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Is Tahini Vegan Friendly? (Plus a Simple Homemade Tahini Recipe)


Most of us know tahini as the star ingredient in a bowl of garlicky hummus, but this sesame seed paste can do so much more. It offers a great hit of plant-based protein, but occasionally, tahini sauce is not suitable for vegans. Find out why in our guide below!

Tahini is popular in Middle Eastern cooking and every vegan’s favorite dip, hummus. If you only use tahini in hummus, you’re selling this sesame seed-based paste short – it works well in a range of recipes from savory to sweet. 

Tahini is a beneficial ingredient, especially for those following a plant-based diet that needs extra protein, omega fatty acids, and essential nutrients like iron. 

Read more about this nutritional powerhouse that can add rich creaminess to plenty of recipes without the need for dairy, as well as which ingredients to avoid.  

What Is Tahini?

Tahini is a type of nut butter made with hulled sesame seeds in place of the more usual suspects: peanuts or almonds. Better yet, tahini is a fantastic alternative for anyone with a nut allergy. 

Traditionally, tahini is a major player in Middle Eastern cuisine and is one of the most common ingredients in recipes, including earthy, protein-rich hummus. 

The process of making tahini is as simple as it gets: toast the sesame seeds (or don’t!), then grind them in a food processor until they’re smooth. 

What is tahini made of?

Tahini can have as few as one main ingredient, with a couple others occasionally tossed in. 

The star of the tahini show is hulled sesame seeds! Sesame seeds are one of the first oilseed crops that humans cultivated, and that oil released helps to build a tahini paste without the need for any added oil. 

Sometimes, producers add oil, likely to thin some tahini pastes, which are naturally quite thick compared to peanut and other nut butter. Olive oil is the oil of choice, but you won’t see this ingredient often added to tahini paste. 

Some brands also add salt to their tahini for flavor, but more often than not, they’ll omit it so you can salt your own tahini dishes to taste.

What does tahini taste like?

Tahini tastes like sesame seeds: savory, bitter, with a slight nuttiness. The texture is incredibly thick, giving tahini a slight creaminess to its taste.

Is tahini good for you?

Sesame seeds are loaded with nutrition, and unsurprisingly, this paste of hulled sesame seeds is an incredibly healthy addition to any diet – primarily vegetarian and vegan diets – that sometimes lack healthy proteins and specific nutrients. 

Here are a few of the most nutritious tahini benefits:

  • High in vitamin B1, B3, zinc, phosphorus, and iron. 
  • Decent levels of calcium, magnesium, potassium, and various B vitamins. 
  • Contains a whopping 17g of vegan, plant-based protein in a 100g serving.
  • Low in saturated fat and high in heart-healthy unsaturated fats. 
  • Rare vegan source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids to improve heart health, cellular regeneration, and countless other body processes.

While tahini is incredibly nutrient-dense, it’s also fat and calorie-dense, so don’t take the spoon to the jar and go to town for a midnight snack. It’s best to enjoy tahini while keeping portions sizes in mind and practicing moderation.

Is Tahini Sauce Vegan?

Great news for plant-based dieters – almost all tahini is vegan tahini!

Generally, tahini only contains sesame seeds and occasionally some vegetable-based oil and salt, all of which are perfectly safe for vegans to consume. 

There still are some circumstances in which you can’t eat tahini sauce for falafel or plenty of other dishes. Most tahini sauce contains some extra ingredients, including tahini paste, and occasionally, these additional ingredients aren’t vegan. 

Does tahini have dairy?

Some tahini sauces contain Greek yogurt, a dairy-based ingredient. 

The best way to determine if a tahini sauce is vegan is to read the ingredients list, ask your servers and restaurants, or make the batch yourself at home. 

What is Tahini Used For?

Tahini is great for hummus, but there are plenty of uses for tahini, both sweet and savory. 

Other popular Middle Eastern dishes that include tahini are Baba Ghanoush, icing, salad dressings, marinade, and the Middle Eastern fudge-like dessert, Halva. 

You can also make some tahini toast for a quick, protein-rich breakfast or snack, or baked into some rich, healthy tahini cookies.

Is all tahini vegan? 

For the most part, yes, but tahini sauces, on the other hand, can have some animal-based ingredients that make it no longer vegan. 

How to Make Tahini Sauce

This vegan tahini-based sauce is a snap to make and is delicious on everything from falafels to salads or wraps. 

You can use store-bought paste as a base for this vegan tahini recipe, or you can make your own at home very simply. To make a homemade paste, toast some sesame seeds and process them in a high-powered food processor, adding oil or water as needed until a thick paste forms. 

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup raw or roasted tahini paste
  • 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 cup warm water 

Directions

  1. Place tahini, sea salt, and garlic powder in a small mixing bowl and whisk until combined.
  2. Add warm water in small portions at a time, and continue to whisk until you have a creamy sauce consistency. Taste the tahini and adjust seasonings as needed. Tahini is the star of the show, but add garlic powder for more garlic flavor or sea salt.
  3. Serve this sauce over falafel, salads, veggie burgers, and just about everything in between!
  4. Store and keep in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Final Note: The Best Tahini Substitutions

You can use tahini in any recipe that calls for nut butter, like peanut butter. Keep in mind that tahini tastes different than many nut butter types, and the results will be slightly different, but we love the complexity that tahini’s flavor adds. 

Conversely, if a recipe calls for tahini, but you have a sesame allergy or no tahini on hand, you can use a tahini substitute instead! Swap out tahini for any nut butter – the most similar tasting options are sunflower seed butter, cashew butter, or almond butter. Depending on the recipe, you may also be able to get away with using sesame oil instead. 

Enjoy adding some tahini into your favorite vegan sauces and baked recipes!

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