When I mention tahini to my clients as a healthy fat option, I'm often met with confused looks. Some say they think they’ve had tahini before, but aren’t 100% sure. Others confess they honestly have no idea what tahini is.
To clear up any confusion, tahini is simply a paste made of ground-up sesame seeds. It's often used in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine as a dip or drizzled over falafel. And despite it's creamy look, tahini is totally dairy-free.
You can make your own, but for a healthy shortcut, jarred tahini is available at most grocery stores. You’ll find it either in the condiment aisle, or near other nut and seed butters. Just be sure to look for jars that contain sesame seeds as the only ingredient.
In addition to being plant-based and “clean,” tahini is packed with nutrients, providing copper, manganese, calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, selenium, and thiamin. Two tablespoons offer 5 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber. It’s also low in sodium, generally containing just 50 mg, a mere 2% of the daily recommended daily limit for healthy adults. Plus, tahini has a tasty nutty flavor, making it a great alternative to nut butters for anyone with allergies.
Personally, I'm a huge fan of tahini and always keep a jar on hand. I love to doctor up the tasty spread and incorporate it into a number of my go-to healthy dishes. Here are five of my favorite ways to use tahini, including a few sweet treats that may surprise you.
Roasted veggie dip
One of my favorite ways to use both tahini and leftover roasted veggies is to combine them in a dip. In a small food processor blend two tablespoons of tahini with a half cup of oven-roasted eggplant and/or red bell pepper, one tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, a half teaspoon of minced garlic, and one sixteenth teaspoon each ground pepper and sea salt. Garnish with fresh herbs, like basil or rosemary, and slather onto cucumber slices or scoop up with celery.
Tahini makes the perfect base for a sauce, especially when it’s seasoned. My go-to recipe is two tablespoons of tahini thinned with a half to one tablespoon of water (depending on the texture you desire) and mixed with one teaspoon of fresh squeezed lemon juice, a half teaspoon of minced garlic, and a dash cayenne pepper. This delicious combo is ideal as a salad dressing, dip for raw veggies, sauce for grilled, oven roasted, or steamed veggies, or topping for oven-roasted chickpeas, beans, fish, or chicken.
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Chocolate energy balls
Most people use tahini in savory recipes, but you can also go sweet. For deliciously simple energy balls combine the following in a small bowl: two tablespoons of tahini, one tablespoon of honey, two tablespoons of raw or non-Dutched cocoa powder, a quarter cup of almond flour, and a quarter teaspoon each fresh grated ginger and ground cinnamon. Pinch off five small spoonfuls, then using your palms, roll into round, even balls. Enjoy them as is, or roll the balls in toasted sesame seeds, chopped nuts, chia seeds, or coconut flour.
Tahini adds thickness, creaminess, and nutrition to homemade hummus. For my simple lemony version I fill a small food processor with a half cup of chickpeas, two tablespoons of tahini, two tablespoons of water, tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice, teaspoon of minced garlic, quarter teaspoon of fresh lemon zest, and one sixteenth teaspoon each of cayenne pepper, black pepper, cumin, and sea salt. Blend until smooth and serve with raw veggies, like broccoli florets, sliced red bell pepper, and grape tomatoes. You can also use this flavorful hummus as a mayo alternative for protein salads (tuna, salmon, chicken, lentil, white beans) or deviled eggs.
Tahini works well with both veggies and fruit, so it makes a great addition to smoothies. In a blender combine a half cup frozen banana slices with a half cup fresh or frozen cut mango, two tablespoons of tahini, one cup of unsweetened coconut milk, one tablespoon fresh squeezed lime juice, and a quarter teaspoon of fresh grated ginger. Whip until smooth, transfer to a glass, and drizzle with a bit of organic honey if you like.
Cynthia Sass is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a consultant for the New York Yankees.