So you’ve decided to include more tahini in your diet: what should you look for when buying it and how do you store it?
Can tahini be made at home, or do you have to buy it commercially?
I’ve never really thought about making my own. However, it is certainly possible, given the right blender, to make a tahini paste at home.
In commercially produced tahini the seeds are often crushed, soaked and then brined, prior to milling. This removes the outer husk of the seed and produces the lighter coloured, hulled tahini that is most commonly available.
At home the biggest impediment to making tahini is the type of blender you have. Sesame seeds are too small for most blenders to grind up. Although it should work in a spice or coffee grinder instead.
To make your own tahini I’d recommend lightly toasting the sesame seeds first, either in the oven or on the stovetop. Then place them in a coffee grinder with a small amount of sesame oil and blend together. There are some good instructions here.
Where to buy it
Tahini is available from supermarkets, online shops, health food shops, as well as Middle Eastern and Chinese grocers.
Hulled vs unhulled tahinis
Sesame seeds have a fibrous outer coating – the hull – and tahini can be made either with or without this outer layer.
Unhulled tahini is darker and has a more intense flavour. While hulled tahini is much lighter in colour and taste.
The hull does contain some nutrients. It has fibre, along with minerals, particularly calcium, magnesium and zinc. Therefore if you buy hulled tahini you’re losing some of these nutrients.
There is a question mark over the usefulness of the calcium in unhulled tahini. It’s stored in a form called calcium oxalate, which our bodies may find difficult to absorb.
What tahini to choose?
I have found the flavours of different tahinis to vary considerably. Some brands I really like, while I find others too bitter. If you’re new to tahini, try a few brands to find the one you like most.
My all-time favourite tahini is the one I buy from Alfalfa House – the food co-op in Enmore. It’s organic, unhulled, quite strongly flavoured and I love it. I also like the Mayvers brand.
When buying tahini, it’s common for there to be a layer of oil at the top of the jar. This is just the sesame oil, which has separated from the more fibrous solids. There’s nothing wrong with this, simply stir it back together before using.
Where to store tahini?
Tahini should always be stored in the fridge. It’s high in poly-unsaturated fats. These fats are sensitive to heat and light and can easily turn rancid. So keep it refrigerated and your tahini will last longer.
What to do if your tahini separates?
Tahini is one of my favourite ingredients. I buy big jars of the stuff and use it all the time.
No matter how old or new the tahini, it’s always separated out to some extent, as the oil floats to the top of the jar and the more fibrous solids descend to the bottom.
Up until recently I’ve attempted to remix the two layers by hand, by mixing it with a spoon. However, as Madhur Jaffrey says “you can feel as though you’re mixing cement”. It’s hard work and never very effective.
Then recently I hit on an easy and kind of obvious solution . . .
. . . storing the jar upside down.
Rather than using your own elbow grease you’re letting gravity do the work for you. The two layers won’t mix together immediately. However, gradually, the oil will start to rise again, the fibrous solids start to fall and the two mix together.
I’m also using the same storage method for my peanut butter.
It helps to screw the lids of the jars on tightly and also to put some kitchen towel underneath, as there can be a small amount of leakage at first. But otherwise this method works really well, no cement mixing required.
I am using tahini for the first time, a liquid has risen to the top, do I use that?
It’s quite common for tahini to separate out and yes, you can use the liquid at the top.
The two main components of tahini are oil and also the more fibrous matter. The oil has a different density, hence it’s tendency to rise to the top, over time.
Before using your tahini give it a good stir and this will blend the oil back in. This can be hard work at first – as Madhur Jaffrey says “this can feel as though you’re mixing cement”. But after a couple of minutes it does get easier.