Tahini is a butter made from hulled, ground, and toasted sesame seeds. It is commonly used in North African, Greek, Iranian, Turkish, and Middle Eastern cuisine.
It is a major ingredient in hummus and baba ghanoush, a dip similar to hummus, made with eggplant rather than chickpeas.
This MNT Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods.
It provides a nutritional breakdown of tahini and an in-depth look at its possible health benefits, how to incorporate more tahini into your diet, and any potential health risks of consuming tahini.
Fast facts about tahini
- Tahini is a paste or butter made from ground sesame seeds.
- It is a key ingredient in hummus and in baba ghanoush, an aubergine dip.
- It provides good amounts of protein and various minerals.
- Tahini is also high in calories, and it should be eaten in moderation.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Nutrient Database, a 2-tablespoon (tbsp) serving of tahini made from roasted sesame seeds and weighing 30 grams (g) contains:
- 178 calories
- 16.13 g of fat
- 6.36 g of carbohydrates
- 2.8 g of fiber
- 0.15 g of sugar
- 5.1 g of protein
That same 2-tbsp serving provides:
Tahini seems to contain large amounts of fat. However, only 2 of the 16 g found in a 2-tbsp serving are saturated. The rest are mono- and poly-unsaturated fats, known to be beneficial to the heart and overall health.
Sesame seeds also contain more phytosterols than all other nuts and seeds. These are important for their cholesterol-lowering and cancer-blocking effects.
There are many other nutrients in sesame seeds, but it is difficult for the body to absorb them due to their hard outer layer, or hull. Consuming sesame seeds in the paste form of tahini allows the body to absorb the nutrients they provide more efficiently.
Tahini boasts a range of health benefits to enrich any meal.
Being made from sesame seeds means that tahini can provide some of the benefits of sesamin and sesamol.
These are lignans, antioxidant nutrients that can help support the immune system and balance hormone levels.
As seen above, tahini is high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Studies have shown that consuming these types of fats can lower harmful cholesterol levels as well as lower the risk of heart disease and stroke.
If you have a history of cancer it is important to talk to your doctor about adding supplements to your diet.
A study published in the International Journal of Rheumatic Diseases saw patients with knee osteoarthritis given either glucosamine plus Tylenol twice a day, a standard treatment for osteoarthritis, or 40 g per day of powdered sesame seeds, comparable to 2 tablespoons of tahini.
The group consuming sesame scored higher on measures to test the inhibitions associated with knee osteoarthritis, reported less pain, and did not experience the side effects associated with Tylenol.
The high magnesium content in tahini is beneficial for maintaining healthy bones. Adequate magnesium intakes are associated with a greater bone density and have been effective in decreasing the risk of osteoporosis in postmenopausal women.
One review of existing studies showed that magnesium might boost bone mineral density in the neck and hip.
Tahini is a major component of classic hummus, a popular dip based on chickpeas. Anytime you add traditional hummus to a meal, you are eating tahini and gaining benefits from its sesame seed content.
Here are some quick tips for adding tahini to your diet:
- Top salads with a quick dollop of tahini.
- Make your own salad dressing using tahini.
- Dip vegetables into a tablespoon or two of tahini.
Try these nutritious and delicious recipes developed by registered dietitians:
- Carrot soup with tahini and roasted chickpeas
- Warm winter produce and tahini nourish bowl
- Cinnamon tahini protein smoothie
The oil in tahini may separate during storage, which is completely normal. This can be stirred back in on serving. To avoid having to stir tahini before use, trying storing it upside down in the refrigerator.
Because tahini has a high fat content, it has a high number of calories, and moderation is advised for the best health benefits.
A large proportion of people with tree nut allergies are also likely to be allergic to sesame seeds.
No single food or nutrient is the most important factor in preventing disease and promoting good health. It is better to eat a varied, balanced diet than to concentrate on individual foods.