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What Is Tahini? Ingredients, Nutrition, Benefits and Downsides

Health + Wellness
Marco Verch / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

By Rachael Link

Tahini is a common ingredient in popular foods around the globe, including hummus, halva and baba ghanoush.


Favored for its smooth texture and rich taste, it can be used as a dip, spread, salad dressing or condiment.

It also boasts a long list of nutrients and several health benefits, making it a must-have for any kitchen pantry.

This article reviews the nutrition, benefits, uses, and downsides of tahini.

What is Tahini?

Tahini is a paste made from toasted and ground sesame seeds.

Considered a staple of Mediterranean cuisine, tahini is often featured in traditional Asian, Middle Eastern, and African dishes as well.

It's an incredibly versatile ingredient and can be served as a dip, spread, or condiment.

It typically has a smooth texture similar to nut butter but a stronger, more savory taste that's often described as bitter.

In addition to providing a wealth of nutrients, tahini has also been associated with several benefits, including improved heart health, reduced inflammation, and potential cancer-fighting effects.

Summary

Tahini is a paste made from sesame seeds. It's versatile, highly nutritious, and associated with numerous potential health benefits.

Tahini Nutrition

Tahini is relatively low in calories but high in fiber, protein, and an assortment of important vitamins and minerals.

One tablespoon (15 grams) of tahini contains the following nutrients (1):

  • Calories: 89
  • Protein: 3 grams
  • Carbs: 3 grams
  • Fat: 8 grams
  • Fiber: 2 grams
  • Copper: 27% of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Selenium: 9% of the DV
  • Phosphorus: 9% of the DV
  • Iron: 7% of the DV
  • Zinc: 6% of the DV
  • Calcium: 5% of the DV

Tahini is an especially good source of copper, a trace mineral essential for iron absorption, blood clot formation, and blood pressure (2Trusted Source).

It's also rich in selenium, a mineral that helps decrease inflammation and promotes immune health, as well as phosphorus, which is involved in maintaining bone health (3Trusted Source, 4Trusted Source).

Summary

Tahini is rich in many nutrients, including protein, fiber, copper, selenium, and phosphorus.

Benefits of Tahini

Due to its impressive nutrient profile, tahini has been linked to a number of health benefits.

Supports Heart Health

Sesame seeds, which are the main ingredient in tahini, have a powerful effect on heart health by decreasing risk factors, such as high blood pressure, triglycerides, and LDL (bad) cholesterol.

In one study, 50 people with osteoarthritis completed standard medication therapy for 2 months, either with or without the addition of 40 grams, or about 1.5 tablespoons, of sesame seeds daily.

By the end of the study, participants in the sesame-seed group had significant reductions in triglyceride and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, compared with the control group (5Trusted Source).

According to a review of eight studies, sesame seeds may also reduce both systolic and diastolic blood pressure (the top and bottom numbers or a reading), which could help prevent heart disease and stroke (6Trusted Source).

As tahini is made from ground sesame seeds, these findings apply to the paste as well.

Reduces Inflammation

Though acute inflammation is an important part of your immune response, chronic inflammationis believed to contribute to conditions like cancer, diabetes, and autoimmune disorders (7Trusted Source).

Some research suggests that sesame seeds could protect against inflammation.

In one study, consuming 40 grams of sesame seeds daily for 2 months effectively reduced levels of malondialdehyde (MDA), a compound used to measure inflammation in people with osteoarthritis (5Trusted Source).

In another study, feeding sesame oil to mice lowered levels of several inflammatory markers after just three months (8Trusted Source).

May Protect Against Cancer

Tahini contains sesamol, a natural compound in sesame seeds that is thought to have anticancer properties (9Trusted Source).

One test-tube study showed that sesamol blocked the growth and spread of liver cancer cells (10Trusted Source).

Other research in animals and test tubes suggests that sesamol could fight skin, colon, and cervical cancer cells as well (11Trusted Source, 12Trusted Source, 13).

However, current research is limited to test-tube and animal studies evaluating the effects of one specific component of tahini.

More research is needed to understand how tahini may impact cancer in humans.

Summary

Tahini and its components may help improve heart health, reduce inflammation, and prevent the growth of certain types of cancer cells.

How to Add Tahini to Your Diet

Tahini is very versatile and can be enjoyed in various ways.

It's often spread over toast or used as a dip for pita bread.

It can also be mixed with olive oil, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, and spices to create a rich and creamy homemade salad dressing.

Alternatively, try using it to dip your favorite veggies, such as carrots, bell peppers, cucumbers, or celery sticks, for a healthy snack.

Tahini can even bring a unique flavor to baked goods and desserts like banana bread, cookies, or cake to help tone down the sweetness and add a nutty taste.

Summary

Tahini can be used as a spread, dip, or salad dressing. It can also be mixed into baked goods to add a unique nutty flavor.

Potential Downsides

Despite the many benefits associated with tahini, there are some downsides to consider.

Tahini is high in omega-6 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat found primarily in vegetable oils like sunflower, safflower, and corn oils (14Trusted Source).

Though your body needs omega-6 fatty acids, consuming a diet high in omega-6 fatty acids yet low in omega-3s may contribute to chronic inflammation (15Trusted Source).

Therefore, it's important to keep your intake of omega-6 foods like tahini in moderation and round out your diet with plenty of foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fatty fish.

Additionally, some people may be allergic to sesame seeds, which can potentially cause severe side effects like anaphylaxis, an allergic reaction that can impair breathing (16Trusted Source).

If you suspect that you may have an allergy to sesame seeds, avoid eating tahini.

Summary

Tahini is rich in omega-6 fatty acids and could cause an adverse reaction in those who are allergic to sesame seeds.

The Bottom Line

Tahini is made from toasted and ground sesame seeds.

It's rich in important nutrients like fiber, protein, copper, phosphorus, and selenium and may reduce heart disease risk and inflammation.

What's more, test-tube and animal studies suggest that sesame seeds may have anticancer properties.

Best of all, tahini is versatile and easy to use, which makes it a great addition to a healthy, well-rounded diet.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.

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