What is tahini and how do you use it?

This rich, smooth paste is a staple of Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Levantine cooking. It is perhaps best known as the crucial secondary ingredient in hummus after chickpeas. Tahini is also traditionally made into a creamy dressing for roast veg and falafel, or used in sweet recipes such as crumbly, fudgey halva. 

What is tahini made of?

Most commercial tahini is made from ground sesame seeds that have had their shells removed. This creates a pale colour and very smooth texture. If you make tahini a home you can use seeds with the shells still on. It will create a coarser texture, and a deeper golden yellow colour. You can even make tahini from black sesame seeds, for a dramatically dark dressing!

How to make tahini

  • Tahini is simply made with blitzed sesame seeds. Do this in a food blender or processor.

  • You may need to add a dash of oil while you whizz the seeds in a food processor, to help loosen the mix. But there should be enough natural oil in the seeds to create the familiar thick, creamy paste. 

  • Gently toasting the seeds beforehand will also help release some of this oil.

What does tahini taste like?

Tahini has a deep nutty flavour, which works in both sweet and savoury recipes – just like peanuts. Good tahini is rich and oily, while some inferior brands will have a note of bitterness or a chalky feel in the mouth. If tahini has stood in a jar for a long time the oil can naturally rise to the top and separate. If this has happened, make sure to stir it well before using – to get the best consistent and full-bodied flavour from your tahini.

How to make a simple tahini dressing

  • To make a classic Israeli dressing – also known as tahini sauce – whisk the sesame paste with ice cold water
  • Add lemon juice, garlic and a pinch of salt until lightly coloured and silky smooth. 
  • Spoon generously over falafel, grilled fish and almost any roasted vegetables.

how to make a tahini dressing

How do you use tahini?

Savoury tahini ideas

  • Creamy tahini is fantastic in dips, dressings and sauces. Use it to make the popular Lebanese dish samke harra, from Tripoli. The dish is a whole lemon marinated fish, topped with a spicy tahini sauce. 

  • Or try coating a whole cauliflower head with tahini and ras al hanout and roasting in the oven until soft and nutty.

  • Make a simple tahini dressing as above, or stir it through yoghurt with a squeeze of lemon and finish with a sprinkling of pul biber

  • Or mix a couple of tablespoons of tahini into smoky aubergine baba ganoush for an even deeper flavour. 

  • Add a few tablespoons of tahini to homemade coleslaw, with peanuts and spring onions for an Asian twist on the classic salad.

Sweet tahini ideas

  • For something sweet, try making tahini ice cream or stir a spoonful into a simple cookie mix to make crumbly biscuits
  • Dark chocolate tahini brownies create the perfect mix of sweet, nutty, rich flavours – swirl a dollop of tahini into raw brownie mix before it goes into the oven.

How to store tahini

Tahini is an ambient product that doesn’t need to be refrigerated. Store it away from direct sunlight, and away from heat sources.

Tahini 450g

This brand of tahini is one of the best we've tried at Sous Chef. It has a velvety texture, with a slightly sweet and wonderfully nutty flavour. It is especially dense and flavoursome, so a little goes a long way. Made in Lebanon, its only ingredient is pure sesame seeds with no additives or preservatives.

Belazu Nablus Tahini

Belazu tahini is made on Mount Gerazim near the town called Nablus in the West Bank, which is known as the original home of tahini. It’s made using seeds from Ethiopia, which are skillfully roasted to release a rich, nutty and balanced flavour. The seeds are then double-ground to create Belazu tahini’s signature creamy texture and glossy finish.

3 tahini recipes to try

Egyptian Breakfast Ful Medames

Egyptian breakfast with ful medames

This ancient Egyptian breakfast staple is made with ‘fūl’ (beans), gently flavoured with cumin, onion, tomato, garlic and parsley. The richly flavoured beans are often accompanied by a colourful array of sides: smoky griddled flat breads, creamy tahini sauce with a lemony kick, hard boiled eggs, and refreshing chopped tomato and cucumber salads.

Maftoul Carrot, Feta & Mint Salad

Maftoul salad with carrot & feta cheese

Maftoul salad makes a great lunch or light dinner. Maftoul - giant cous cous - is made from wheat dough rolled into small balls, and dried before cooking at home. Our maftoul salad is a feast for the eyes and palate: bright orange carrots roast with cumin, the pink of sumac pickled onions, sharp white feta, sweet dates, and the bright green of fresh mint. The perfect base for a creamy classic tahini dressing.

Quick Dan Dan noodles

Dan dan noodle recipe

Many Asian recipes use sesame paste. Asian sesame paste tends to be darker and coarser, but use tahini to add the same depth and nutty richness to noodles and stir fries. Dan dan noodles are one of the best known dishes from China's Sichuan province. The cooling spice of Sichuan peppercorns contrasts with sharp chinkiang vinegar, smooth rich sesame paste, and red chilli heat. A real orchestra of flavour in every bite.

Find more Middle Eastern recipes here, or take a look at all the Middle Eastern ingredients available at Sous Chef here.


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