What is tahini?
Tahini is a type of paste made from sesame seeds. It is a staple sauce used in most Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dishes. Tahini is also quite popular in Israel, Turkey, Iraq, and Greece. It is usually regarded as the main ingredient in making hummus and dips.
Thousands of years ago, tahini was considered as “food of the gods” since it was served to royal families according to historians. Herodotus was a Greek historian, who recalled such stories. Tahini was also recorded in some ancient materials that came from the Euphrates River and Tigris River, 4,000 years ago.
Tahini has been readily available in the American market since the 1940s. Back then, tahini was usually bought from health food shops and ethnic markets. However, these days, you can find tahini in most popular restaurants and big supermarkets.
Since tahini comes from grounded sesame seeds, it contains healthy fats, which help regulate cholesterol and blood pressure levels as well as dietary fiber for better digestion.
Tahini is also well-known for preventing the development of anemia, which is caused by a lack of red blood cells (RBCs) or hemoglobin in our body.
Health benefits of tahini
1) Contains amino acids and healthy fats
When tahini is compared to other seed and nut butters, sesame seeds have one of the richest oil contents by weight. For this reason, tahini is smoother compared with peanut butter or almond paste.
Sesame seeds are known for their amino acid content and healthy fats. They contain approximately 55 percent of oil and 20 percent of protein. Tahini is beneficial to your skin, heart, and hormonal balance. The fat content in sesame seeds is mostly polyunsaturated fat with traces of saturated and monounsaturated fat.
Fifty to sixty percent of tahini fat are composed of two compounds: sesamin and sesamolin. Aside from healthy fats, tahini also contains amino acids such as tryptophan, lysine, and methionine. Phenolic compounds are also present in tahini in the form of gamma-tocopherol, linoleic acid, and oleic acid. Around 20 percent of tahini’s weight are protein, which is why it is considered as a higher protein source compared to other types of nuts or seeds.
2) Rich in vitamins and minerals
Tahini contains vitamin B as well as other minerals such as iron, zinc, copper, phosphorus, magnesium, and manganese. Copper is needed by the body to maintain healthy bones, nerves, and a good metabolism. The iron content of tahini prevents fatigue and iron deficiency due to anemia (low hemoglobin or RBC count).
Lignans are also present in sesame seeds. They are known for their anticancer effects and promote overall heart health.
3) Controls cholesterol and blood pressure levels
The sesamolin and sesamin compounds present in sesame seeds have antithrombotic mechanisms, which can help prevent cardiac problems within the arteries including acute coronary syndrome and cardiac arrest.
Plant lignans in sesame seeds can also help regulate levels of blood pressure and cholesterol (serum blood cholesterol and liver cholesterol), which means that they can lower bad cholesterol (LDL) levels while increasing good cholesterol (HDL) levels in the body.
You can also use sesame oil in food preparations since sesame seeds are antihypertensive, and are capable of lowering high blood pressure while increasing their antioxidant properties.
4) Promotes healthy skin
To prevent the early signs of skin aging, a diet of foods rich in amino acids, vitamins, and minerals should be followed. Sesame seeds happen to have the protein content, essential vitamins, and trace minerals needed to achieve healthy skin. Including small amounts of tahini in your diet can effectively improve your skin.
Moreover, the zinc content of tahini can help repair damaged skin tissues by producing collagen, which is responsible for a firmer and youthful skin.
5) Better absorption of nutrients
Sesame seeds can help improve the absorption of tocopherol, which is a fat-soluble nutrient within vitamin E that can prevent the age-related diseases like cancer and cardiac problems. Aside from boosting tocopherol’s absorption, the bioactivity of vitamin E may also be effective in the prevention of inflammation or chronic diseases.
Tahini or peanut butter?
When it comes to health, tahini is a healthier choice than peanut butter since it is not a common allergen, it does not promote the growth of molds, and does not become easily rancid. Although peanut butter and tahini contain rich amounts of omega-6, both should be consumed moderately.
How to make tahini
Tahini can be prepared and used in many different ways. Some people use the traditional way of cooking tahini while some get innovative with its preparation and use.
Making a tahini salad
Making a tahini salad is one of the most delicious and best ways to eating healthy food.
First, you need to prepare fresh sesame seeds, which are readily available at health food shops or ethnic markets. Next, prepare a bowl of water and soak the sesame seeds in it. The seeds will soften and the brans might fall off to the bottom of the bowl. To get the seeds’ maximum benefits, do not remove the brans. Drain the seeds and toast them lightly in a pan over low heat for only several minutes. After toasting, get a blender or food processor and grind the seeds until pasty and smooth.
Don’t be alarmed when the oil floats on top and is separated from the paste. Just stir the tahini and mix it again. Your tahini is now ready to use.
To make a tahini dressing, prepare the following ingredients:
- 80 grams or 1/3 cup of tahini
- 1 garlic clove (minced)
- Fresh lemon juice from 1 ½ lemons
- 1-2 tablespoons raw honey
- Salt and pepper
Combine all ingredients and thin the dressing according to your desired consistency using warm water. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Tahini has a high ratio of oil content and fatty acids, which is why tahini should be kept inside the refrigerator to avoid spoilage.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids or PUFAs cannot endure warm to high temperature. Tahini manufacturers try their best to process tahini and then shipped at low temperatures to get the essential nutrients it gives. Always buy raw and organic tahini. You may get it online as well.
Tahini is somewhat similar to other sesame pastes that are normally used in Asian dishes, which include Japan, China, Korea and India. Aside from being a salad dressing or garnish, tahini can also be used as a dipping sauce, especially at Middle Eastern restaurants.
In Greece, pitas are usually dipped into tahini while in Turkey, bread can be dipped into the sauce.