Tahini is the second most important ingredient in hummus, right after the chickpeas of course. It is eaten by hundreds of millions, everyday, from China to Greek and from Africa to California. Only, in some yet evolving part of the world, it is rear and law in quality
They say there’s a war between civilizations going on. I’m not sure about that. The way I see it, there is definitely such virtual gap, separating people from one another – but it has nothing to do with politics or beliefs.
To make long story short – when it comes to tahini there are only two kinds of people: those who knows what real tahini tastes like, and those who do not.
Tahini: an ancient queen
Tahini, a sesame paste, is a pretty ancient food. Sesame is known to mankind for over 7000 years now – and it seems unlikely we cultivated it just for the sake of bagels. When have we learned to ground the seeds into an oily delicacy? This is a story we’re going to tell in another time.
What I can tell you now, is that you can find Tahini and other sesame products, not only in the Middle-Eastern kitchen but also in Chinese cuisine. And the Japanese one, and in Korea, and in some Mediterranean countries such as Greek, some parts of Africa and maybe more.
Not in all these places Tahini is eaten in such quantities as in Israel and Arab countries, but it is certainly an important member in some of the most fabulous culinary cultures of the world.
The modern decay
Some quick etymology: “Tahini” is a mispronunciation of “Thina”. It is pronounced almost the same in Hebrew (טחינה), and in Arabic (طحينية). It is very similar to the Arabic word for “flour” (طحين). It is almost identical to the Hebrew word for “grinding” (טחינה).
Just think about it: on the down of mankind (or at list of Middle-Eastern man), when words where invented, Tahini stood shoulder to shoulder with wheat and flour.
So how come half mankind today, knows what bread is but have never tasted good enough tahini?
The best tahini: in the holy land
I eat tahini since I was an infant, some 30-somthing years ago. In recent years, I tasted (and sometimes documented) some 30-40 varieties and brands of tahini. Most of theme from Israel and “the territories”, and among them I found the best brands. Most of them were Arab, specifically from Nablus and Galilee.
I also tried several Lebanese, Greek and Turkey brands – which I understand are the only ones you can find in Europe and the states. Some where good, but hardly as good as the Palestinian tahini or even Israeli tahini.
As for myself, I believe that “Yonah” brand from Nablus is the best (I was told the Lebanese Al-Wadi, which can be found in the US and some European countries, is a bit like it – though not as good).
My father who was born and raised in Safed, also likes tahini a lot. And he remembers how his mother used to buy tahini from their Arab neighbors some 65 years ago. I guess most of his ancestors, who had lived here for the last 7 generations, probably did the same. I’m no different I guess.
Until next time…
How to recognize good tahini? What other sesame products worth a try? What brands are best, and how can one make tahini at home? All that will be discussed in the next 58 posts or so… (just kidding. In future posts).
What’s important to remember is that:
a. use the best tahini you can for your hummus.
b. come back for more hummus and tahini stories.