I Tried Every Jar of Tahini I Could Find — These Are the 3 I’ll Buy Again
Tahini is an ancient food that goes back at least as far as 3500 BC. Coming from areas of the world with ancient civilizations, tahini was mainly used as a source of oil. And most likely that oil was used to not only cook, but also to burn as a source of energy. Tahini then showed up in the 13th century in a very early Arabic cookbook — Kitab Wasf al-Atima al-Mutada — among the ingredients needed to make hummus, a dish synonymous with the countries of the Middle East.
Simsim is the word for sesame seeds in Arabic. The word tahini (or taheeneh) also comes from the Arabic language and is derived from the root word tahen, which means to grind. This lovely and delicious concoction takes its name from the way the seeds are processed rather than the sesame seeds themselves.
I’m intrigued by the history of tahini, but my relationship with the ingredient is also very personal. As a chef who specializes in Middle Eastern cooking, I’ve spent a good deal of time tasting different brands of tahini to find the right one for my kitchen. With so many brands on the market (and new ones being added frequently), my delicious work is never done.
To help you find the right tahini for your cooking, I grabbed as many jars as I could find and did a blind taste test. There were many to go through and in some cases the difference among the flavors was quite nuanced. Being a chef of mainly Middle Eastern cuisine allows me to use these subtle differences to add every extra bit of flavor I can to my dishes. I’m hoping that my long experience with cooking with tahini will help you choose the right jar for you. After conducting an extensive taste test, here’s what I found.
How I Tested the Tahini
I tried each tahini by the half teaspoonfull and allowed it to sit on my tongue as it melted into my mouth. This let me feel the texture, taste for the nuttiness, and sense the finish. I ate a piece of bread or plain cracker and had a sip of water to clear my palate between samples.
Once I narrowed the field I moved on to the second phase of my taste test, which I conducted on a subsequent day. I mixed two parts of tahini with one part date molasses, creating a divine dish first made for me by my Palestinian grandmother. Using the tahini in this way allowed me to judge the strength in the flavor of the tahini. I find the subtlety of the tahini — or lack of thereof — comes through brilliantly when combined with the sweet molasses.
A note about what I was looking for: I’m mostly drawn to tahini made with hulled sesame seeds. I prefer a thick, smooth consistency and a deep, nutty flavor with an almost sweet finish. There is a time and a place for other flavor profiles, and by that I mean a tahini that has a more bitter finish. In my case, I will use tahini made with unhulled sesame seeds for dishes where I’m going for a more robust, slightly bitter taste, like when I make white fish with tahini lemon sauce baked in the oven. Because white fish can be quite neutral, a little bit of bitterness adds character to the overall dish.
After multiple rounds of testing, here are the three tahinis I’ll keep on hand in my kitchen — and a few things to look out for the next time you shop.
Best Overall Tahini: Al Arz Tahini
This brand is always my go-to when I have the choice and, once again, it proved to be my top pick in this blind taste test. For me, Al Arz Tahini has the perfect thickness — easily pourable yet just thick enough to add weight to any dish. It has a deep, nutty, full flavor and isn’t gooey or sticky. This is one I have on hand in my home kitchen for hummus, baba ghanouj (also spelled baba ganoush), tahini sauce for my falafel, and more. Al Arz is also my top pick because it’s a popular brand, which means it moves off the shelves quickly, helping to ensure that the jar I’m buying is fresh.
Buy: Al Arz Tahini, $11.99 for 16 ounces at Amazon
Runner Up: Beirut Tahini Sesame Paste
Beirut is another a super delicious tahini brand with full flavor and depth and a super-smooth consistency. It is traditionally made and comes from Lebanon, a part of the world that has a long history and experience with tahini making. It also comes in a bigger jar at a more affordable price point, which, for me, is a plus because I use quite a bit of tahini in my day-to-day cooking.
Buy: Beirut Tahini Sesame Paste, $13.97 for 32 ounces at Amazon
Best Tahini for Sweet Recipes: Soom Premium Tahini
This is another great all-rounder when it comes to flavor and consistency. Soom Premium Tahini has a silky look and feel. The taste is a bit lighter than the other two, which is why I like to use it in sweet recipes, like my gluten-free tahini brownies. The brand also makes chocolate and dark chocolate tahinis. If you are a chocolate fan, these are definitely for you. Luscious!
Buy: Soom Premium Tahini, $8.99 for 16 ounces at Thrive Market
Some Notes About Buying Tahini
- Try a lot of tahinis to see what you prefer. Are you looking for a smooth consistency with a mild nutty flavor? Or perhaps you prefer a tahini that’s a bit gritty with a deep nuttiness and luscious bitter aftertaste? Or something in between? Knowing your preferences will help you narrow down the sea of offerings available.
- Sesame seeds are grown all over the world. Some say that Ethiopian seeds are the best. (Soom uses them in their blend.) I do think they are excellent, but that does not preclude me from utilizing tahini that’s made with sesame seeds grown in other parts of the world.
- Check the oil separation. Like most nut and seed oils, tahini will separate over time, with the oil floating to the top. This separation can cause the thick paste to become hard and really difficult to mix back into the oil. If the tahini comes in a glass jar you can see how pronounced the separation is and if the thick part has become hard or cracked. If the container is not see-through, squeeze the bottom of the plastic jar to get a feeling for hardness and separation. If there is no give, leave it behind.
- Find a brand that moves off the shelf quickly. I would suggest a matter of weeks to no more than a couple of months. To get a sense for the turnover, I ask the shop assistant how often a particular brand is sold. Once your tahini is opened it will usually last on your pantry shelf for anywhere between three to five months. (Traditional tahini is shelf-stable and does not require refrigeration, although some brands suggest refrigerating it to extend its freshness.)
Do you have a favorite brand of tahini? Share your pick in the comments below.