Tahini is one of the pantry staples we rely on most at Milk Street. Common in Middle Eastern cooking, it increasingly is a household ingredient in the United States. If you haven’t seen tahini dressing on a menu or drizzled a tahini sauce over meat or vegetables at home, you’ll at least recognize the sesame paste as one of the key ingredients in hummus.
What It Is
Tahini is nothing more than ground sesame seeds, but when made well, the roasted flavors and smooth, creamy texture can transform a dish, and the difference between good and bad tahini is stark. Unfortunately, most supermarket brands of tahini are overroasted and separate into a dense, spackle-like paste with an unpleasant aftertaste, which can ruin hummus or a simple sauce. A premium tahini should have a nutty, bittersweet flavor and creamy texture.
Though now widely available, there can be a tremendous quality gap between the best and the worst brands. To suss out the differences, we tasted 14 brands, all purchased from Amazon, Whole Foods Market and other local supermarkets. Included in our tests was Soom, our preferred brand sold in the Milk Street Store, as well as the Beirut brand, which we purchase from a wholesaler and use in the kitchen for recipe development. It is also available online.
The Top Four
“Nutty and creamy, with great sesame flavor but not bitter,” and “Good texture. Not too runny and not too thick or gloppy, either.”
Soom tahini offers the nutty, bittersweet flavor and creamy texture that is the hallmark of great tahini. It is by far the best brand we have tasted. Its freshly roasted flavor and unctuous texture, which doesn’t separate like lesser brands, makes it an essential pantry staple.
Sesame King (Regular Roast)
“Great nutty, roasted flavor,” “Thick, rich, and creamy with a rich, tasty flavor,” “Nice and toasty with good salinity” and “Sweet.”
Loved by everyone, Sesame King is widely available in most supermarkets and at Whole Foods Market.
“Thick and creamy,” and “Bright, almost lemony flavor.”
The lemony flavor made this brand different than the others. Some tasters found it refreshing; other found it distracting.
“Silky, rich and upfront sesame flavor.”
The amount of sesame flavor is a key indication of a good tahini and this brand was very sesame forward.
The Bottom Three
Artisana Organic Raw Tahini: “Bitter, pasty and grainy,” “Terrible texture” and “Metallic.”
Mighty Sesame Company: “Thin, watery and astringent,” “Off-flavored chemical, plastic taste,” and “Watery and sour”
Prince: “Tastes like peanuts,” “Going rancid?” “Color is off-putting. Very dark,” and “Bitter.”
How to Use It
Tahini is terrific in our ultrasmooth hummus and in baba ghanoush or tehina, the do-it-all garlicky tahini sauce used throughout Lebanon. Try mixing it into yogurt with a handful of herbs and a pinch of salt for a quick dip or sandwich spread. Add a spoonful to enrich any basic olive oil vinaigrette or drizzle over roasted chicken with a squirt of lime and crunchy salt as a dead-simple sauce alternative. Slather it on vegetables, like cauliflower, before roasting and tossing with a crunchy accent. Or brush over mixed grilled vegetables—peppers, onions, eggplant.
Try tahini on toast or a bagel—instead of butter or cream cheese—and top with a generous sprinkle of za'atar and olive oil. Or spread beneath sliced avocado and spritz with lemon juice, salt and lots of coarse pepper.
On the sweet side, try it drizzled over vanilla ice cream with honey, or swapped out for peanut butter with your favorite jam on whole-grain bread. (We like tahini best with apricot or raspberry jam, where the acidity sharpens the sesame flavor.) Stir it into oatmeal or cream of wheat and sprinkle with brown sugar and cardamom or cinnamon. Tahini’s bittersweet flavor perfectly balances chocolate; try our Tahini Swirl Brownies or ultra-quick Chocolate-Tahini Pudding.
Don’t forget to stir the tahini very well. Some brands separate and can become quite thick at the bottom of the container. If your tahini is particularly thick, it won’t mix well into sauces or hummus. You may need to add a tablespoon or two of tap water for hummus to reach the right consistency.