You may not have heard of this superfood before, but you may have eaten it without knowing. Tahini (sesame paste) is the key ingredient to making a tasty hummus dip. And it is also a wonderful treat on toast with honey or jam. Tahini is not only delicious with its nutty sesame flavour it is also very highly nutritious. Known as one of the highest food sources of calcium tahini is also full of other minerals and nutrients that can help nourish our bodies.
There are different types of tahini, hulled, unhulled, light and dark roast; the most common in the supermarket are unhulled and hulled. Usually the level of bitterness and nutritional value go hand in hand, except when it comes to a darker roast. It is important to buy the less processed varieties to ensure higher nutrient content, nutrients will still be present in hulled and roasted sesame seeds, the values are significantly less than those raw unhulled tahini.
Tahini is an excellent source of protein, copper and manganese, a very good source of tryptophan, calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, vitamin B1 (thiamin), zinc, selenium, essential fatty acids, vitamin E, methionine and dietary fibre. It is also the only source of sesamin and sesamolin; both of these lignans have been shown to lower cholesterol and protect the liver from oxidative damage.
How some of these nutrients contribute to your health:
Copper contributes to many anti-inflammatory and antioxidant enzyme reactions. For this reason, it has been shown to reduce pain and swelling in rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory conditions. It also plays a role in providing strength, elasticity and structure to the blood vessels, bones and joints. It is involved in maintaining the balance of other metals in the body, such as zinc and molybdenum. In addition to the activities listed above, copper participates in many other enzymatic chemical reactions in the body (e.g. activation of melanin, absorption of iron, free radical neutralisation).
Magnesium is helpful in preventing spasms and tension in the body. This means that magnesium can help prevent the airway spasms that attribute to asthma and the blood vessel spasm that can trigger migraine attacks. It also helps lower high blood pressure and reduces some symptoms of PMS and menopause.
Calcium contributes to the prevention of bone loss, and ultimately osteoporosis, and is said to reduce the occurrence of migraine headaches. If women don't ingest enough dietary calcium and vitamin D, the hormones that regulate calcium react negatively with oestrogen and progesterone and trigger PMS symptoms. Emerging research supports that regular calcium supplementation can cut premenstrual symptoms in half (pain, bloating, mood swings, and food cravings). Among the more exciting research, scientists have recently shown that eating more calcium-rich foods reduces the risk of colon cancer in men and woman, and that an adequate calcium intake is important for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and hypertension.
Zinc is a very important nutrient for immune function, hair skin and nail health, male and female reproductive systems, and it also helps preserve bone mineral density.
Methionine is an important amino acid which contributes to liver detoxification and the absorption of other amino acids.
Sesame oil is highly resistant to rancidity so keeping your tahini fresh for an extended period of time is easy. Make sure the tahini is kept in an airtight container, do not double dip, or use a wet or contaminated spoon in the jar because it will make the tahini go rancid very quickly. Rancid tahini can cause liver reactions such as nausea and make you feel ill, so be cautious to smell the jar if you haven’t eaten it for a while (it should smell like sesame).
Some ideas on how to add tahini into your everyday meals:
Breakfast: Add a tablespoon to your smoothie, have on toast with honey or jam, add to your protein balls or bars, and mix with honey and a bit of water and drizzle onto your porridge.
Lunch: Make a hummus dip, add to your salad dressing, mix with crushed garlic and add as a spread on your salad sandwich.
Dinner: Add to your stir-fry or noodles instead of peanut butter, replace cream in sauces or soups (use light roast hulled tahini), make a spicy sauce for drizzling onto veggies with lemon, cayenne pepper, salt and olive oil.
Dessert: Like any nut or seed butter, tahini adds rich body and flavour to creamy desserts. It is a wonderful binder for making raw chocolate, fudge or fruit and nut balls and adds a lovely nutty taste that can balance overly sweet flavours of dried fruit or honey.
One of my favourite Tahini related recipes:
Jaffa Flavoured Chocolate Mousse
2 medium ripe avocados (but without any brown spots)
200ml Ayam coconut cream
1/3 - ½ cup of agave nectar or maple syrup (to taste)
1flat tablespoon unhulled tahini paste
¾ cup organic cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla paste or vanilla extract
1 tablespoon orange zest or 5-7 drops orange essential oil
Mix all wet ingredients in the food processor, and wizz until smooth. Add cacao powder and taste. Add more agave or cacao if necessary. Place in the freezer for 15 minutes to set firm or eat straight away. Keeps in the fridge for up to 1 week.
(Recipe adapted from Model Chocolate recipe book- by Abigail O’Neill)
By Sarah Chambers
BHSc. (Nat), Dip.Remedial Massage, BVA