This delicious, healthy sauce is the cornerstone of Lebanese cooking and oh, so nutritious! This post from Manoosh Lebanese Pizzeria sheds light on the health benefits of tahini, the ancient superfood!
Although you might not know it, we (almost) guarantee you’ve eaten tahini before. The name might not be overly familiar, but if you’ve eaten Lebanese food then you’ve tried it. Tahini has been used in Lebanese cooking since ancient times, and after thousands of years has remained unchanged. Here at Manoosh we use this versatile ingredient across our entire menu, on pizzas and wraps and in dips; even in our desserts. If you’re unsure of what tahini is, let us enlighten you.
What is Tahini?
Tahini is a paste made from sesame seeds that have been lightly toasted and then ground with oil. It is very popular in Lebanese cooking, eaten as a dip or used as a sauce for falafel or shawarma. It is also the second-most integral ingredient in hummus and can be added to baba ghanoush. It has a light, nutty flavour and is creamy and paste-like. The name tahini comes from the Arabic word tahana, which means “to grind.”
This oldest known reference to sesame is from an ancient cuneiform document – one of the earliest forms of writing – dated almost 4,000 years ago that describes the custom of serving the Gods’ sesame wine. The first use of sesame seeds was mainly for cultivating its oil.
A Healthier Choice: Health Benefits of Tahini
Apart from being extremely delicious, tahini is also very good for you. Sesame seeds are nutritious – high in protein, vitamins and minerals – and have similar immune-boosting, cardiovascular-protective properties similar to other superfoods like olive oil and walnuts. Tahini is also gluten-free and paleo-friendly. Here are some of the other health benefits of tahini:
1. It’s full of healthy fats, protein, and amino acids.
Sesame seeds have a very high oil-to-weight ratio – much higher than most seeds – with over 55 percent of their volume being made up of oil, and another 20 percent of protein. However, this oil is what is known as a “healthy fat.” Most of the fat in tahini is polyunsaturated (with small amounts being monounsaturated and saturated). The majority of the fat content of tahini is made up of two compounds, sesamin and sesamolin, both of which are known for their beneficial health qualities.
Tahini also packs a whole bunch of amino acids – lysine, tryptophan and methionine – phenolic compounds, linoleic acid, oleic acid and gamma-tocopherol, and tons of protein. Methionine is especially helpful in liver detoxification. This is all thanks to those virile little sesame seeds.
2. It has several essential vitamins and minerals.
Tahini is a great source of essential vitamins and minerals, many of which are difficult to obtain from other foods. It is a great source of B vitamins, including thiamine, riboflavin, folate, and niacin, which are important for metabolic functions, managing stress and various cognitive processes.
Tahini also is rich in minerals such as magnesium, calcium, copper, phosphorus, manganese, iron and zinc. Copper is important for healthy nerves, bones and metabolic processes, and iron is crucial for keeping up your red blood cell count and staving off fatigue.
3. It boosts nutrient absorption.
Sesame seeds are known for their ability to boost nutrient absorption, in particular, tocopherols, the major nutrients in vitamin E that play a role in the prevention of cancer and heart disease. They are also known to enhance vitamin E bioactivity which can help prevent inflammation and chronic disease.
4. It promotes healthy skin.
The amino acids, B vitamins, E vitamins, and fatty acids found in tahini are all very important for skin rejuvenation and maintaining younger looking skin. Sesame oil has even been known to treat wounds, burns and dryness. It has natural antibacterial and antifungal properties that kill bacteria within your pores, and the healthy fats in sesame seeds help keep skin moist. To top it off, tahini also contains zinc and collagen which help repair the skin and keep it firm.
5. It helps regulate blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Due to the high amounts of sesamolin and sesamin found in sesame seeds, tahini has powerful antithrombotic properties. This means that tahini may help prevent various cardiovascular diseases.
In addition, another type of nutrient found in sesame seeds called phytosterols have been shown to have beneficial effects on hormone levels, arterial health, and cholesterol levels. Research has shown that phytosterols can also be used to help treat atherosclerosis, which is characterized by fatty buildup within the arteries.
Phytosterols help to regulate cholesterol levels because they have a similar structure to that of cholesterol. This allows them to replace some of the cholesterol molecules as well as block some of their absorption within the intestinal tract. This in turn decreases the amount of absorbable cholesterol within the bloodstream.
The plant lignans found in sesame seeds help normalize cholesterol and blood pressure levels. Studies have shown sesame seeds also have antihypertensive properties, which can benefit those suffering from hypertension, or high blood pressure.
Below is the nutritional information for 100 grams of tahini.
Where Can I Buy Tahini?
Tahini can be found in nearly all grocery stores. If your local grocery store does not carry tahini, then you may need to go to a health food store. Tahini can come in glass jars, plastic tubs, and sometimes cans. In some cases, you can find tahini in a dehydrated, powdered form that is used by simply rehydrating it with water.
Oftentimes tahini will be located in the ethnic foods aisle alongside other Middle Eastern ingredients, such as grape leaves. Some stores will stock tahini next to other condiments like peanut butter and other nut butters. This is common in stores without an ethnic foods aisle. In addition, some stores will have fresh tahini in the refrigerated section near the hummus.
How do You Make Tahini?
Tahini is very simple to make, even at home. It requires just two ingredients – sesame seeds and some mild olive oil. There are different varieties of sesame seeds to choose from, each with their own distinct flavour. Most tahini is made from hulled sesame seeds which gives it a lighter colour, smoother texture and milder flavour.
Unhulled sesame seeds are healthier, richer (this can equate to bitterness) and give the tahini a darker colour. You can make tahini from un-toasted sesame seeds too, however, toasting the seeds gives you that desirable, nutty flavour.
Tahini is made from grinding the seeds together with olive oil to make a paste. This can be done in a food processor (far more efficient than how they did it in ancient times).
There is no set recipe for making tahini beyond this. The quantity of oil used is up to personal preference and depends on what the tahini will be used for – the more oil, the smoother the paste will be – but as a rule, one cup of sesame seeds requires two tablespoons of oil or more.