lead actor in hummustahini dressing, and our favorite dairy-free chocolate chip cookies. But with its nutty flavor, smooth and creamy texture, and vegan-friendly ingredients list, you might wonder, "what exactly is tahini anyway?" Well, it's made from sesame seeds . . . and more sesame seeds . . . and more sesame seeds . . . and that's really it! The seeds are ground until they form a thin paste-like sauce — it's the same process for making any type of nut butter, except that instead of cashews or almonds, you're using sesame seeds! Tahini is vegan, gluten-free, and nut-free; unless you have a sesame allergy, it's totally safe to eat.

How to store tahini

Tahini lasts forever. OK . . . not quite, but close! According to Seed & Mill, a jar of unopened tahini will last for up to 18 months if stored in a cool, dry place. Once opened, tahini will last for 12 months. "We recommend storing your tahini in the fridge to slow the natural separation of oil, which may start to occur after a few months," says the brand. But just like natural nut butters, oil separation is pretty standard and not a sign that your product is spoiled; it just means that you need to give it a good stir to reincorporate the oil and ground sesame seeds.

Tahini substitutes

If you want to make hummus, or the aforementioned super popular chocolate chip cookies, you can substitute any other type of nut butter in its place. In general, cashew butter is considered the best substitute, as its flavor and texture most closely resemble tahini. As for peanut butter: We love you, but this isn't your time to shine. Your flavor is too bold, and your texture is too thick. You simply won't work.

How to cook with tahini

We can't talk about cooking with tahini without talking about hummus. Here, you'll find a few of our favorite recipes, plus some that go beyond pita's best friend.

Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi's Basic Hummus

This time-saving hummus recipe calls for soaking dried chickpeas overnight and puréeing them with tahini, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and a little bit of ice water. If you plan ahead a little bit, making the hummus will only take a few minutes.

Zahav's Hummus Tehina

Chef Michael Solomonov swears that the secret to really good hummus is a lot of tahini. Use the best one you can get your hands on for the most flavor.

Tahini Roasted Broccoli

Now that we've gotten the necessary dips out of the way, let's have a little bit of fun with tahini, shall we? Make roasted broccoli more exciting by tossing the florets with a deconstructed hummus — tahini, lemon juice, garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper — and bake for 10 minutes.

Lemon Tahini Dressing

"This lemon tahini dressing recipe is one of our favorite ways to use up any extra tahini you may have on hand," writes recipe developer Gena Hamshaw. It only takes a couple of other basic pantry staples to make this super creamy, totally vegan salad dressing.

New-Fashioned Chocolate Chip Cookies with All Tahini and No Butter

These chocolate chip cookies are super classic, with the exception of one ingredient swap: tahini in place of butter. It works brilliantly and lends just a hint of nuttiness that cuts back some of the usual sweetness in most chocolate chip cookie recipes.

Tahini-Rubbed Chicken with Chickpeas and Dates

"Even if you've roasted chicken every which way to Sunday, this ridiculously easy, boldly flavored one-skillet dinner deserves your attention. As it roasts, the tahini marinade cooks down into a sticky, savory, rich pan sauce," writes recipe developer EmilyC.

Mustardy, Mapley Tahini Sauce

This dipping sauce slash salad dressing is made up of four ingredients that each pack a punch on their own: soy sauce, tahini, maple syrup, and soy sauce. But when mixed together, they're unstoppable.

By Kelly Vaughan

MORE FROM Kelly Vaughan

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