What is Tahini?

This staple of Middle Eastern food is used in hummus

Bowl of tahini with sesame seeds

AlexPro9500/Getty Images

Tahini is a thick paste-like sauce made from sesame seeds, with a little bit of oil mixed in to make it the right consistency, and usually not much else. Tahini is similar to peanut butter in texture: creamy, oily, and smooth, and like peanut butter is rich in calcium. Tahini is a common ingredient in many vegetarian and vegan recipes (particularly in salad dressings and homemade hummus), and is often used in Middle Eastern cooking. 

Where to Buy Tahini

Nearly all grocery stores carry tahini, and certainly, all natural foods stores and grocery stores such as Whole Foods will have it in stock.

Look for tahini in a glass jar, a plastic tub or a sometimes a can. At large grocery stores (such as Safeway, Kroeger and Harris Teeter), you can usually find tahini stocked in the ethnic foods aisle along with a small selection of other Middle Eastern food ingredients, such as grape leaves.

You can occasionally find tahini next to the peanut butter and other nut butters at some grocery stores and smaller organic markets and co-op stores, so if you're shopping somewhere which doesn't have an ethnic food aisle, check the peanut butter aisle. 

You can also sometimes find fresh tahini in the refrigerator section next to the hummus in larger well-stocked grocery stores and natural foods stores.

There's also a powdered, dehydrated form of tahini that you can just rehydrate with water. Of course, fresh is always best, but this powdered tahini can be very convenient to keep on hand for any last-minute hummus needs. 

How to Use Tahini

The first thing to know about using tahini is this: like natural peanut butter, the naturally occurring oils in tahini will separate, from the solids so plan on stirring your tahini quite a bit when you first open it, since all of the oil will be on top. This is a good thing, actually: It means that there are no anti-separation additives or chemicals in your tahini.

Tahini is an important ingredient in Middle Eastern cuisine and several other ethnic cuisines, including Greek, North African, and Turkish cuisine. It's a central ingredient in recipes such as hummus, as well as many vegan salad dressings, such as goddess dressing and can be used in a variety of other ways as well.

Many Middle Eastern restaurants serve tahini alongside falafel for dipping, or, if you order a combination appetizer or vegetarian platter, it'll likely be one of the saucy dips that come alongside your pita and hummus.

You can also make your own tahini using just sesame seeds and oil. You can season it to your personal taste; a little garlic adds some zest and a little lemon juice gives it a bit of bite. You can experiment with different oils to affect the flavor too; most tahini recipes call for olive oil, but you may try sesame or peanut oil for a little extra nuttiness.

Recipes Using Tahini

Wondering what to make with tahini? Here are some easy recipes to try: