Tahini is a seed butter made from sesame seeds that are hulled, ground, and toasted. 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.
Contents of this article:
Nutritional breakdown of tahini
According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, a 2-tablespoon serving of tahini from roasted sesame seeds contains 178 calories, 16 grams of fat, 6 grams of carbohydrates (3 grams of fiber and 0 grams of sugar) and 5 grams of protein.
Tahini is made from sesame seeds, with a little bit of oil mixed in to make it the right consistency.
Do not be alarmed by the amount of fat in tahini - only 2 out of the 16 grams are saturated, the rest are mono- and poly-unsaturated fats, known to be beneficial to the heart and overall health.
A 1 oz. serving of sesame seeds contains three times more iron than 1 oz. of beef liver, which is commonly known as a high-iron food.3 Sesame seeds also contain more phytosterols than all other nuts and seeds, which are important for their cholesterol-lowering and anticancerous effects.1
Sesame seeds provide many nutrients, but it is difficult for the body to absorb them due to their hard outer layer (hull). Consuming sesame seeds in the paste form of tahini allows the body to better absorb the nutrients they provide.
Possible benefits of consuming tahini
Sesame seeds contain the unique lignans sesamin and sesamol, which have been shown to lower cholesterol. Nutrition Research published a study in which subjects consumed 1.5 ounces of tahini a day. After 4 weeks, the subjects' average total cholesterol and LDL ("bad") cholesterol decreased by 6.4% and 9.5%, respectively. Subjects were then asked to return to their normal diets without tahini. Four weeks later their cholesterol levels returned to their original level.1
As discussed in the nutritional breakdown, 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.5
The calcium and magnesium in tahini also work to decrease blood pressure naturally.6
Lignans, chemical compounds found in certain plants, have a similar structure to estrogen. The sesamin and sesamol lignans in tahini are able to bind to estrogen receptors, which can protect against hormone-related cancers.1
In a study published in the International Journal of Rheumatic Diseases, patients with knee osteoarthritis were given either glucosamine plus Tylenol twice a day (a standard treatment for osteoarthritis) or 40 grams per day of powdered sesame seeds (comparable to 2 tablespoons of tahini).
The group consuming sesame scored better on measures to test the inhibitions associated with knee osteoarthritis, reported less pain, and did not experience the adverse side effects associated with Tylenol.4
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.7
How to incorporate more tahini into your diet
Tahini is a major component of classic hummus. Anytime you are consuming traditional hummus, you are consuming tahini!
Tahini can be added to top salads, soups, smoothies and as a dip for veggies.
- Top salads with a quick dollop of tahini
- Make your own salad dressing using tahini. Try this tahini detox dressing
- Dip veggies in a tablespoon or two of tahini.
Or, try these healthy and delicious recipes developed by registered dietitians:Carrot soup with tahini and roasted chickpeas
Warm winter produce and tahini nourish bowl
Roasted broccoli with lemon tahini sauce
Cinnamon tahini protein smoothie.
Oil separation during storage is natural. To avoid having to stir tahini before using, trying storing upside down in the refrigerator.
Potential health risks of consuming tahini
It is the total diet or overall eating pattern that is most important in disease prevention and achieving good health. It is better to eat a diet with a variety than to concentrate on individual foods as the key to good health.
Because tahini has a high fat content, it is calorically dense, and should be consumed in moderation for its health benefits. Dietitian Ruth Frenchman explains, "The key to gleaning the health benefits of nut and seed butters is to eat them in moderation... Just stick to a couple tablespoons."1
People with tree nut allergies are three times as likely to have a sesame seed allergy.2