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Making Tahini

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Essential: Tahini
Tuesday, 08 January 2008


Making delicious treats with Tahini is simple, all it takes is a little open sesame.




Description and Background


The earliest condiment known to humankind, the sesame seed dates back to 1600BC and was bound for great things in
the form of a nutritionally-dense smooth, bitter, thick, oily, pasty sauce known as Tahini, made by milling the humble seed
or not so humble when you consider the famous phrase “open sesame”. Famous for its use in Arabian tales to open doors
or gates to gain access to hidden treasures, the phrase is based on the distinguishing feature of the sesame pod, which
bursts open when it reaches maturity. The seeds were thought to have originated in India and were mentioned in early
Hindu legends as a symbol of immortality. Nowadays the largest commercial producers of sesame seeds include India,
China and Mexico.




Place in the diet


Many people think of tahini as a condiment used only on the odd occasion, but for many vegetarians, vegans and those
interested in their health tahini often becomes a diet staple occupying the prime position in the pantry or fridge and used
at anytime of the day. Its distinctive flavour repels many a taste bud as strongly as it attracts them so the best tip is to
start with small quantities and work on adding more. If you like it the first few times you might find you soon start referring
to it affectionately as “nini” and having it out at every meal, just in case you get the urge.




Varieties


There are surprisingly more varieties that people think. Some off the shelf varieties include:




• Hulled (made using the common smooth sesame seed)


• Unhulled (made using the seed with its outer shell)


• Varieties made with white, black, yellow or red sesame seeds


• Varieties using roasted or raw sesame seeds


• Varieties using organic or conventional sesame seeds




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Any of the above can be combined with honey, rice syrup, sugar or garlic. The most common variety in Australia (and the
most common for Middle Eastern cuisine such as falafel) is the light tan-coloured raw hulled variety. For those wanting to
put the healthiest possible foods in their mouth, the darker raw unhulled variety is the tahini of choice and is also widely
available. The unhulled variety is in fact so popular as a health food that it can often be found available in bulk at health
food stores generally, at a significantly reduced cost.




Nutritional Content


There’s no question tahini is good for you and here are a couple of reasons why. It’s rich in:




• Protein (20% complete protein and amino acids, methionine and tryptophan)


• Calcium (the unhulled variety has the highest levels)


• Copper (helpful as an anti-inflammatory, e.g. reducing pain and swelling in arthritis)


• Magnesium (supports vascular & respiratory health)


• Omega 6 and 9 Essential Fatty Acids




And it’s a good source of:




• Fibre (the unhulled variety is the best source)


• Iron


• Manganese


• Phosphorus


• Potassium


• Vitamin B1


• Vitamin E


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• Zinc




Plus sesame seeds have been found to contain very high levels of substances that help to lower cholesterol. Two types
of lignans (sesamin and sesamolin) and compounds called phytosterols work to help lower cholesterol in the blood so
much that it is highly recommended as a substitute for butter for those wanting to reduce their cholesterol.




Purchasing, Price and Storage


Generally supermarkets carry at least one variety of tahini in either the international or health food section. It can also be
found in Middle Eastern and health food stores. It’s best to try a few brands and compare the hulled to unhulled varieties
because although some may taste similar at first, over time certain brands/types will become definite favourites.
Differences in brands include the degree of smoothness of the paste, the oiliness, the freshness of the seeds (rancid
seeds taste terrible!) and the colour based on where the sesame seed has been sourced.




Off-the-shelf tahini generally costs around $3.50-$4 for a 250g jar and when available in bulk it’s around $12kg for any
amount you’d like. Unhulled tahini can be stored in an airtight container or glass jar in a cool, dry, dark place, however
when the seeds are hulled, they are more prone to rancidity so hulled tahini is best stored in the refrigerator.




Usage


Just a few recipes with hulled or unhulled plain tahini:




• Falafel sauce: Mix ½ cup tahini with lemon juice (¼ cup), salt (1/2 tspn), garlic (2-3 cloves crushed), warm water (1/4
cup) and parsley (1 tblspn).




• Toast or bread toppings: Spread tahini on its own, add a drizzle of honey, slices of banana, or rice syrup, or combine with
miso paste for a savory snack.




• Ice cream: Put water (3/4 cup), tahini (2 tblspn), frozen banana chunks (1-2) and vanilla (dash of essence or bean bits)
into a blender and blend until smooth.



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• Halvah style balls: Put raw unsalted almonds (1.5 cups), tahini (1/2 cup), honey or rice syrup (3 tblspns) or pitted dates (3-
4), and vanilla (1 tspn or bean bits) into a food processor and process till smooth. Press mixture into 1cm thick flat slab,
refrigerate 1 hour then roll into balls. Consider adding carob as a variation to make carob tahini balls.




• Hummus: Put lemon juice (1/3 cup), tahini (1/4 cup), crushed garlic (2 cloves), olive oil (1-2 tblspns), ground cumin (1/2
tspn), cayenne pepper (1/2 tspn), pinch pepper, salt (1 tspn), water (1/3 cup) into blender and blend for 5 seconds then
add pre-prepared (soaked overnight and cooked until tender) or canned chickpeas (1/2 cup), and blend until smooth and
dip-like (10-15 seconds).




• Basil Tahini Pesto: Place chopped fresh basil leaves (1 cup loosely packed) and pine nuts (1/2 cup) into food processor
or masticating juicer with blank plate and process until smooth, add tahini, salt and olive oil (1-2 tspns each or to taste)
and mix until well combined. Spoon small amounts into large well presented basil leaves and serve.




WORDS: Heidi Moeschinger




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