Many people are astonished when they get to know that tahini is made only of sesame seeds
Sesame seeds are among the oldest oilseed crops known to humankind. They’re derived from the sesame plant (Sesamum indicum) that nowadays is mostly grown in India, China, Mexico and Sudan. For Greeks, already from ancient times, sesame seeds were important components of their diet. For instance, the combination of sesame (or other nuts) with honey to edible bars known as Pasteli, dates back to ancient Greece.
Sesame seeds, similar to other seeds and nuts, are very nutritious and ‘strong’ foods. They’re, after pure fats and oils, the richest foods regarding energy content, averaging approximately 600 calories per 100 gr. Particularly for sesame seeds, the oil/fat amount comprises 50% of the total nutrient composition, followed by carbohydrates (24%), protein (10%) and water (5%) respectively. Sesame seeds are a very good source of many minerals, like copper, manganese, calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium and phosphorus. They contain additionally several vitamins, mostly of the B-complex, and the highest amount of phytosterols among all seeds and nuts (1).
Central to sesame nutritious and flavour profile are undoubtedly the fats. The majority of them are the so-called mono- and poly-unsaturated fats that have been connected with many health benefits, like protection against cardiovascular disease (2). Additionally, fats contribute significantly to the taste and flavour of sesame seeds. This can be more pronounced when dried sesame seeds are ground, so that the cells are ruptured and many of those fats come out to coat and lubricate cell fragments and other particles, creating a kind of butter-like paste that is known as tahini. Tahini is very popular to cuisines of the Mediterranean basin and the Middle East. There, it’s added to stews, soups and sauces. It can be combined for instance with chickpeas or aubergines to make hummus or baba ghanoush respectively. It can be diluted with a broth (or just water) and lemon to make soups, like the Greek tahinosoupa. In Greece is also mixed with sugar to prepare halva (not to be confused with semolina halva). But more widely, we like just to spread it together with honey on bread and eat it for breakfast.
- Put the seeds in a dry, wide pan that fits them comfortably and toast them by heating over medium to high heat for a few minutes, stirring regularly with a wooden spoon. They are ready when they turn brown and start releasing aromas. You might notice also some smoke coming up. Remove from fire and let them cool down a bit.
- Place the toasted seeds in a food blender and start blending them. Gradually, they will release the fat and the consistency will change, initially to a crumbly paste and then to a smoother one. That’s your homemade tahini!!
(1) Phillips KM, Ruggio DM, Ashraf-Khorassani MA. Phytosterol composition of nuts and seeds commonly consumed in the United States. J. Agric. Food Chem. (2005);53:9436
(2) Siri-Tarino PW, Chiu S, Bergeron N, Krauss RM. Saturated fats versus polyunsaturated fats versus carbohydrates for cardiovascular disease prevention and treatment. Annu. Rev. Nutr. (2015);35:517