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What is Tahini

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

Other resources about tahini:
A quick tahini recipe.
Tahini’s nutritional value.

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 Brands

Israeli and Palestinian raw tahini products.

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.

48 Comments on What is Tahini

  1. Hi. Interesting blog! I’m sitting at my desk, in my home office, having a very simple lunch of carrot sticks dipped in hummus – made by Tribe Mediterranean Foods. I plan to enjoy this easy meal more often, so maybe I’ll try making my own instead of buying the pre-made kind. I just Googled “hummus” to look for more info on why this stuff is so healthy – and that’s how I found your blog. How interesting that you are such a fan of this food!

  2. Drewsifer // May 18, 2007 at 7:22 pm // Reply

    I can’t fricking make tahini paste into a good white tahini dip. I am sick of getting the thick sesame paste and not being able contrive the delicious white jism I so desperately crave.

    Please to be forwarding any suggestions regarding how the hell to make that paste into a liquidy alabaster drool. I keep following the instructions but the tahini just ends up being thick and crappy, like all the edeliecous ingredients stuck together but not gelling. Its like the Tottenham of Tahinis.

  3. Dear Drewsifer –
    We’ll discuss tahini more in the future. Meanwhile, try these tips:
    a. you should use the best tahini you can get.
    b. before opening the tahini can, shake it REALLY HARD for a few minutes.
    c. when you make the tahini, start with adding very little water and mixing slowly. Before it gets too thick, add some more water. Repeat the process a few times.
    d. the texture should still be thick when you add the lemon juice and salt. Go on mixing and add the chopped parsley and garlic. Then taste and correct the spicing. If you like the taste but it is still thick, add some water.

  4. Yonah brand is by far the best Tehina brand.

  5. Ok, I need the experts opinion on this one:

    Is hummus, without thina, hummus ?

    I would say “no! that’s just mashed chickpeas”,
    what do you think ?

  6. JF –
    I think you’re perfectly right. I saw somewhere a recipe for “hummus without tahini” and thought it’s really like pizza with no cheese.

  7. Drewsifer, your difficulty with tahini is a perfect example of why that stuff should come with a warning label. I always wondered what somebody who may not be familiar with the quirky nature of tahini, would think when adding water to it only makes it thicker. It all seems so counterintuitive. But keep adding water in small increments, and keep stirring. It will eventually reach the proper consistency.

  8. I have been given a recipe that uses peanut butter instead of tahini. Would you say this is an American variation of hummus? I haven’t tried it yet so I don’t know how it tastes.

  9. PAT – terrible idea.
    There is no sense in using peanut butter. Tahini has a lite texture and delicate flavor and PB is pretty aggressive and dominant.
    PB hummus sounds like an invention made for people who are allergic to sesame. As sympathetic as I am to those people, I wouldn’t touch that with a long stick.

  10. So, I went to the store in search of ingredients to make my first batch of Hummus. However, the ONLY Tahini in the store was of the yehuda brand. I see that they make Hummus as well. Has anyone tried these- they come in a can? How do these compare to other brands? At the moment, I’m eating store brought Hummus of the Sabra brand variety. That and Sabra Salads (a different brand) are the most authentic I have had in the US besides the rare fresh kind.

  11. LM –
    I don’t know this Yehuda, but I was told AlWadi is good and Amazon sell them – you can go to our aStore (up on the right side-bar) were you can find it quickly (we’ll get 4% commission for that, but we’ll also get it if you take the Yehuda brand).

  12. help with this Tahini dip/??
    Does this go into making of the hummus ? Or is this a nother name for Hummus.
    Wanting to try making it myself the “hummus” and or Tahini
    So I get some Sesame paste at health store and water , lemon salt
    then add this to the making of hummus, Yes?no

  13. i work in a tahini factory, i feel i am proud to please as many peaple by injoying tahini, i did not know that our product is well known world wide.
    i hope everyone to injoy the tahini he”s got

  14. Dear Ala –
    So now you know… 🙂 Not only is tahini making it’s way to some of the most primitive places (like the US… just kidding), but there were always people in many countries, like my own and like myself, who grew up with tahini as one of the very basic dishes on their family table.
    Thanks for the good work mate. BTW – which company are you working for?

  15. mr shooky,
    to start with i wish you and your family a happy new year (shana tova )
    i do appreciate your comment very much,my father owns tahina karawan( the pic on the right side of the photo on the top of this page).
    we have been working for ages in this work, and we have 90% of our production
    to the israeli market, which is a good market only for good products.
    and regarding this mate thing i think you have sprnd sometime in england, they use is alot mate!

  16. Dear Ala,

    First of all – I feel honored that you commented here.

    As you probably noticed, your Tahini’s picture is the largest, and that’s because it’s my favorite.

    Tahina Karawan is simply excellent – I always have some at home, and I usually buy 1Kg jars. I also love Al-Gamal, Al-Arz and other brands, but Karawan has always been my favorite, and I like it even more then Tahina Zahav which I used to eat as a child.

    I think you should be very proud, and I hope – Inshaalla – that one day “the white pigeon” will be known all over the world, just like in Israel. And if that blog can be of help – we’ll be honored.

    Thanks for your kind wishes.
    I don’t know if you are Muslim or Christian, so I don’t know if and how to greet you, but since we are already greeting people here –

    I wish a those of this blog visitors who are Muslims:
    Ramadan Kareem and Ramadan Mubarak (hope these are the right greetings).

    May this be a year of peace and good health for us all.

  17. mr shooky
    i am so glad to see peaple who can tell the different between good and bad tahini, yet i am so a mussed to see you catching the defferenses between the good and the best tahini, this is something i have to pay you for, and to pay you enogh i cant thing of any way other thane thanking you very sincerly for that, this is just for a smile, i can pay you a visit with a jar of fresh tahini directly from the factory.
    you know the food industry is pased on the spirit of the making, my father tought me to give as much as i could to make a good tahini, and one day or a nother someone will apreciate the effort, if never at least we feel comfort with ourselfs that we did the best we could.
    we are in this family business for a bout 100 years now, we are muslems, palestenians, living in nablus (shakeem), but we work and respect all other religons, i am not going to put pulitics in here, but i know that if it was back to peaple like us, peace would have been a round ages ago, but it is not.
    i come to israel every now and then, i do not know where exactly you are, but i will be more than happy to offer you a cup of tea any time , anywhere. if you need my mobile i can send it to you, or you can call me on the factory the phone number on the jar that you have at home any time after 8pm, i am working over night these adays.

  18. Dear Ala,

    I live in Tel-Aviv, and would be delighted to have you as a guest the next time you’re in Israel, and maybe show you around a little. And yes, fresh tahini strait from the factory does sound heavenly good. Hope it’ll happen soon.

    And yes, there are lots of good people on both sides of the border, and it’s sad they’re not the ones who are running things.

    The rest – by email.


  19. Dear Mr. Shooky and Mr. Ala

    I’m living in the states and I have no idea on how to purchase any of those products you rate as your favorites nor can I find a importer that sells your product “Tahina Karawan”. Any idea on where I can go to get it shipped to America? I’ve been practicing and testing out making Hummus with tahini for a few years now but always wanted to make the best.

  20. Dear John,
    As far as I know, you can’t purchase these products outside the middle-east which is a real shame (please, Ala, help these nice people from the US to evolove…).
    The good news is, some poeple who tried Al Wadi brand, say it’s almost as good as Karwan, which is the best. Al Wadi could be bought all over the states and also in most large European cities. You can also find it in our aStore here

    (or click on the logo on the upper right sidebar). The purchase is through Amazon.

  21. I had the privilege of being in Kuwait recently, and our driver provided to us by the US Embassy is a Syrian by birth, a very nice young man. He took us all out to a traditional Arab cafe for dinner the night of the World Cup Championship. Even though our party of 8 Americans was the only non-Arabs, we were made to feel completely welcome. It was almost overwhelming. The food was absolutely amazing, and we had several servings of hummus, and even tried smoking the shisha. I’ll never forget that night.

  22. well guys,
    sometimes the pest place to live in the time being is in the states.
    But nothing is perfect, as long as it is not being possible for mr john to fined al-karawan there.
    the global markets need a mass production to fullfill the demands of the consumers, it is also requeres a good distriputers with hands all over the states, i have been thinking of this for years and i came up facing tow difficulteis,
    one is that the distributer is not found yet, the other wich is the most important is that our kined of process in the factory is traditional, that is why it is special product, we work in the factory as owners and as workers together with the workers we have in house, for this proplem we are working on a new factory where we can increase production and keeping quality intacked.
    hope to start production in the new factory by the year 2008. and hope to expand market outside the Israeli porders.


  24. Amanda – raw tahini could be stored and saved for month, without cooling. Prepared tahini (raw + water etc.) can be kept in the fridge for 1-2 days.

  25. Hi everybody,

    I discovered this blog site today with pleasure and surprise, while looking after more details about Tahini paste. I am glad Shooky made this, gathering by that different people from all over, interested in this – what should I name it – food or base for ohter food ?!

    I want to tell you I just came to buy MY FIRST JAR OF TAHINI !!!!! and I think I am fond of it for life. No humus made, no mixing anything, no water, etc – just eating the paste as it is from the pot or put on a bread slice – it’s very tasty to me. I love it. In my country (Romania) there is no tradition for such product, very few know its taste or what it’s used for or at. These are the facts.

    Mind that I am not writing about humus (there is humus in our shops – ready cooked, prepared, I buy sometimes – but I doubt its quality) – as some talk here of Humus especially. I write here about that thick oily sesame paste I ate today and that I appreciate just as it is sold. Maybe I do not know to use it properly !

    But Shooky, as a native eater of the moste exquisite sesame pastes in the world, write about refined brands and recepies, and these are things so far away from me, culturally. I can imagine mine is….well…MyTahini is made in Syria by Al Durra, its name is Durra, sais the label. I suppose it’s a very modest producer, as far as it’s not present in Shooky’s list and story…. I can’t compare its color to “dark or “white”, cause I do not know what color a fine Tahini is. It seems not so dark to me, but not very whitish either…and it is just a little bit bitter on the tongue, after swallow it.
    What can you tell me about this Durra brand, in case you know ?

    What way must I eat my Tahini when I don’t want to use it for making Humus ?? It’s ok to eat as I ate it, or there is something more ?? What is that water you name, that the sesame must be mixzed with ??
    Please help and understand my ignorance..!:-) Anyway, the club counts a new fan !

    Light for all friends here gathered in the name of this ancestral and iintriguing food, thanks to Shooky for his project….

  26. as a cook who worked in israel for many years and as an israeli who grew up on tahini i cant agree more and happy to join the karwan tahini fan club!
    indid ala my freind , holly work you and your family do for the last 100 years.
    as someone who grew up in israel ive tried many kinds of tahiny. like any other israeli my palate is familier with the majic white paste and i can say that no other tahini like karwan captures the flavours and aromas of the sesamee seed. like a good aged single malt to the world of whisky , like kobe beef to the world of meat.
    and another word for you ala , from an israeli to a plestinian – i wish there were more people like you on both sides , who knows whats realy importent in life and not buissy in this bulshit fight which is old more or less like your tahina.
    thanks alot for a fine product and i wish you the best.

  27. I have been a fan of hummus for a very long time, but I have never made it myself. Recently, I obtained a jar of tahini and was very surprised by what was inside. I expected it to be a thick paste, like peanut butter, but it was instead very thin, like a salad dressing. It was also extremely bitter, so bitter that I couldn’t bear to taste it by itself. Is this normal? The ingredients list says only “organic mechanically hulled sesame seeds.”

  28. ariel
    thanking you for your comments, i have never lost the faith of finding peaple talking to peaple dispite their nationality, i am proude to be palestenian, surly as much as you are proude of being israely, what is done in the dome of politics has got nothing to do with the relations we build among us.
    it is like the dipate that mr shooky had about the origin of hummus,i think it is good to investigate and to be inlightened and to know, but it is not for the sake of fighting and being stiff in discutions, we love hummus, and we will keep making the best tahini, for the peaple who appreciate good food, lets injoy the hummus, and lets keep the tahini at its best, whether it was a palestenian origin or scandanavian one.
    take care and i hope to see you in tel aviv soon

  29. This website is fantastic, thankyou, Shooky, for all the time and effort you must put into it, particularly making it a bilingual webpage, as i couldn’t have accessed it otherwise.

    I have a quick question about Tahini use in hummus:

    I have been making hummus with unhulled or ‘brown’ tahini, as unhulled tahini claims on the packaging to have more nutritional value. I am using an Australian brand tahini from a company called ‘Pure Harvest’, and it makes a very rich, thick and deliciously nutty flavoured hummus. But on this page people keep referring to what sounds like more refined tahini as being the better quality of tahini to use?

    What do you all think? Is White tahini best, or is the taste of unhulled, (brown) tahini comparable? And which is best for hummus?

  30. I think Tahina from Nabulus is the best in the world and would love to try Tahina Karawan. Where can I buy it? I live in Hod Hasharon.

    Ala, I just read an article about you and your family in Haaretz. Inshallah, I hope I can come to Nablus one day and tour your plant. I would love to feature it on my food blog.

    I found an interesting Tahina cake that I would like to make. It is a Greek recipe and it has tahina, raisins, allspice, candied orange, orange juice and walnuts.

  31. I’ve been eating hummus and falafel for 15 years. I make it at home (hummus & falfel) and never really thought about the quality of the tahini. I can get it bulk (self serve) from the local Central market, where I think they make it themselves and provide it in big buckets. I’ll ask’em next time I’m there.

    I just made a batch and it’s looking to be good. However, I did my chickpeas in a pressure cooker and it only took 20 minutes from dry pea to finish and very soft. I ran out of baking soda but the cooker works real good anyhow. LOL

    As far as who invented hummus- different sides of the same family estranged by religion! Of course they are going to eat the same stuff… Same people, region…

  32. Radtek – the quality of tahini varies greatly and it has a very strong effect over the final flavor.
    About the pressure cooker – ok, I’m convinced, I’ll try that and report.

  33. Michelle
    i am glad that you read the article, i heard that it was an interristing one, the writer of the article was here in the karawan factory, and he was with a photographer and another nice lady writer from west europe, they where amused to see how traditionally tahina is made, and they where lucky to see and taste the worme halva as well,
    if you or any one is allowed to come over you all are wellcome and i will make sure that you will have a great day in nablus, i promesed mr shooky to visit him, i am waiting for my pirmit, i think i will be in tel-aviv in tow weeks time.

  34. Hey,
    This Italian american has been going to Sahadi’s in Brooklyn for over 25 years(owned by a lebanese american) ; they make their own tahini > and I prefer it over all the tahinis I have tried.
    And they do shipping.
    And for those who don’t have a pressure cooker, freezing your chickpeas cuts down on cooking time.

  35. I thought tahini was sesame seeds ground up with olive oil – is there more to it? Guess I need to try one of these brands of paste you suggest to see how much different it is from how mine turns out. I have tried sunflower seeds ground up with olive oil (kinjda reminded me of peanut butter, and tasted okay in finished product-heavy as you say though) and flax seed -whoa nelly! Not a good idea. Like drinking a stout instead of a pilsner.

    I like this site – am going to try your advice!

  36. Ala Tamam,
    I live in Barcelona, Spain. Does your family export any of their products there? If not, would they consider doing just that?

    Does anyone know if there are good shops in Barcelona for falafel, hummus and tahinah? I tried some of the falafel made over her and it really wasn’t up to scratch. The best falafel I ever had was in Israel and Palestine and in a tiny Israeli Falafel joint in Golders Green, London, called, I think, “Pita”.

    What also makes a big difference is the salad that goes inside the pita bread. Does anyone here have any good recipees for accompanying salads?

    Shalom / Salam,


  37. ps

    As for getting a good consistency for Tahina, I learnt a trick when I was living in Cairo, where I used to buy Tahina in bulk from a Palesinian family. As well as adding and mixing a little bit of water, add freshly-squeezed lime juice too.

  38. Dear Ala & Shooki ,

    I have read your correspondance with each other and it really warms my heart.
    I live very far away in a place that humus and t’hina are totally unknown …
    Where restaurants in 5 star hotels serve something they call humus without
    a trace of Tahina … and when you complain about it they don’t even understand cause they’ve never eaten real humus in their life …

    When I have guests from Israel come to visit I ask for very few things … number one on the list is Tahina Golmit(raw?) and if possible please make the effort and find Tahina Karavan(Ha Yona) for me .

    So , both of you , keep up the good work , Ala making fantastic Tahina and Shuki writing with knowledge and humour about humus

  39. Oh and I forgot , the english version of the Haaretz article
    on Ala’s familly Tahina factory is here :

    as I don’t know how to link on this blog yet I put it instead of my website

  40. I am on a search to find the best tahini, I have a cooking website for Mediterranean cooking, and I get so many request for Tahini, and I want to start offering Tahini to my viewers, but I want to offer the best, So I found this website that referred to your site, and I figured I would post my question here. I would like to know where can I purchase in Los Angeles this “Karawan Tahini”, or the U.S. even. Could some one please tell me or advice me the best possible way to purchase this Karawan Tahini. Again Thank you Dedemed.

  41. What a wonderfully diverse blog! It kept me tickled right down to the bottom of the page 🙂 I started looking into tahini because i wanted to try making my own hummus, and i read up that tahini is ‘mandatory’ to the recipe. But i’m living in southport, UK. Any ideas on what good tahini brands are available here? Until i find it, i will enjoy eating chickpeas in the native Indian ‘chaat’ style …. but o boy, i do hope i can cook up some good hummus of my own some day. Sighh!

  42. I’d like to make hummus completely from scratch, which mean I’d like to make the tahini myself. Is this possible/advisable? I’ve tried recipes for making what seems to be raw tahini by blending sesame seeds in a food processor, but all the recipes use some kind of oil to blend with the sesame seeds. Also, this homemade tahini does not have the desired effect when I blend it with water compared to store bought tahini. Whenever I buy tahini the ingredients just say “sesame seeds,” and no oil. This is leading me to believe that tahini factories just use some equipment I don’t have to puree the sesame seeds finer than I can with a food processor. Is this true? Should I just give in and buy tahini to use in my hummus?

    Thanks for any help

  43. I would like to have a recipe for a tahina cake. I live in Sudan- the brands available are different but sudan is the biggest producer of sesame. I bought some tahina called al taif, and it was awful, rough and perhaps expired. But then I tried one Alhalwani brothers, much better with a smooth taste. I put it everywhere, for example when I have milk with cereals I add yogurt and tahina. yummy!

  44. I was wondering if you can ask ala tamam if he can give us phone numbers of stores in Israel that sell the tahina so we can try and get it from them, or maybe shooky can help me????

  45. I would also like to make the raw tahini from scratch for hummus. I’m American and have grown up with hummus as an option my entire life. Now, I live in Northern Italy, in a tiny town, and we only have one little ‘asian’ food store… they have never heard of tahini (or hummus for that matter)! Help!
    I’ve seen several online recipes, but they vary greatly – some use peanut oil, some olive oil. Some add water and salt, some don’t. You seem to be the expert on this subject, judging from my quick glance at your (excellent) blog… I’m headed to the grocery store today with the express intention of ending up with the ingredients for hummus! Any help in would be greatly appreciated. 🙂 -Mariana

  46. I recently bought the Arrowhead Mills tahini product. I tried making hummus with it, and I can tell that it definetely doesn’t have a subtle delicate flavor. It tastes very bitter and strange. I’ve tasted good hummus before, and it didn’t taste like that. Is there something wrong with the Tahini I’m using? Or am I just adding too much?

  47. Hi there, I have question regarding tahini which has been on my mind for some time. I am a vegan and sesame for us (let alone for everyone) the best source of calcium there is available. Although whenever I picked up a pot of tahini and read its nutritional values the calcium amount accounts for 0%!
    Would you be able to tell me more about this please?
    Cheers, Alessio.

  48. I love this blog. I’m still searching for the best raw tahini’s, I’ve made my own from fresh sesame seeds, I’ve bought 30 dollar 15 oz. jars, I’ve bought 5 dollar jars, I’ve tried so many, but have yet to find the best! I would like to order some from Nablus and Galilee, don’t care how much it costs, because I’m a hummus maker and need tahini with a good energy to feed the ora of my friends, family and me.

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