What is TAHINI: a super food that you can make at home
Many have heard of it, few use it, but how many really know what tahini (or tahin, tahina) is and how it is produced?
This thick beige liquid is nothing more than the cream obtained by grinding toasted and ground sesame seeds. It is the ‘prince’ of Middle Eastern cuisine and is also highly appreciated and used in Turkey and Greece. Naturally tasty, tahini is rich in good fats, minerals and proteins, which is why it would be a real injustice to see it as just any condiment to be used just to get an exotic touch.
Its richness of nutrients makes it a fundamental ingredient in cuisines that can be defined as ‘poor’: a dish of boiled chickpeas, under the form of humus, can assume an inviting flavor with balanced nutritional values, only thanks to the presence of tahin.
Or grilled aubergines, in addition to being delicious, would become very nutritious if tahini was used to season them: see the Babaganoush recipe.
Nutritious yes, but also caloric because it is very fat, so it is better not to abuse it… but not eating tahini at all would be a real madness!
It belongs to the category of nutrients that if eaten in a moderate quantity, should be considered as super foods. Now let’s see why:
100 grams of tahini contain 54 g of fat, a huge amount (!); but of these only 8 grams are saturated fatty acids; and it is cholesterol-free. Moreover, it must be said that sesame seeds are the major source of phytosterols: their concentration far exceeds that present in other seeds, and in nuts. Phytosterols are valuable because they are thought to be useful in counteracting high cholesterol, since they are chemically very similar to each other, causing a certain competitiveness during absorption in intestinal cells, reducing the possibility of assimilation of cholesterol(1);
tahini (therefore sesame) does not contain sugar and is considerably rich in dietary fiber;
full of antioxidants (sesamin), it is thus very useful to fight free radicals and strengthen the immune system;
but the particularity that makes it a champion in the world of vegetarians and vegans is its protein level, about 18 grams (per 100 grams), with a high digestibility index;
it is rich in essential amino acids, especially sulfurous ones such as methionine, which among other things is useful in the production of glutathione – a powerful antioxidant – but also of tryptophan (the precursor of serotonin, better known as the hormone of happiness) and valine (in particular promotes athletic performance);
Like many other plant-based foods, tahini has little lysine.
Don’t panic: as long as you consume it in the form of humus, thanks to the high levels of lysine in chickpeas, you will get a complete amino acid pool
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It is very rich in calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron and much more;
it contains a large group of vitamins B and E;
it’s gluten-free, so it’s also suitable for people with celiac disease;
it is cheap and its raw material is highly available – although it can be difficult to find it as an end product -; sesame seeds exist all over the world and you can easily prepare tahini at home;
its production could be described as largely ethical and sustainable.
tahini (the produce) naturally shares these important characteristics with sesame seeds (the raw material), so you might think that perhaps it would be better to take the raw food directly. – Actually tahini remains a better choice than sesame seeds in terms of bio availability. Our teeth, but also the digestive processes of the body, are not very effective in extracting all its treasures; on the contrary, if it is consumed in the “ground” form, the possibility of obtaining the many benefits increases significantly.
I would like to make one last dutiful clarification: like every (niche) food that has a limited market, the price of tahini also suffers from this disadvantage. But as the first rule of the markets suggests, if you want to pay less for a certain thing, you will have to buy more of it. Increasing demand boosts the offer and therefore the competition, reducing prices. If, on the other hand, you cannot wait for the time needed to assess the markets and hence the prices, so as not to pay exorbitant amounts for tahin, there is a very practical and economic way: do it yourself at home.
How to make tahini at home
After having seen what tahini is, let us now talk about its preparation; in fact, to make tahini at home you don’t have to be a master-chef (!), is not at all complicated. The crucial point is to have a good food processor and some sesame seeds toasted to the right point. Even if roasting is not obligatory, I strongly advise you to do it; and not only because of the magnificent aroma that finally gives to sesame seeds and therefore to tahin, but more than anything else it significantly reduces the concentration of raffinose(*) present in the seeds, transforming them into an easily digestible food(2).
(*) Raffinose: trisaccharide present in various plant foods such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, beans, sesame seeds, responsible for digestive disorders such as bloating and aerophagy, as the human body is deprived of the enzyme – alphagalatoxidase – necessary for its decomposition.
1 cup of roasted (optional) and cooled sesame seeds
3-4 tbsp of oil of sesame, or other tasteless oil like avocado or grape seeds oil etc.
Production consists mainly of two phases: roasting and grinding.
As already mentioned, if you don’t want you don’t have to roast them: try both ways and see which one do you prefer.
The temperature and the duration of this phase of production can vary according to different factors, such as the type of sesame or individual preferences for the final taste: some people like to roast them in the oven at 100°C for 2-2½ hours, some people recommend toasting them at 130°C for 2 hours and some at 150°C for 1 hour (3); or those who toast them on a non-stick frying pan over high heat for only 6-8 minutes, like me. What I recommend you is to experiment, so as to find the roasting that suits you best, always keeping in mind the fundamental aspect: do not burn the seeds.
If you have opted for the pan, know that the risk of charring them is higher, so when you see that they are slightly toasted – golden not brown – with a growing scent, be very vigilant; reduce the fire and start to move them on the pan for another minute, then put out the fire and to stop the roasting transfer the seeds into another container wide enough (their residual heat will remain high for a while longer).
After reaching room temperature, pour the toasted seeds into the container of the grinder: if it is not a powerful model, keep your expectations very low! With this, however, I don’t want to say that the only way to make tahini at home is to invest in an expensive kitchen robot; let’s not forget that tahini has existed for a long time before domestic tools were designed, so even with a mortar and pestle you will be able to prepare it: obviously this process will require time and patience, better if accompanied by the presence of muscles.
Returning to the comfort of modern times, run the food processor for 1-2 minutes (although most of the seeds are ground, don’t think about getting the oil out: domestic tools, even they are very powerful, are not at all comparable to industrial tools).
Then add the oil and run the grinder for a further 3-5 minutes until the mixture takes on a dense and homogeneous consistency. It shouldn’t, but if you see it still very dry it would be the food processor’s fault; in this case you can add another tablespoon of oil to give the mixture softness, then continue to process it for a few more minutes.
With the quantities indicated you get about half a cup of tahin. If you can’t finish it all at once (we all know that this will never happen…) you can keep it in the fridge for about 10 days; adding half a teaspoon of salt, its expiry date will be extended up to one month.
After reading the whole article you will be ready to answer the frequent question “can you make tahini at home? And above all you will be allowed to get angry with people who confuse it with the tajin (the special Moroccan terracotta pan).
Good revolution and bon appetit to all
(1) De Smet, E; Mensink, RP; Plat, J (2012). “Effects of plant sterols and stanols on intestinal cholesterol metabolism: suggested mechanisms from past to present”. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research 56 (7): 1058–72. doi:10.1002/mnfr.201100722
(2) El-Adawy, Tarek & Mansour, Esam. (2000). Nutritional and physicochemical evaluations of tahin (sesame butter) prepared from heat-treated sesame seeds. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. 80. 2005 – 2011. 10.1002/1097-0010(200011)80:14<2005::AID-JSFA740>3.0.CO;2-J.
(3) Rizki, Heru & Nabloussi, Abdelghani & Haddioui, Abdelmajid & Hanine, Hafida & Kzaiber, Fouzia. (2016). Evaluation Of The Effects Of Processing Parameters Of Roasting On The Antioxidant Activity And Bioactive Molecules Of Seeds Oil Of Sesame (Sesamum Indicum .L). 84-92. 10.9790/2402-1006018492.
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