Even if you’ve never heard of tahini, we bet you’ve had it before. It’s a key ingredient in many Middle Eastern classics, namely hummus. (If you haven’t tried hummus before, you should definitely try this delicious DIY hummus ASAP.)
Tahini comes from the Arabic word tahana, meaning “to grind.” That makes sense, because tahini is a sauce made from ground sesame seeds. Think of it like peanut butter, but from sesame seeds.
What makes tahini so fantastic is its versatility. Its luscious, silky texture works well in dips, sauces, salad dressings, and even desserts. For example, in regions like Iran and Pakistan, tahini is used to make a crumbly, fudge-like treat called halva.
Just like with other nut and seed butters, tahini comes with oodles and oodles of health benefits. These four body-lovin’ perks will make you want to drizzle tahini on, well, just about everything.
1. Tahini is full of calcium.
When most people hear “calcium," they immediately think of milk and yogurt, but sesame seeds are a surprising source of this bone-boosting nutrient. Here are other non-dairy foods that can improve your bone health.
Two tablespoons of tahini contain 130 milligrams of calcium, which is about 14 percent of your recommended daily value. (FYI, your DV is 1,000 milligrams for most adults, according to the National Institutes of Health, or NIH.)
Still not impressed? Well, for perspective, that’s equivalent to the amount of calcium in a serving of cottage cheese. Yep, sesame seeds are no joke.
2. Tahini packs in plant-based protein.
Meat from animals tends to get all the attention from protein-loving athletes, but the American Diabetes Association calls nuts and seeds a “quality protein” with healthy fat and fiber. Swapping out some of your animal-based protein with plant-based protein can help cut down your intake of saturated fat (and increase your consumption of phytonutrients), which is a great diet move for healthier cholesterol levels.
In just 2 tablespoons of tahini, you get a whopping 5 grams of protein. Give your salad a protein boost with this creamy lemon-tahini vinaigrette.
3. Tahini is a good source of non-heme iron.
When it comes to vitamins and minerals, getting enough iron is tough. Iron deficiency is *the* most common nutritional deficiency in the world, according to American Family Physician. Iron deficiency especially affects women, because of loss of iron through menstruation.
In reality, the body doesn’t need a large amount of iron: Just 8 milligrams a day for men and 18 milligrams for women who are still having periods. The problem is that only about 14 to 18 percent of the iron humans eat actually gets absorbed by the body, according to NIH. (For people who don’t eat meat, that number is just 5 to 12 percent.)
Tahini has 2.7 milligrams of iron in 2 tablespoons. Pairing it with vitamin C—think citrus and tomatoes—will help increase the amount of iron absorbed by the body. Here are more nutrient pairs that work better together.
And guess what: Chickpeas are also a good source of iron, so keep eatin’ that hummus. Learn more sources of iron here.
4. Tahini has healthy fats, including omega-3s.
Some people falsely assume eating fish is the only way to get omega-3 fatty acids. Even though fish is an excellent source (especially salmon), but you can also find omega-3s in walnuts, soybeans, and, you guessed it, sesame seeds.
Eating omega-3 fatty acids (whether from fish or seeds) may benefit the heart and help lower triglycerides, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. (Here are more healthy fats to eat more of.)
The majority of tahini’s 190 calories comes from fat (16 grams of total fat, to be exact), but only 2 of those grams comes from saturated fat, the kind linked to an increased risk of heart disease. The rest come from heart-healthy monounsaturated fat (6 grams) and omega-3s (7 grams).
Want to add more tahini to your life?