I think everyone has that one ingredient they put on everything. And for me this would have to be tahini. Smooth and creamy with a particularly nutty flavour that just lingers. I’m salivating just thinking about it! Don’t forget it should be eaten in moderation (yes this includes me) as part of a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Being high in fat (and therefore rich in calories), tahini is quite satiating as it is, keeping you fuller for longer. A little goes a long way!!
So what is tahini?
Tahini is a paste that is made of ground sesame seeds, much like peanut butter or any other nuts spread. There are different types. The most common one to purchase is hulled tahini, whereby the seeds have been ‘hulled', meaning the husk of the sesame seed has been removed. Then there’s unhulled tahini, which has been ground with the husk still contained. Another form I have come across which is the unbelievably tasty black tahini, which is made from black sesame seeds. Other names for tahini include sesame paste and sesame butter (usually the unhulled variety due to it being thicker).
Tahini is an extremely versatile condiment which can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes. It’s the main ingredient added to hummus and baba ganoush, and tastes amazing with apple and cinnamon.
What’s so good about it?
Like many wholefoods, tahini has a wide range of health benefits. And being made of just sesame seeds, it is an incredibly nutritious condiment enjoyed as part of a balanced lifestyle. All types are considered healthy, but the unhulled varieties are often considered to be more nutrient-dense, whilst also being more bitter.
Sesame seeds are renowned for their calcium content with 1 tablespoon of hulled tahini consisting of 10mg of calcium, whilst 1 tablespoon of unhulled tahini containing approximately 172mg of calcium. As you can see, removing the hull removes a whopping 90-95% of the calcium content.
Tahini and sesame seeds in general are great sources of fibre, particularly when the unhulled varieties are chosen. When the husk is left intact, it provides insoluble fibre, the type of fibre that provides bulk to stool, helping to speed up the time it takes for food to move through the digestive system, therefore preventing constipation.
Whilst most of us consume adequate amounts of protein to meet our bodies’ requirements, it can be quite when it comes to getting a variety…in comes tahini. Sesame seeds contain 20% protein by weight, with more protein than milk and most other seeds/nuts. Mixing tahini with another protein source such as eggs, fish, meat or tempeh provides a better amino acid profile. This means you are getting a mix of essential and non-essential amino acids, providing the building blocks of muscle, some hormones and other bodily proteins.
Tahini is a rich source of B vitamins, required for many metabolic processes to be performed. This includes energy metabolism, healthy cell division, red blood cell health, immune system health, nervous system health and skin health. B vitamins are incredibly important and should be consumed regularly, particularly due to being water-soluble, meaning they are routinely excreted in urine.
Dietary fats are vital to the functioning of essential bodily functions. Without fats, we wouldn’t be able to produce sex hormones, particularly oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone. Tahini contains 55% fat, but don’t be afraid of it, it’s the good type of fat. You see fat comes in different forms, with the fats found in tahini being high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, with a small amount of saturated fat. Polyunsaturated fats, particularly omega-3 and omega-6, provide essential fatty acids that our body cannot make and therefore we must consume. Tahini is particularly rich in linoleic acid (or omega-6), which has been shown (through many studies) to have beneficial effects such as lowering harmful cholesterol levels and reducing the risk of heart disease when eaten in balance with omega-3 fats.
Where should I source my tahini from?
I like to mix it up and circulate between both hulled and unhulled varieties. Unhulled tahini contains much more nutrients than hulled, because the husk is where most of the nutrients reside. Only choose that tahini that is made from 100% sesame seeds, and nothing else (you can buy varieties with added honey which is okay but stay away from added oils). Here in Australia we are lucky to have an amazing brand named ‘Mayvers’ which provides a range of choices including organic! I’ve also tried the Coles and Woolworths varieties. You can find an incredible ‘Carwari’ black tahini at many health food stores.