Tahini is basically a sesame seed butter, but it is usually referred to as a paste.
It is an important ingredient in Middle Eastern, Greek, North African, Turkish, and other cuisines.
Tahini is used to make the standard sauce to go with falafel, usually called tahini sauce, and is an important ingredient in hummus, baba ghanoush, and halvah.
If you have a need for some tahini but are not able to find it in your grocery store, you may wonder whether you should just make some homemade. It is, after all, simply ground up sesame seeds. Your grocery store may not have tahini but probably does have sesame seeds. You can make it homemade, but should you?
Well, often, it is a good idea to make common packaged items homemade. You’d be surprised how simple many of the condiments you buy in jars and bottles are, and how much you overpay for them. However, in the case of tahini, it is probably not worth the trouble to make at home.
The first thing to consider is the cost. Is it cheaper to make tahini at home? NO. A quick price comparison revealed to me that store-bought tahini paste is a whole lot cheaper than buying sesame seeds and making your own.
Although the prices you find will vary, tahini goes from around 45 cents to 90 cents an ounce, depending on whether you find it in your grocery store or order it online. Sesame seeds, on the other hand, were at least $1.90 per ounce and went as high as $5.20 per ounce. Many ‘gourmet’ sources tend to disregard cost altogether, assuming that homemade is always less expensive.
The next question, of course, is quality. It may be more expensive, but would homemade tahini paste be much higher quality? NO. The problem is that it would be very difficult for you to grind sesame seeds at home to the smooth paste-like consistency that you will find in store-bought products. Even a very good grinder would get you a lumpy and grainy tahini and in order to make it “runny” you’d need to add an oil, such as olive oil, or vegetable, as most online recipes use.
Real tahini is pure ground sesame seeds and the oil is the natural oil from the seeds. This oil does separate from the paste over time, much like natural peanut butter, and this may lead some people to think that oil is added as an ingredient. There is certainly no quality advantage to adding additional oil to a product that does not traditionally have any added oil. Real tahini uses equipment that grinds the hulled and roasted sesame seeds almost as much as they can be ground. You will probably actually see the grainy bits in your homemade version and it will not look much like a good store-bought variety.
A 16 ounce can or jar of tahini paste may seem like much more than you need, and for many of us, it is. However, opened but tightly sealed tahini will keep quite well in the refrigerator for several months. Once it is cold, it will be much harder to stir the oil back into the paste, but it is still better and cheaper than homemade. You may want to plan on using tahini several different ways before you buy some.
Be aware that “tahini sauce” like that used with falafel or shawarmas, is often referred to as tahini. While it is probably not worth your time or money to make homemade tahini paste, you should, by all means, make tahini sauce at home. Do not buy jarred tahini sauce! You will pay a lot more than you should and the product will probably have additional ingredients, such as preservatives. Lemon juice is a primary ingredient in basic tahini sauce, and if a jarred sauce uses lemon juice from concentrate, it will not taste anything like a fresh sauce. Fresh garlic, as well, is important. Basic tahini sauce has just 4 ingredients, or 5, counting the garlic, which is optional: Tahini paste, water, lemon juice, salt, and garlic if desired. Here, you will find a recipe for tahini sauce, which adds optional yogurt, cayenne, and parsley.
Alternative to Tahini Sauce for Falafel
Although I love tahini in hummus and other dishes, I find tahini sauce with falafel to be a bit heavy and cloying. For a lighter tasting and flavorful alternative, try a dill cucumber yogurt sauce.
Dill Cucumber Yogurt Sauce for Falafel
1 cup plain yogurt
1 to 2 tbs. fresh chopped dill (or more if desired)
2 tbs. finely chopped cucumber.
2 tbs. finely chopped onion
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 to 2 tbs. fresh lemon juice
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
Mix together all ingredients in a bowl, adding salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate for at least one hour before serving to allow flavors to meld.
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