Homemade tahini is an amazing pantry staple that adds richness and dimension to hummus, cookies, and salad dressings. If you have a high powered blender or food processor, tahini is also wonderfully simple to make. This recipe is vegan, gluten-free, and completely delicious.
Chances are you’ve eaten tahini, or sesame paste, in some form or another. It’s an important ingredient in hummus and baba ghanoush, giving these classic Mediterranean dips an earthy allure. If you love playing around with making your own nut butters with peanuts, cashews, or almonds, then sesame tahini is right up your alley.
All you need is three ingredients, then you’re off and running to make a gazillion other wonderful recipes.
Making Tahini for a giant vat of hummus? Click and slide the number next to “servings” on the recipe card below to adjust the ingredients to match how many you’re feeding—the recipe does the math for you, it’s that easy.
What is tahini?
Tahini, a condiment made from ground sesame seeds, is a staple of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine. Because it is made from seeds, not nuts, those who have a tree nut allergy are safe to eat it, as long as the seeds weren’t processed in a facility with other allergens.
Tahini has a nutty, sweet taste with a very slight bitterness, so it’s great in both sweet and savory recipes. It’s the main ingredient in halvah, a popular sesame candy, and it makes one heck of a cookie! Tahini shines wherever you might use peanut butter.
Tahini paste can be made into a tahini sauce with water, olive oil, and lemon juice and drizzled over grilled meats, roasted veggies, falafel, pita sandwiches, and salads. A good recipe for tahini sauce is down below!
Sesame seeds: You’ll need a larger amount of sesame seeds to make tahini, so try to find a reliable bulk source for them, because purchasing them in little glass jars in the spice aisle can get pricey, fast.
Middle eastern markets sell hulled sesame seeds in 2 pound bags for only a few dollars a pound–much cheaper than specialty shops! Plus, these sources tend to have fresh inventory, which matters a lot with seeds.
How fresh the sesame seeds are can impact how much oil is needed in the recipe – the fresher the seeds, the more natural oils will still be in them, the less extra oil you will need to add. Some stores carry seeds that have been sitting on the shelves or in warehouses for a long time and their seeds dry out over time.
Oil: A neutral oil such as avocado oil, grapeseed oil, or peanut oil works best. Can you use sesame oil to make tahini? If you want to use sesame oil, look for raw sesame oil, not toasted. Although commonly available, toasted sesame oil might give your tahini paste a different and distinct flavor, since it’s used in Chinese cuisine.
Salt: A little salt sprinkled in goes a long way. However, leave it out if you like.
Can you make Tahini with hulled or unhulled seeds?
Technically, either type works, but with a few caveats. Most store-bought tahini is made with hulled seeds, where the little protective shell around the seed is removed. As a result this tahini is lighter in color and has a gentler, smoother taste.
Tahini made from unhulled sesame seeds tends to have more of a bitter taste. Furthermore, it isn’t as easy to get a creamy smooth product when you use unhealed sesame seeds.
A lot of cooks trying tahini at home complain about tahini being too bitter, most likely because of unhealed seeds. So, if at all possible– especially if you’re starting out– locate hulled sesame seeds for your first few batches.
How to make Tahini:
Hopefully, you have your seeds and you’re raring to go! A high-powered blender like a Vitamin or Blendtec works amazingly well to give tahini a velvety texture. Some people have luck with a good food processor or even a bullet-type processor.
If you’re a visual learner, these pictures show you what’s up–but for the actual recipe with specific amounts, look towards the bottom of the page!
- Toasting the sesame seeds gives the tahini a warm, lovely flavor and counteracts bitterness. Read all about toasting sesame seeds here, or use a dry skillet over medium heat to roast the seeds. Stir frequently so you don’t scorch them! When the seeds are toasty golden and fragrant, pour them out into a bowl and let them cool.
- Once they’re cool, add them to the processor. Pulse until the seeds are grainy, almost like sand. Depending on your machine, this could take a few seconds, or several minutes.
- Next, drizzle in the oil, pulsing as you go. The tahini should start to come together into a smooth, creamy paste. It’s all about consistency–add more oil if you think it needs it. Season with a little salt.
- Pour or scoop the tahini into a container with a tight-fitting lid.
You can store tahini covered in the refrigerator for a month, maybe even a bit longer. You might find that after some time in the fridge it separates, much like a natural peanut butter. All you need to does stir it up to reincorporate the oils.
If you made way too much tahini, go ahead and freeze it in small, useable containers to make it last even longer.
How to make Tahini Sauce:
If you need a quick, easy dipping sauce for pita breads or drizzling on kebabs, say no more:
- 1 clove garlic
- ½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
- ½ cup tahini
- ⅓ cup fresh lemon juice
- ¼ cup water
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
Mince garlic, then mash to a paste with sea salt using the back of a spoon or the flat side of a chef’s knife. Whisk together garlic paste and remaining ingredients until combined.
How to Make Tahini
- 1 cup sesame seeds (I like using hulled)
- 2 to 4 tablespoons neutral flavored oil grape seed, canola or olive oil
- Salt to taste
To Toast the Sesame Seeds:
- Add sesame seeds to a wide, dry saucepan over medium-low heat. Toast, stirring constantly until the seeds become fragrant and very lightly colored, about 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer the toasted seeds onto a baking sheet or plate and cool completely.
To Make the Tahini:
- Add the toasted sesame seeds to the bowl of a food processor and process until a crumbly paste forms, about 1 minute. Add 3 tablespoons of grape seed oil and process for 2 to 3 more minutes, stopping to scrape the bottom and sides of the food processor a couple times.
- Check the tahini's consistency. lt should be smooth, not gritty and it should be pourable. You may need to process for another minute or add the additional tablespoon of oil. Taste the tahini for seasoning then add salt to taste. Process the salt for an additional 5 to 10 seconds to blend.