Halvah in Jerusalem Market, Photo by Avi Deror

Sesame seeds play an important part in the Jewish cuisine of Israel, Syria, Iraq, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Russia and the FSU, Turkey, Austria, India, and many other lands. They’re even mentioned in the Talmud.

Tahini, the paste or butter made from hulled or un-hulled sesame seeds is a favorite staple of Shabbat tables. It’s used in babaghanoush and other eggplant dips, hummus, sauces for fish, salad dressings, and desserts. It’s also made into a stand-alone dip called “tahina” and is the basis of the loved (or reviled, depending on your tastebuds) candy, halvah.

Open Sesame

Sesame seeds are an excellent source of calcium, copper (which has anti-inflammatory activity), manganese, tryptophan, magnesium, iron, phosphorous, zinc, and fiber. They also contain phytosterols (plant sterols), which have been shown to lower LDL serum cholesterol.

Although on the surface tahini made from un-hulled looks like a better nutrition choice since there is a much higher amount of calcium than in the hulled seeds. However, the calcium in the hulls is calcium oxalate.

Oxalic acid is a substance found in spinach, swiss chard, and other foods and it can promote kidney stones in susceptible individuals. Oxalate is a salt that forms when the oxalic acid binds with calcium. Oxalates block the absorption of the calcium they are bound with, so the main reason for eating the darker sesame paste made with un-hulled seeds is moot.

Another important group of nutrients in sesame seeds are lignans which many people who use flax seed oil are familiar with.   Lignans are polyphenols and have been shown to have positive hormonal effects in many women (and some men). The two types in sesame seeds are  sesamin and sesamolin which have been shown to exhibit anti-cancer activity in leukemia and prevent oxidative damage to the liver.

Although whole sesame seeds can be difficult for people with IBS and IBD to digest, sesame tahini and sesame oil are easier to digest and actually beneficial to the digestive system. The catch? They should be cold-pressed and unheated to get their healing effects.

Chill, It’s Raw

That’s why I contacted Artisana Organic Foods. Their raw coconut butter is one of the foods that helped my husband lose over 100 pounds and 14 inches off his waist. More on that in another post.

Artisana makes very high quality nut and seed butters including tahini, and they offered to send me a free jar to try. (They also sent me jars and packages of several other products and I’m really excited about trying them and creating some new recipes for you.)

Artisana organic, tahini is made from raw, hulled sesame seeds (that is, without the hulls) and is a good source of calcium, iron, vitamin B 1 and fiber. And it is really delicious, different from any other tahini out there–creamier, less bitter. It also looks prettier—my tahina came out much whiter and fluffier than usual. Here are some easy recipes to try.

HJC Tahina Dip

Lots of people buy prepared tahina, but I always make my own because aside from tasting better many of the prepared brands contain preservatives. (Come on, you don’t think they get those extended expiration dates without a little chemical help, do you?)

1 cup raw tahini

Juice of two lemon

1/2 to 1 cup water

Pinch of each: ground cumin, ground coriander, to taste

1/2 teaspoon good quality dried mint leaves or 1 tablespoon freshly washed and minced mint leaves

Cayenne pepper to taste, optional

Paprika for serving

Blend tahini, lemon juice, and water to desired consistency. Tahini seizes up at first when mixed with liquid, but after blending well produces an emulsified sauce. I just use a fork and a bowl, but you can use a hand blender or food processor.

Add spices, herbs, and cayenne pepper if using. Place in bowl or spread on plate, middle-eastern style and top with cured black olives and sprinkle with paprika.

Serve with crudites, pita bread, or as part of a mezze spread.


Garlic Tahina-Add one or two cloves pressed or minced garlic.

Herb Tahina-Add 2 tablespoons minced, fresh parsley and/or cilantro.

Smoky Chile Tahinia-Add 1 teaspoon ancho chile powder (omit cayenne) and increase cumin to 1 teaspoon.

Serves 4-8 as a dip.

HJC Tahini Salad Dressing

1/2 cup raw tahini

Juice of one lemon

2 teaspoons organic apple cider vinegar

2/3 to 1 cup water

1 tablespoon Zatar (middle-eastern spice mixture available at many supermarkets)

Blend tahini, lemon juice, and apple cider vinegar with as much water as you need to reach desired consistency. Add zatar and mix well.

For a high-calcium, high-fiber salad, mix 1/2 cup dressing with 4 cups romaine and radicchio salad, top with 1/4 cup each sprouted or toasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds.

Makes 4 to 6 servings of salad dressing.

HJC Living Hummus

2 cups sprouted chickpeas (recipe follows)

1/2  recipe HCJ Tahina Dip, omit dried/fresh mint

1/4 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil

Juice of one lemon

2 cloves minced garlic

1 teaspoon each, cumin, coriander

Chilled water

1/4 cup minced, flat-leaf parsley

Unrefined sea salt, to taste

Blend all ingredients except parsley and water with stick (hand) blender or in food processor. (Blender produces smoother hummus). Add enough water to make a smooth paste. Stir in minced parsley and salt. Serve with felafel, veggie burgers, pita bread, or crudites.

Easy Sprouted Chickpeas

1 1/3 cup organic chickpeas

You can use a jar with cheesecloth or a sprouting kit, but you can easily sprout chickpeas in a bowl. Rinse chickpeas well and remove any small stones or other matter. Discard cracked or damaged chick peas. Place chickpeas in jar or bowl, cover with plenty of cool water (must be at least several inches above the peas to allow room for expansion). Cover lightly with dish towel, and leave overnight (8-12 hours).

Drain chickpeas in strainer or colander, and rinse well. Place in strainer or colander over bowl, cover with dish towel and place in cool spot in kitchen. Rinse and drain 4 times per day.

They chickpeas will usually produce 1/4 inch tails within 24 hours. Sometimes, it can take as long as 2 days.

You can use the chickpeas as is or drop them for one minute into boiling water to lightly cook if you find beans hard to digest. Although raw sprouts have been linked to outbreaks of salmonella due to poor quality controls on the seeds or beans used, if you buy high quality beans (in this case packaged is often better than bulk) and discard any cracked or damaged beans, there should be no problem).

(If I have time, I’ll post my no-bake carrot cake with sesame-lemon glaze recipe.)

2 responses to “Tahini

  1. Pingback: Food Photos « healthyjewishcooking·

  2. Pingback: Raw & Living Or Baked: Sprouted Chickpea Falafel | healthyjewishcooking·

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