How to Make Tahini Paste, or Sesame Seed Butter (And a Recipe for Spiced Tahini-Yogurt Dressing)

Homemade_Tahini_Paste3

I am willing to bet that there is no authentic Middle Eastern kitchen that doesn’t stock tahini paste. There’s just no way to go without it, especially if you’re having a seafood meal. Tahini sauce — made from tahini paste mixed with water, lemon juice, spices, garlic and sometimes, yogurt — has become a staple even in a lot of Western homes. What can tahini dressing not get drizzled on? At least all these make the cut: salads, roasted vegetables, stuffed vegetables, rice or quinoa, falafel, shawerma, seafood (and I’m probably missing lots more). The best thing about tahini is the smooth, nutty but mild taste, followed by the fact that it pairs well with pretty much any savory food, and certain sweet ones as well (halawa, anyone?). If you can get your hands on tahini made with organic sesame seeds,  it’s a quite nutritious dressing to boot!

The origin of sesame seeds (and some benefits to eating them)

Hulled_Sesame_Seeds1

Before I dive into my post on how to make homemade tahini, I’d like to share a couple of cool facts I stumbled upon when researching sesame seeds (yeah, that’s really what I like to do in my spare time):

  • It’s old! Ancient 4000-year-old Babylonian records mention sesame, and it made the cut in the list of medicinal drugs kept by the ancient Egyptians (oh, and I found it pretty cool that they called it sesemt). In fact, “sesame seed is considered to be the oldest oilseed crop known to man, domesticated well over 5000 years ago” (Wikipedia).
  • Sesame is native to sub-saharan Africa and India, where it is cultivated in the largest quantities to this day.
  • Sesame has one of the highest oil contents of any seed. The oil is considered quite stable as long as it is expeller pressed and stored properly.
  • Two words: drought-tolerant. Sesame is said to survive in places where a lot of other crops fail.
  • In Egyptian Arabic, sesame seeds are called sem-sem, and tahini paste is called tahina.
  • Seeds are typically cleaned and hulled after harvesting. Hulled seeds don’t have as much calcium as unhulled seeds, but the calcium inside the seed is the more bioavailable kind anyway (well, according to the World’s Healthiest Foods website).
  • Sesame seed oil is made of Omega-6 fatty acids, but doesn’t have any Omega-3s. If you follow nutrition blogs like Mark’s Daily Apple, you’ll learn that the typical Western diet is high in Omega 6 but low in Omega 3, thereby causing inflammation. So don’t be eating too much tahini and make sure you have plenty of sources of omega 3!
  • Curious about the nutritional content of sesame seeds? “Not only are sesame seeds a very good source of manganese and copper, but they are also a good source of calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, vitamin B1, zinc and dietary fiber” (WHFoods). Woohoo!

What’s wrong with store-bought tahini paste? 

There’s only one little caveat: most packaged-store bought tahini paste (some also call it sesame butter) is not pure, and it is cut with refined, genetically modified vegetable oils like canola oil (which is tasteless so it’s often used as a filler oil, but it’s quite unhealthy) and refined sesame seed oil, which is refined using chemical solvents, and is prone to rancidity if not stored properly in the refrigerator. This is true even if the ingredient only lists sesame seeds. If you opt for the organic brands you can find at your health food store, then you should be prepared to part ways with upwards of about $8-$10 a jar (if you’re in the U.S.). If you’re a tahini-lover like me, that can get expensive pretty fast! So if you’d like tahini to be a staple in your fridge, then you should consider whipping up some yourself.

How to make homemade tahini paste from raw sesame seeds

I admit I was pretty intimidated by the process at first: would I have to invest in some kind of seed grinder? I had read in a couple of online forums that a coffee / spice grinder is often used to make homemade tahini. But I thought it might get messy especially with a small grinder that doesn’t come apart for washing. I posed my dilemma to our readers on Facebook, and a few helpful people commented saying that I can just try a food processor — surely I have that on hand (ahem, yeah, foodie in the house!).

So food processor it is, I decided. But first: soaking. I’ve mentioned soaking seeds and legumes repeatedly on MidEats, but because it’s so important, I’ll mention it again: you gotta soak your sesame seeds. Why? Well, glad you asked. Sesame seeds (and many other kinds of seeds) are designed with certain chemicals, such as phytic acid, that pull nutrients from the surrounding environment in order for the plant to grow.  When we ingest a lot of these chemicals, nicknamed “antinutrients” in the world of nutrition, we risk malabsorption of important nutrients found in other foods. Additionally, the sensitive stomachs among us can also have digestive issues resulting from eating improperly prepared (i.e. unsoaked) beans, grains, nuts and seeds. Leaving the super-scientific nitty-gritty details aside, I know that there’s an age-old trick to getting rid of a large amount of phytic acid: soaking! Simply cover the sesame seeds with warm water, add a sprinkle of sea salt and let it sit overnight. Then, you can rinse, drain, and dehydrate/roast/toast as desired before using in a recipe.

Hulled_Sesame_Seeds2

I chose to toast mine in the oven after soaking, just to give the seeds a little bit of a toasted flavor; but if you like it raw, then by all means simply dehydrate (if you have a dehyrdrator) or leave out in the sun to dry. If you choose the oven route, you can spread the seeds on a baking sheet and bake for 12-20 minutes in a 300 F oven until light-golden and fragrant, mixing to expose the other side midway through the toasting. Add the seeds to your food processor, and pulse until finely chopped and the oil starts to release. You’ll notice after a minute or two that the consistency is becoming like that of a nut butter. If you want to thin out the mixture, you can add a high-quality unrefined sesame seed oil, light olive oil, or coconut oil, in small quantities until the desired smoothness is reached. Otherwise, you know you’ve made tahini paste (or sesame butter) when the seeds have all been crushed and blended so you cannot make out individual seeds any longer, a la the image below. Note: a teaspoon or so of (not virgin) coconut oil was used in making this paste.

Homemade_Tahini_Paste2

Homemade_Tahini_Paste4

Tahini dressing: The first recipe to try with homemade tahini paste

Now. You want to make a garlicky tahini dressing that goes well with pretty much anything, eh? Once you have the homemade tahini paste on hand, the rest is easy peasy. All you gotta do is acquire all the ingredients you need (listed below), grab your food processor, immersion blender or bullet blender, add all the ingredients in it and give it a whirl until everything’s well-blended. Of course, the best part of making tahini dressing is taste-testing and adjusting the spices to your liking as you go along. So please use the measurements here only as a guide, and experiment with the flavors yourself!

Tahini_Sauce2

Spiced Tahini-Yogurt Dressing

by Heba

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: none – it’s raw

Keywords: blender raw appetizer ingredient side snack gluten-free soy-free sugar-free vegetarian vegan garlic sesame seeds tahini paste Middle Eastern Egyptian fall spring summer winter

Ingredients (about 1 cup)

  • 1/3 cup homemade tahini paste (aka sesame butter) – read the post to learn how to make it
  • 1/3 cup filtered water
  • 3-4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons full-fat plain organic yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon raw apple cider vinegar
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • pinch of cardamom powder (optional – adds subtle background flavor)
  • pinch of cayenne pepper (optional – if you like a kick)
  • unrefined salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

Instructions

  1. Measure all ingredients, add to a blender or food processor and blend until smooth consistency is reached.
  2. Taste test and adjust seasoning accordingly.
  3. Keeps well in the fridge for a couple of days.

Tahini_Sauce1

26 Comments

      • oh thank u so much HEBA for recipe coz i all the time ignor the dishes which use tahini,as in pakistan i do not hope i could find it.now i can make at home.i alw pray for u for long happy life.

  1. That looks really good! I’m going to have to try making tahini soon. I’ve just recently been adding sesame seeds back in my diet and haven’t had any issues so far.

    Do you have any suggestions for a replacement for the yogurt in your dressing? I can’t do any yogurt yet (hopefully soon, though!). I was thinking of trying some coconut cream instead. What do you think?
    Mindy @ Too Many Jars in My Kitchen! recently posted…5 Tips for Staying Sane in Your GAPS KitchenMy Profile

    • Hi Mindy, thanks for your comment! I am glad you can tolerate sesame seeds well – they’re delicious 🙂 If you would like to remove the yogurt, just omit it and experiment with adding more water/lemon juice to get the texture and level of tanginess (not a word apparently … zestiness? haha) that you would like. I wouldn’t add coconut cream unless you want it tasting like coconut! We often make a tahini dressing without yogurt, and it still tastes great. Let me know how it works out for you if you try it!

  2. This looks delicious and so simple Heba! I cannot wait to try it. I always wonder about the Tahini I buy at the store…the jars always make me feel like the labeling is sketchy.

    As for the yogurt, I have actually never used yogurt! (Heba and I always learn from each other!)

    I have fond memories of watching my mother make it over the sink – add water, add lemon juice…stir. Too thick? More water and lemon juice. Too liquidy? Add more paste. She would keep going at it, stirring it vigorously until she got the right consistency. Then a pinch of salt, coriander powder, and fresh chopped parsley. DELISH!
    Brenda recently posted…How to Make Tahini Paste, or Sesame Seed Butter (And a Recipe for Spiced Tahini-Yogurt Dressing)My Profile

    • Thanks Brenda! 🙂 I hope you get to try it sometime. One thing to note though is the sesame paste will taste much more distinctly like sesame when the seeds are toasted prior to grinding. I personally like that, but the flavor might be a bit strong for anyone used to the milder store-bought tahini. If you want a milder tahini, you can probably just dehydrate the soaked seeds instead of toasting them. Also, you can skip the yogurt if you wish, but I like the tang and creaminess it adds in the background.

      Yes, I have fond memories of my dad mixing tahina in the kitchen too! My mom would make the meal, and dad would be in charge of mixing (a lot of guys are good at that kind of thing!) And he never ever measured, haha. Kinda like your mom, he would like add a little tahini, then a little water, then lemon, etc, until the perfect consistency and taste is attained.

  3. Thank you so much. I have often thought I should make it myself, especially as I don’t manage to finish the big jar I buy quickly enough.
    I am so excited to find your blog. I have just started ‘exploring’ Egyptian food. The two things that got me into it are molokhia is available in EVERY supermarket in Tokyo, where I live. I don’t know how it got introduced to Japan but it is widely used. One reason might be that the Japanese are really into sticky food — from natto, certain kinds of yams, taros, some seaweeds and okra. I adore it too, but up till now have been cooking it the East African way, with onions and tomatoes.
    The other reason is that I recently met an Egyptian living in Tokyo and he is so homesick for Egyptian food and is always engaged on a search to find the ingredients.
    I shall keep visiting! Thanks again. I am excited!

  4. Worked great, just made a full pint 🙂 Just out of curiosity: You mentioned that the chemically refined sesame seed oil is prone to rancidity. Does the fresh sesame paste (not tahini) require refrigeration, or is it like other butters? I didn’t add any oil at all, and it won’t be around long 😉

    Thanks

    • Hi Tom, thanks for your message! I’m so glad you made your own sesame paste. I would probably refrigerate it just in case. I don’t know how long it stays out of the fridge because I usually keep it in the fridge … and it doesn’t last more than a week in my house anyway. 🙂

  5. II always soak my seeds and nuts for 24 hours… I tried making the sesame butter before with my soaked, then dehydrated seeds in my food processor and they would not break down into butter. I dont get it. The only thing I didnt do was roast them… I live in the country of Panama and getting tahini here is not so easy and it’s fairly expensive. However, I can get organic seeds yeh!

    • Hi Georgia, thanks for your comment. I also try to soak seeds at least overnight. What kind of food processor are you using? Sometimes it’s difficult to get a smooth texture by grinding in a food processor. A spice and coffee grinder might do a better job. But glad you’re able to get organic seeds! Hope it turns out better next time for you 🙂

  6. Someone gave me a large jar of toasted sesame seeds. Can I soak them and then make tahini? Or what else can I do with them. Thanks from Vermont

    • Hi Patricia! Yes, you can definitely make some of them into tahini. Since they’re already toasted, whether or not you soak them is up to you, but if you do, and don’t dry them, you’ll have to eat the tahini within a couple of days or it will rot. As for sesame seeds, you can always add them to a fish and bake or roast it – to make a sesame-crusted salmon or tuna for example. You can also make a dessert with it called halva (or halawa). Hope you find some good recipes for the seeds!

  7. Hi Heba, I have always wanted to make my own tahini in order to make Halvah! But since I am new at working with raw seeds and nuts, please advise if I should be using raw “hulled” or “unhulled” seeds. And, would it make a difference?
    Thanks so much. Nancy

    • Hi Nancy! Thanks for your comment! I use raw unhulled seeds, because I think the hull retains more nutrients. But there are also anti-nutrients in seeds, so you have to soak and dehydrate for them to be more digestible. Let me know how the halvah turns out if you try it! Have a great day 🙂

  8. I’m so glad to have found this! My little one is on GAPS but can’t tolerate any nut products or even coconut. I’ve been having quite a time searching for something with a nut butter consistency & I had completely forgotten about tahini. I can’t wait to try this & fingers crossed he can eat it!
    Trisha recently posted…Veg-ucation | August: Hatch ChilesMy Profile

    • Hi Trisha, thanks for your comment! Hope your little one is able to enjoy tahini. Have you considered sunflower seed butter? I know a lot of low-carb allergy-free bloggers have baked cookies with it. I tried it once with a store-bought sweetened organic kind but I didn’t like it. I will try again with homemade sunflower seed butter. It’s probably quite easy to soak, dehydrate and grind. All the best!

  9. Heba, Loved the post and the story like way that you put everything.
    I am wondering what kind of food processor do you use, I am thinking mine would be too big to get all the sesame seeds! The clearance between the blade and the bottom of the food processor worries me. Ideas? Should I just put a load of sesame in there to butter it?
    Also, around how much time does it take to get to the butter consistency …
    Thanks 🙂

    • Hi Samah, thanks for your comment! I hope you have figured out a processor that works. At the time I used a regular Cuisinart food processor but it was admittedly too big so I had to add all the seeds at one time and then scrape the sides to bring the seeds down to continue blending. I also tried with a coffee grinder which is much better for this process, but you should get one that is easy to clean since the seeds do get pretty oily. The issue with that is the grinder is often quite small, so you have to make the tahini in smaller batches. The result is often much smoother than the processor though. I have yet to find an ideal solution, but the above work adequately.

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