Tahini 101: Taste Test, Brand Comparison, Cooking Tips, and Tahini Recipes (vegan and gluten-free)

I talked about tahini on my old blog many years ago, and think it’s about time we revisit it.  I frequently get questions about tahini – mostly about which brand I use.  Today’s post will give you some info about tahini, some brand comparisons, and a slew of delicious tahini recipes!

Tahini, unlike other seed and nut butters, is rarely called ‘sesame seed butter’.  But, that is what it is.  Sesame seeds are simply pureed into a paste or butter, much like almond butter or peanut butter.

Sesame Seeds

Sesame Seeds

The first time I tasted tahini I thought it was truly awful stuff. Unlike nut butters, it is not inherently sweet.  In fact, it has quite a bitter taste, comparatively.  It was one of the first foods I tried when moving into eating vegan, but unfortunately I didn’t try it in the most appetizing way.  I tried it straight up.  It was pasty, bitter, and not all too appealing.  Had I tried it in a sauce or salad dressing, I would have had a better first impression!

Oddly, I also had cookbook at the time (when there were perhaps 5 vegan cookbooks on the market!) that used tahini in several cookie recipes.  It made all of them taste… like tahini.  There are ways to use tahini in dessert recipes, but the flavor balance is trickier than using nut butters.  Tahini can indeed be used brilliantly in sweets, but I use it most often in savory dishes.

I now LOVE tahini, despite my first disappointing taste-test.  I use it in salad dressings, sauces, entrees, creamy dips, hummus (did someone say hummus?!), salads, and more.  It adds body and creaminess to dressings and sauces and dressings (especially oil-free), nuttiness to hummus and dips, and also helps with binding and body in recipes like dinner loaves and burgers.  The very simplest sauces can be made by whisking tahini with an acid (ex: lemon juice or apple cider vinegar) and a little salt/pepper.  I also like to add just a smidgen of maple syrup or agave to balance the bitterness – just a touch.  I have several tahini recipes in my books, including ‘Tahini-Tamari Sauce’ (The Everyday Vegan), Sesame Mustard Tahini Sauce’ (Vive le Vegan), plus a ‘Peanut Sesame Sauce’ and a ‘Smoky-Spiked Tahini Sauce’ (both from LTEV).

Suffice it to say, I now quite love tahini, especially in a super-savory-drizzly sauce!  But, here’s the surprise… I now even love it straight up!  Maybe that’s not such a surprise, as we know that our palates develop when eating more whole plant foods, maybe you’ve had a similar experience!

Nutritionally speaking, tahini (and sesame seeds) are a good source of calcium and iron, as well as other minerals and vitamins (B1 and magnesium), and dietary fibre.  Tahini is a very healthy food to include in your plant-powered diet!

So, I’m often asked which tahini I use in my recipes.  I mention in Let Them Eat Vegan that the brand I use most often is “Nuts To You”.  It’s a Canadian brand, so it’s very widely available here.  Here is a rundown on three brands that I’ve used, comparing color, texture, and taste:

Nuts To You Tahini

Nuts To You Tahini

Nuts To You Tahini: This brand is available in Canada, offering a variety of nut and seed butters.  I don’t know if I’ve ever seen it in the US (my American friends, have you seen it?).  This is my most-used tahini, for recipes and otherwise.
Color: Light beige/caramel.
Texture: Thick and somewhat dense, and not quite as silky-smooth as other two brands.
Taste: Medium-sesame flavor, slightly bitter but also earthy-nutty.

 

Joyva Tahini

Joyva Tahini

Joyva Tahini:  This brand I have never seen in Canada.  I picked it up in the US, and couldn’t believe the difference between this and my standard ‘nuts to you’ brand.  I’ve sometimes heard people say that you can sub tahini for peanut butter, and I’ve thought “no way, not close enough in taste“… but, if they’ve been using this brand, I can see why they’d make the comparison.
Color: Darker beige, more caramel in color.
Texture: Very thick at the bottom, requires more stirring than ‘nuts to you’.  Without good stirring, you might get very loose/oily tahini at the top, and a very dense, dry paste at the bottom.
Taste: Roasted sesame flavor, very nutty, almost peanutty, less bitter.

 

Artisana Tahini

Artisana Tahini

Artisana Raw Tahini:  This is a more specialized tahini.  Can be found in the US and Canada, but is far more pricey, double or more in price.  The price might be worth it to you if you want a very mild, subtle, creamy tahini.  This is your guy.  Since it is made from raw sesame seeds, its color is much lighter.  They claim to use ‘carefully selected seeds’ to reduce bitterness, and this appears to be true!
Color: Light, creamy-beige.
Texture: Smooth and creamy.
Taste:  Very mild sesame, minimal bitterness, creamy.

Here you can see the Joyva brand (far left) is darker than the others, and as I didn’t stir the tahini much it is also looser (stir your butters, folks!).  Then, Nuts To You is in the centre, and you can see the texture is just a little thicker and not as silky.  Then, the raw Artisana (right), with its light color and smooth texture.
left to right: Joyva, Nuts to You, Artisana

left to right: Joyva, Nuts to You, Artisana

Which one should you use?  Well, that’s entirely up to you.  Depends on which flavor you like the best, which brand is in your area, and also your price-point.  As I mentioned, in my recipes, I generally use the Nuts To You brand.  It is most accessible, and for consistency in testing I try to use the same brands.  If only a small amount of tahini (say 1-2 tbsp) is used in a recipe, you may not notice any taste differences between brands.  But, if you are making a tahini sauce where maybe 1/2 cup of tahini is used, certainly the taste and color variations will be noticeable.
If you are having trouble finding particular brands of tahini in your stores, ask your retailer to stock it, they may do so.  Also, if you do some online shopping, you can buy all but the Nuts To You brand (as well as some other brands) through amazon.com.  Funny side-note: I did a search for ‘Nuts To You’ on amazon.  The tahini didn’t come up – but LTEV did!  (I do mention the brand in my book.)
Let’s move on to some recipes!
Smoky-Spiked Tahini Sauce (make the Falafels too, they are SCRUMPTIOUS!)
Tahini Salad Dressing (complete with video!; from Heather Nauta)
Baked Granola “Haystack” Cookies (perfect example of using tahini WELL in a sweet, also from the brilliant Ricki Heller!)
Individual Veggie Lentil Loaves with Avocado Tahini Sauce by Ricki Heller

Individual Veggie Lentil Loaves with Avocado Tahini Sauce by Ricki Heller

Do you have any favorite tahini brands?  Or tahini recipes?  I’d love to know some of your favorites – and I’m sure others would too!

37 Responses to Tahini 101: Taste Test, Brand Comparison, Cooking Tips, and Tahini Recipes (vegan and gluten-free)

  1. steve says:

    Joyva + stick blender = useable product.

  2. stephanie says:

    I really love tehina and soom foods is my go to. it’s a new company based in philadelphia. their tehina is really smooth so you don’t have to stir too much. I just tried tehina in my pesto recipe and didn’t tell my family. they all looooved it!!! I think tehina could be used in anything and everything! try to find SOOM FOODS brand.

  3. Alexa says:

    I get frustrated, when recipie calls for tahini, cause I’m alergic to sesame seeds, but recipies don’t include tips how to make things sesame-free. Funny, peanuts and tree nuts are totally fine to me. Sunflower seeds are also fine.
    I make my mock hummus with peanut butter, people disliking sesame like this.
    Being omniviore alergic to sesame seeds- no problem. Being vegan alergic to sesame seeds- damn hardcore.

  4. Huck says:

    I would suggest the one recommended by Yotam Ottolenghi, which is called Al Arz tahini. I think you can get it on Amazon. (It’s far superior to the American hippie brands or the cheap supermarket brands like Joyva).

  5. wildflower says:

    I enjoy tahini on toast, with date syrup, or banana slices. Tahini is kinda bitter and dry, and I think it works nicely with very sweet stuff. Or maybe I’m just strange. :)

  6. Shauna says:

    mmmmm tahini!! I’m late to the show for this (very awesome- thanks, Dreena!) post…. but thought I’d leave my favourites here anyways! I often buy NTY, as it is BY FAR!! the easiest to find. I really like Tout Naturel, but it is difficult to find. Same for Tohum rosted turkish tahini. Apparently Brad’s Organic Tahini is the best one, EVER, but I have yet to try it. Thanks for another fabulous post, Dreena!

  7. James says:

    This is such a great guide! I really like tahini but I haven’t explored the brands as much I should’ve: perhaps you’ve inspired me! It’s wonderful in this world of homogeneity, we can still see such variation between what (arguably) is the same thing: blended up sesame seeds! There’s some really cool ones (like black tahini) at a Japanese shop nearby, so I may have to try that too!
    James recently posted..Vegan Tasting Menu and Mondo Organics, West EndMy Profile

  8. Natalie says:

    How long is it good for once opened? I always buy these huge jars of it, and never know how long to keep it.

  9. Marissa says:

    This is a great post. Someone was just asking me about what tahini was and what it could be used for. I gave them a tiny explanation and some tips, but I’m going to pass this post along to them, too!

    I have to stop myself from eating tahini with a spoon, and it’s one of my favorite ingredients. I make a lot of tahini-based dressings and love my hummus with plenty of tahini. I love making raw halvah, too. I’ve known people to dislike the pasty texture of some brands or the bitter taste, but I love the stuff. I use the raw Artisana brand you mention above and also Kevala’s organic tahini. The latter is really creamy and with a mild taste. I’m a bit put off by the darker, roastier ones; they just taste burnt to me. I really want to make my own soon, especially because I can use unhulled seeds and get that nutritional boost!
    Marissa recently posted..Transforming Leftovers: Quinoa with Chermoula-Roasted Cauliflower and TofuMy Profile

  10. Erica says:

    I absolutely adore tahini. Nuts to you makes a sesame butter using roasted seeds that is fabulous and is probably similar to the Joyva (and available in Canada). I like using the roasted kind in Asian dishes, along with a smidge of toasted sesame oil, while I prefer the raw for Middle Eastern cuisine.

  11. Marcella says:

    I LOVE TAHINI! Of course with southwest mustard or other good drsg added. I usually buy it raw, which is cheaper and healthier, then ground it up in my coffee bean grinder, then add it to smashed garbanzo beans I had soaking overnight, then add the flavor of the day! Nothing like getting a good nutritionally dense calcium rich yummy for a wake me up!
    Thanks for the reviews, glad I stick to raw!

  12. I love tahini, especially as a dressing. Thanks for all the comparison information and recipe suggestions!
    Anna {Herbivore Triathlete} recently posted..Strawberry Goji Muffins with Mini-Chocolate Chips {vegan}My Profile

  13. Liz says:

    “(did someone say hummus?!)” You are too funny, Dreena. That reminds me of those Beggin’ Strip commercials for dogs. . . There are always certain foods that make my head whip around when I hear them, and, yes, hummus is one of those foods.

    I’m in the States so I use Joyva, as it is the only brand available in the mass supermarkets around here.

    I, like you, while once possessing an aversion to it, can eat it straight. I love licking the measuring spoon after dumping it into my recipes; BEST. Part about using it in my cooking. :) It’s my equivalent of “licking the bowl”. :)

    One brand that I recommend is Once Again. While I don’t find the Joyva to be particularly reminiscent of PB, this brand, to my palate, IS. It’s more expensive and harder to find than Joyva so I’ve only purchased it once, but I loved it.

    Have you ever made your own tahini, Dreena? I’m curious as to what the difference in flavors would be. I JUST purchased a bag of sesame seeds to experiment and find out. :)

    Long live tahini! :)

  14. Karen G says:

    Excellent post!!!
    Thanks for all the info. I needed it!
    :-)

  15. Susan says:

    Yes, the Joyva brand is delicious! I just started using it a couple of months ago. I had been using Woodstock which was thicker and more bitter.

  16. Ricki says:

    I had the same experience when I first tried tahini, too–didn’t like it! But now I love using it in savory dishes and the occasional sweet. Thanks for the comparison–and for linking to my recipes, Dreena! xo

  17. Ricki says:

    I had the same initial experience with tahini! I thought it was way too bitter. But now I love it, too, mostly for savory recipes, but in the occasional sweet one, too. :) Thanks for linking to my recipes, Dreena! xo

  18. Jaime says:

    LOVE tahina! The brand I use is the Al Nakhil. There is this awesome middle eastern bakery/restaurant/grocery store I go to sometimes (when I have a hankering for the best falafel you will every eat!) and the wife of the proprietor told me that this is the brand they always use (in the restaurant and at home) and it was the brand her mom always used too. I figure if its good enough and authentic enough for them then its more than good enough for me!
    Jaime recently posted..Here I am!My Profile

  19. Brandie says:

    I LOVE the Joyva brand tahini! It’s definitely most like “peanut butter” of all the brands I’ve ever tried. Peanut butter is actually dangerous for me to have around (i like it TOO much!), so I’ve often just kept tahini around for making my son ‘T& J’s (tahini and jelly sandwiches!). He loves it too. Also on rice cakse…

    I’ve tried raw tahini too, and have not liked it at all! Some are better than others though, true. I can’t afford Artisana, so I’ve never tried theirs. :)

    Thanks for the info here, and spreading the tahini love!
    Brandie recently posted..Changes, Oh Sweet Changes….My Profile

  20. Richa says:

    Awesome Post Dreena.. i usually pick up whichever i see. thanks for those recipes ideas too!
    Richa recently posted..The Best Vegan and Glutenfree Gulab Jamuns. Dairyfree Eggless RecipeMy Profile

  21. Sarah Anne says:

    As you know, I am definitely a Saucy and Dippy girl too and ADORE all your dressings and sauces. Probably the most well used in this house and my favourite? The citrus tahini dressing. We almost always use that on our kale slaw!
    Sarah Anne recently posted..First Amendment FreedomMy Profile

  22. Hannah says:

    THANK YOU, Dreena! This comparison is so helpful, since tahini varies wildly between brands, and makes a huge difference in recipes. I usually buy Joyva, simply because it’s most readily available to me. I’m definitely going to seek out Artisana for a splurge sometime.

  23. Abby says:

    I’m not too into sweet, so I took to tahini quite quickly. My most frequent use is in a hot bowl of oats made with almond milk. I had no idea the Joyva was so stereotypically nut butter-ish, if you know what I mean. I might have to invest in that next time! Thanks for the great comparison.
    Abby recently posted..Breaking NewsMy Profile

  24. Melissa says:

    Great post Dreena! I make the simple tahini sauce all the time for my rice bowls! I am the Queen of the rice bowls! boo yah!

    • Dreena says:

      Thanks Melissa! Rice bowls… hey now, that’s the topic of a blog post right there!! ALL the combinations and possibilities…. :)

  25. My fave is Nuts To You, too :) I didn’t realize they were Canadian until I went to the states a while ago and couldn’t find it ANYWHERE! So I looked them up – they don’t even have a website for their company, you can’t order it online, the only results I got were interviews and other people posting about them. I kind of love that :) Thankfully it’s so widely stocked in Canada! Their flavor and quality make me so happy :) One time someone got me some tahini that was a different (cheap) brand and it was so terribly bitter I had such a shock when I made a salad dressing with it… went promptly back to Nuts To You :) Love this post, I have so many friends who don’t realize how many delicious things you can make with tahini, so I’m passing this on! Thanks for including my salad dressing recipe video <3

  26. Nicole says:

    I love tahini! Thanks for the recipe ideas. I don’t have a favourite brand since I make my own… it’s to easy! :)

    • Lydia says:

      Yes, I make my own too! That way I know it’s raw and that there’s nothing added into it. The food processor can totally handle it and buying the seeds in bulk costs about $3-4 less than the jarred brand I usually get in the US (Woodstock).

  27. Kay says:

    Al Kanater is my favourite. It’s available at some supermarkets and most middle eastern shops. I buy it because it tastes good and is usually half the price of the health food store brands.

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