Ingredient TM_IN_TAHINI_FI_001

Tackling Tahini

You bought it, you made hummus, and you forgot about it. But that jar of tahini can do so much more.


I sometimes feel bad for tahini. It’s one of those pantry orphans, an ingredient you bought with the best intentions of using only to let it sit untouched on the shelf. Perhaps you once scooped out a spoonful to make your own hummus or drizzled a bit over roasted broccoli for dinner. But then you ran out of ideas, forgot about it, and neglected that poor jar of tahini in the back of your refrigerator. Or worse, you left it in your pantry to spoil.

While it may be essential to many signature Middle Eastern dishes, tahini still remains foreign to many home cooks. Aside from hummus, tahini isn’t commonly utilized in the American kitchen – partly because people aren’t entirely sure what tahini even is.

Though it’s never called sesame butter, that’s essentially what tahini is – much like peanut or almond butters. A paste made from ground sesame seeds, tahini is creamy and nutty, with the same mouth-coating consistency as peanut butter and its own pleasantly bitter taste. It’s great for making salad dressings, sauces, or dips. High in protein and heart healthy nutrients, it’s good for you, too. But that doesn’t seem to matter. Even with all of its benefits, tahini remains misunderstood and unpopular.

“People really just don’t know how to use it,” said Amy Zitelman, director of sales and marketing at Soom Foods, which produces a brand of tahini called Tehina.

Part of the problem is that tahini isn’t the friendliest of ingredients and can be tricky to use in the kitchen. You need to keep it in the fridge so it doesn’t go rancid, but like most natural nut butters, it then separates and becomes difficult to stir. And though it may appear to be smooth and thin, tahini often thickens when mixed with other ingredients. Its flavors are intense – you only need to add a small amount for its presence to be known. But once you’re familiar with how to use it, tahini can be a satisfying addition to many dishes, and not just in hummus or baba ganoush.

“It isn’t just a savory or sweet ingredient. You can make it taste so many ways,” said Zitelman. “And it complements other flavors – like lemon and honey – so well.”

Tahini is a truly versatile and flexible ingredient, which gives you room to get creative when cooking with it. Its sharp, nutty flavors work wonderfully well in savory soups, while serving as a thickening agent at the same time. Tahini’s telltale bitterness marries well with the sweetness of beets as a spread on top of crostini. And I’ve found that it’s naturally a perfect marinade for chicken.

If you’re feeling adventurous, introduce tahini to the dessert table. Add it to cookies or cakes as a savory element or try it as an ingredient in a recipe for ice cream that calls for candied ginger and honey. The spiciness of the ginger pairs incredibly well with its nuttiness, and its bitter notes balance out the sugary sweetness.

So go ahead and dig out that abandoned jar of tahini from the depths of your pantry. With all of the ways you can use it, it may never be neglected again.

Beet Tahini Crostini



4 medium beets, peeled
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 lemon, juiced
¾ cup tahini
¼ cup Greek yogurt
½ cup tarragon, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste


Pre-heat oven to 400°F. Place beets on a tray lined with aluminum foil. Season with salt, pepper and olive oil. Cover with foil and cook in the oven for 1 hour or until the beets are soft.

Once cooked, let the beets cool. Place in a food processor with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper, then chop until fine. Add the tahini, yogurt, and tarragon. Pulse to combine and adjust seasoning.

Serve with grilled bread dressed with olive oil and salt. Garnish with arugula tossed with tahini and lemon juice. Top with black sesame seeds.

Recipe by Ally Zeitz

Cauliflower Tahini Soup



3 leeks, white and light green part only, washed and sliced
4 tablespoons butter
1 large cauliflower, chopped
4 cups chicken stock
8 cups water
1 cup tahini
¼ cup cream
1 teaspoon nutmeg
Salt, to taste
Chives, minced
8 ounces chanterelle mushrooms


In a large pot add butter and leeks. Sauté until the leeks are soft but not brown, about 10 minutes. Season with salt. Add the cauliflower and stir to combine. Pour in stock and water to cover the cauliflower. Bring to a simmer and cook until the cauliflower is soft, and the liquid is reduced by a quarter (about 30 minutes). Remove from heat. Using an immersion blender, blend the soup until smooth. Add the cream, tahini, nutmeg and season with salt to taste. Return the pot to medium heat and reduce the soup for an additional 10 minutes.

Serve with mushrooms sautéed in butter and seasoned with salt.

Garnish with chives and a drizzle of tahini.

Recipe by Ally Zeitz

Tahini-Glazed Chicken



1 pound chicken breasts
¾ cup tahini
1 tablespoon sriracha
1 tablespoon honey
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
White sesame seeds


In a bowl mix tahini, sriracha, honey, and a pinch of salt. Reserve a ¼ cup of the sauce.

Season both sides of the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Heat a sauté pan with olive oil. Sear the breasts on both sides, then lower the temperature and cook them all the way through (about 10 minutes, depending on the size of the breasts.)

Preheat the broiler on high. Place the cooked chicken on a sheet tray. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the tahini sauce on top of the chicken, spreading it evenly. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top of the sauce to create a crust. Place the tray in a preheated broiler to toast the seeds (about 5 minutes).

Mix the reserved sauce with a little bit of olive oil so it becomes loose. Drizzle over the chicken.

Serve with arugula dressed with tahini, lemon juice, and salt.

Recipe by Ally Zeitz

Tahini Ice Cream



2 cups heavy cream
2 cups milk
1½ cups tahini
¼ cup honey
4 eggs yolks
¾ cup sugar
Crystallized ginger, for garnish
Honey, for garnish


Heat cream, milk, tahini and honey in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring the cream mixture to a near simmer, then remove from heat. In a metal bowl, whisk egg yolks and sugar together. Temper the eggs with some of the cream mixture, then return to the pot. Cook the mixture until it is thick and coats the back of the spoon.

Strain the cream mixture with a sieve into a bowl over an ice bath. Stir until the cream cools. Once cool, pour into an ice cream machine and follow the machine’s instructions.

Once the ice cream is frozen, remove from the machine and scoop into bowls. Serve each scoop with diced crystallized ginger and a drizzle of honey.

Recipe by Ally Zeitz

Lead photo, Beet Tahini Crostini and Tahini Ice Cream photos by Rachel Wisniewski. Cauliflower Tahini Soup and Tahini Glazed Chicken photos by Julia Silva

Shelby Vittek is an award-winning food, wine, and travel writer. Her food writing has twice won awards from the Association of Food Journalists. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post, The Smart Set, the Philadelphia Daily News, The Triangle and on and She is currently an MFA candidate at Rutgers. Follow her on Twitter: @bigboldreds.


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