Sesame seeds have come a long way from the sweet, sticky sesame snacks of our youth or the light dusting of white seeds on the outer edges of white bread. The tiny, oily seeds are packed with nutrition and a whole lot of flavor if you know how to pull it out of them.
Two very popular and yet entirely different sesame products are tahini and sesame paste.
What’s the difference between tahini and sesame paste? The main difference is how they are made. Tahini is a paste made from raw sesame seeds whereas sesame paste is made from roasted or toasted seeds. This seemingly minor difference makes a huge impact on flavor and therefore the way the two products are used in cooking.
This article will take a close look into the world of sesame seeds and decipher the differences between tahini and sesame paste, along with the best uses for each.
How To Eat Sesame Seeds
Sesame seeds are tiny, but they can be eaten in a variety of ways.
Raw, they’re very light in flavor and will go unnoticed in many dishes, aside from their texture. They blend well into grainy recipes, from oatmeal to quinoa, adding little other than some texture and an added helping of nutrition.
When they’re baked, some of their earthy, nuttiness starts to shine through but, again, they’re pretty small, so it takes quite a lot to noticeably change the flavor of your baking.
When you blend the seeds into a paste, either raw or toasted, the situation changes. They’re much more concentrated and being crushed to that extent releases a new level of flavor that is incredibly rich and buttery in a seedy, nutty way.
Sesame Seeds Nutrition
Similar to the flavor aspect, if you want to get a lot of nutritional benefits from sesame seeds you need to eat a decent serving size because they’re simply so small.
However, inside eat tiny seeds is a great collection of valuable vitamins and minerals.
For the small number of carbs they hold, they’re high in fiber. When eaten whole, they’re also really useful for gently scraping out the inside of your digestive tract, cleaning up any sticky residue that might be lurking.
Some health studies have shown that eating sesame seeds regularly can also help lower harmful cholesterol levels and blood pressure, reducing risk for heart disease.
Sesame seeds are also surprisingly good sources of protein, as are many seeds. In a mere 3 tablespoons, you can enjoy 5 grams of protein, about as much as you would get in a small egg.
In those same 3 tablespoons are healthy doses of calcium, magnesium, manganese, and zinc, all crucial minerals for healthy bones.
Your blood will get a health boost from the iron, copper, and Vitamin B6, not to mention the additional B Vitamins that are great for cell repair and metabolism-boosting.
Finally, as with most plant-based foods, sesame seeds offer a good collection of antioxidants that keep your immune system functioning well and inflammation at a minimum. Overall, a very healthy food.
As you can see, sesame seeds health benefits are far-ranging, so you have plenty of good reasons to include either sesame paste or tahini into your regular routine.
The signature flavor of sesame paste that sets is apart from tahini comes from the roasting process.
As sesame seeds heat up, they release oils that deepen the robust, nutty flavor. The experience is entirely separate from tahini and, if you roast your own seeds, they will fill your home with the most mouthwatering aroma you can imaging.
Sesame paste should not be confused with sesame sauce. The paste is made from a single ingredient, roasted sesame seeds, whereas sesame sauce will blend in a variety of additives, including oil, other nut butter, and various spices or other seasonings.
Black Sesame Paste
Black sesame paste is made from black sesame seeds, roasted to perfected and blended until they create a thick paste. The flavor is very rich and nutty.
It’s common in Japanese cuisine, sometimes called Japanese sesame paste, and it’s often sweetened for desserts, using honey or simple sugar.
A high-quality sesame paste, like Marumoto Jun Neri, will separate, similar to a 100% nut butter, but a good stir is worth it for the intense flavor.
If your jar doesn’t separate, it may have other ingredients, such as an oil, so check out the ingredients carefully and adjust your recipe as needed.
If a recipe is designed to use black sesame paste, it will probably specify “black” very clearly. Though the taste is almost identical to white sesame paste, the visual affect is quite different.
White Sesame Paste
White sesame paste tastes almost identical to black sesame paste, but it’s made from toasted white sesame seeds.
Though they’re very similar, you’ll more often find white sesame paste in Chinese cuisine rather than Japanese.
It can be a little difficult to find, but Wang Zhihe Pure Sesame Paste can be bought in multiple bottle cases and it comes with a free spoon perfectly designed to reconstitute the paste.
In many recipes, sesame paste is called Chinese sesame paste, in which case they’re probably referring to paste made from white seeds.
Tahini is a paste that is made from sesame seeds, but it’s not the same as sesame paste, as a recipe might call for.
As mentioned, the biggest difference is that sesame paste is made from toasted seeds whereas tahini is made using raw seeds. The result is a much creamier texture and lighter flavor with just a hint of bitterness.
As an ingredient, tahini is nothing more than blended sesame seeds, but it’s often served as a sauce, which is another story entirely.
Tahini Sauce Recipe
If you see “tahini” listed on a menu, chances are it’s in reference to a sauce made from tahini, which is generally too thick and abrupt of a flavor to serve on its own. To make tahini into a sauce, you can blend it with any number of ingredients.
Some of the most common and delicious additives include:
- Sesame oil, or another oil such as extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil or ghee
- Freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice
- Soy sauce
- Maple syrup
- Peanut butter
- Fresh herbs, such as parsley or cilantro
If you don’t have tahini and you need it for a recipe, you can make your own using sesame seeds. Simply add them to your food processor or blender.
If your machine gets too sticky, you can add a bit of a neutral-flavored oil to help smooth it out.
You can also use sesame oil or sesame paste in a pinch, but it will alter the flavor of your recipe. If you’d like to get creative, another 100% nut or seed butter will also work in most circumstances.
Best Uses for Tahini Vs Sesame Paste
In many cases, tahini and sesame paste can be used in similar dishes or even substituted for each other. The flavor is considerably different, however, with tahini having a much lighter flavor that is equally suitable to sweet dishes as savory.
Sesame paste, with its strong roasted flavor, works best in savory dishes that hold up well to complex sauces and flavors.
Some of our favorite uses for each ingredient are shared in the chart below:
|Hummus and other spreads||Noodle bowls|
|Sauces||Sauces for vegetables|
|Salad dressings||Flavoring in stirfries|
|Baked goods like cookies and cakes||Sesame chicken or beef|
|Protein or granola bars or bliss balls||Sesame peanut sauce|
|Added to soups or pasta sauces||Won ton filling and sauces|
|Blended into burger patties or meatloaves||Hot pots and soups|
Can tahini go bad?
High quality or homemade tahini will have little to no preservatives, so eventually yes, it will go bad.
If you have a jar of unopened tahini, it should safely last in your pantry for at least 4 months, and once it’s open you’ll want to keep any fresh tahini in a well-sealed container in your fridge.
This way it will last for 6 months to a year, with homemade tahini being on the shorter end of the spectrum.
Is sesame paste gluten-free?
All the individual ingredients in a standard sesame paste are gluten-free, however, if you’re highly sensitive or allergic you always want to check the packaging to make sure it’s manufactured in a gluten-free facility to protect against cross-contamination.
The same is true for anyone with a peanut allergy.
Best tahini for hummus?
The best tahini for hummus is simply the best tahini you can find. With this particular product, price is a decent indicator of quality, but that doesn’t mean great tahini needs to be very expensive.
Some of the cheaper options are made from sesame seeds of a lower quality, which results in a slightly bitter edge.
Our favorite brand of tahini is Kevala, which is organic and made in a gluten and peanut safe facility. You can buy it in bulk containers as well, so you get the best bang for your buck.