Guide to tahini

For that unmistakable taste of the Middle East, it’s open season on oil-rich sesame seeds – and the tasty tahini they produce  

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Tahini is a paste made from grinding up sesame seeds. These seeds are full of nutrients, including protein, antioxidants, fibre, minerals such as calcium, zinc, magnesium and potassium, as well as vitamin E. You can eat them whole, but unless you’re extremely diligent with your chewing, making sure to break up each seed, they’ll pass straight through you – and so will most of their nutritional goodness. By using tahini, you get the goodness without all the teeth-grinding.

How to buy tahini

Tahini is available from most supermarkets, as well as health food shops and Middle Eastern grocers. It comes in two forms – hulled and unhulled. The hull is a fibrous coating around the outside of the seed. Most of the tahini you buy is made from seeds which have had this outer layer removed – hulled tahini. 

Some health food shops also stock unhulled tahini, which includes this outer fibrous layer. Unhulled tahini is darker and has a more intense flavour; hulled tahini is much lighter in colour and taste. Sesame seed hulls contain minerals, particularly calcium, magnesium and zinc. Hulled tahini doesn’t contain as many of these nutrients as the unhulled stuff, but there is a question mark over how much of the calcium and iron the body can effectively absorb anyway. 

Different tahini brands vary considerably in taste, with some being creamy, some more bitter and some having a mild flavour. If you’re new to tahini, try a few brands to find the one you like most. 

It’s common for there to be a layer of oil on top of the tahini inside the jar. There’s nothing wrong – it’s just the sesame oil, which has separated out from the more fibrous solids. Simply stir it back in before using.

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