Tahini (sesame seed paste) is something that has grown on me over the years. I first used it to make my own homemade hummus, then soon found myself sneaking a taste straight off the spoon while making the hummus. Finally, I graduated to spreading tahini over toast like peanut butter. Tahini has a uniquely nutty and almost bitter flavor that really grows on you. Just a little bit can add a lot of flavor to dips and dressings. The problem is that unless you’ve got some great ethnic markets in your area, tahini can be quite expensive.
Luckily, it’s pretty simple to make at home, providing you have a place to purchase bulk sesame seeds. Whether you can find the seeds at a reasonable price will determine whether or not it’s worth it to make your own tahini. The other factor to consider is that homemade tahini is usually not as smooth as store bought because, by some sort of commercial food magic, food manufacturers are able to remove the thin hull from the sesame seeds before grinding them into a silky smooth paste. I don’t know how to remove the hull at home, so my paste is a little rough in texture. I’m okay with that.
Now that you’ve decided whether or not it’s a good idea to make your own tahini, let me show you how!
Start with some raw sesame seeds. I’m using one cup, which yielded about 3/4 cup tahini. Make sure your seeds are fresh because if they are old, the oils in the seeds may become rancid and give your tahini a bad flavor. I bought my seeds in an 8 oz (about 1.5 cups) bag at a produce market, but they can also often be found in bulk bins.
The first step is to toast the seeds to amplify their flavor. This only takes a few minutes. Place the seeds in a dry skillet and cook over medium heat while continuously stirring. You’ll notice the seeds start to take on a golden color and there will be a few darker seeds peppered throughout. Make sure to stir the whole time so they don’t burn. Once they’re nice and toasty, transfer them to a different container immediately so they don’t continue to toast from the residual heat of the skillet. Burned seeds = bad flavor.
When they’ve cooled for a few minutes, transfer them to a small food processor. Add about a tablespoon of oil. Technically, you can use any oil, but I suggest a light oil with a neutral flavor so that the flavor doesn’t compete with the sesame seeds (in other words, not extra virgin olive oil). I just used canola, but sesame would be nice for obvious reasons.
This is just a super inexpensive (probably <$10) mini food processor that doesn’t have much power, but it still worked. If you’re using a food processor, you may need to make a larger batch in order to get the seeds to process properly. Super blenders like Ninja or Magic Bullets probably work well, too. I’m not sure about a regular blender, though, because the cup might not offer enough room for the seeds to “churn” as they blend.
When you first start blending, the mixture will seem dry (like the previous photo), but just keep scraping down the sides and processing. Eventually, those little seeds will begin to break down and form a paste. Blend until it reaches your desired consistency, but remember, a few lumps will likely remain because of the hulls. If you want, you can add a pinch of salt.
And that’s that! Make sure to keep your tahini in the refrigerator in an air tight container because now that all of those precious oils are exposed, they are more prone to going rancid. There’s no set time frame for how long it will stay good in the refrigerator, but it’s like natural peanut butter and should last quite some time.