Tahini: Health Benefits and Common Uses

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on September 13, 2023
3 min read

If you like hummus, then you’re probably a fan of tahini. It’s one of the nutrient-packed spread’s main ingredients. But what is it, exactly?

Tahini is toasted sesame seeds ground down to a paste. The seeds are soaked in water, then crushed and hulled to take off the “coat,” or kernel. The kernels float to the top and are taken out. What’s left is toasted and soaked again in saltwater before being pounded into a paste. It has a thick, oily, and smooth texture similar to natural peanut butter.

Tahini is a common ingredient in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cooking, blended into dips like hummus and baba ghanoush (eggplant and tahini). You can also use it to top fish, meat, or vegetables. And you can make it into salad dressing with other ingredients like apple cider vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice, and seasonings.

Tahini, also called “tahina” in some countries, may look a little like peanut butter, but it doesn’t taste like it. Tahini isn’t sweet like most nut butters, and the nutty flavor is strong and earthy, and can be a little bitter. If the bitterness is really strong, though, that could mean the batch is old or expired.

Tahini is fairly low in calories but high in fiber, protein, and several important vitamins and minerals. One tablespoon (15 grams) has:

  • Calories: 89
  • Protein: 3 grams
  • Carbs: 3 grams
  • Fat: 8 grams
  • Fiber: 2 grams
  • Copper: 27% of your daily value
  • Selenium: 9% of your daily value
  • Phosphorus: 9% of your daily value
  • Iron: 7% of your daily value
  • Zinc: 6% of your daily value
  • Calcium: 5% of your daily value

The sesame seeds that make up tahini may be small, but they’re a solid source of protein, fiber, monounsaturated fats, and vitamins B1 and B2.

When you think of copper, pennies might be the first thing that come to mind. But this trace mineral is a nutrient your body needs, and tahini has plenty of it. Copper helps your body:

Tahini also has selenium. It acts as an antioxidant and helps lower inflammation in the body.

Studies show sesamol, a natural chemical found in sesame seeds and sesame oil, has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-aging benefits. Other studies suggest it also has strong anti-cancer effects.

Sesame seeds have more phytosterols than other nuts and seeds, and these plant compounds have been shown to help lower cholesterol.

If you’re allergic to sesame seeds, you shouldn’t eat tahini. If you don’t know whether you’re allergic, pay attention to what your body does after you eat it. See your doctor ASAP if:

Anaphylaxis is a more serious allergic reaction. It can be life-threatening. Call 911 if:

  • Your throat tightens up.
  • You have swollen lips, face, tongue, or throat, or the sensation of a lump in your throat that makes it hard to breathe.
  • Your blood pressure drops.
  • Your heart is beating very fast.
  • You’re dizzy, lightheaded, or losing consciousness.

You can buy tahini premade at the grocery store, but just like natural peanut butter,  it has lots of oil that needs to be stirred to make a smooth paste. Tahini is best stored in a cool, dark place like a pantry or cupboard. It's okay to refrigerate it, but it will lose its silky texture.