If you make hummus at home, own a health-food cookbook or have a bit of a ‘thing’ for Middle Eastern and Levantine foods like baklava and baba ganoush, you’ve probably already come across tahini. It’s a spread made from crushed sesame seeds, and has long-surpassed its Arab origins in terms of geographical reach: it’s known and enjoyed in various forms all over the world.
Although tahini has held cultural and culinary significance since ancient times in the Middle East, the building-block ingredient is beginning to pop up in some fairly unusual places – smoothies, desserts and even cocktails, to name a few.
According to Forbes, Michigan bakery, Zingerman’s Bakehouse is working tahini into its Jewish rye bread, French baguettes and sourdough rounds. Tahini works as an intriguing addition to Zingerman’s sweet treats, too, including tahini-date cookies and a tahini-filled croissant. “Tahini may have started with the chefs and bakers making Middle Eastern food, [but] than others of us see it and begin to translate it into our own kitchens,” Amy Emberling of Zingerman’s Bakehouse told Forbes, as is the way with many foods that flee the proverbial nest of their countries or cultures of origin.
Closer to home, Sydney-based, Lebanese-inspired bakery Oregano makes scrumptious scrolls with honey, butter, halawa and pistachios, topped with tahini icing and sesame seeds.
Take a quick squiz online and you don’t have to dig deep to find recipes for tahini hot chocolates, or even a tahini martini. Tahini seems to be having a moment well outside its Middle Eastern, drizzled-atop-falafel roots.
Tahini isn’t just finding its way into baked goods. Popular plant-based ice creamery Frankie & Jo’s in Seattle is promoting tahini-flavoured ice cream in pints or cones, and Sydney’s home of Turkish ice cream, Hakiki, is doing something similar with a tahini and grape molasses flavour.
But is using it in cocktails taking the tahini train too far? Not according to Chicago bartender Charlie Schott, who mixes tahini with an Indonesian liqueur derived from sugarcane (Batavia Arrack), tequila, crème de cacao, coconut milk, heavy cream and chocolate syrup. The trick, according to Schott, is to mix the tahini in last. “It’s really goopy and it’s going to gum up your jigger and you’re not going to get accurate measurements after you use that,” Schott told the Chicago Reader.
Tahini’s rise to prominence in the Western world could well be coinciding with consumers’ growing tastes for health foods, and nut and dairy alternatives due to an allergen or ethical concerns. Tahini is a safe, versatile and delicious sauce to add an umami kick to sandwiches or sweet treats, smooth out smoothies or – if you’re particularly brave – cream up a coffee. It’s completely vegan and nut-free.
Is 2018 the year we all start eating tahini croissants for breakfast? Perhaps. Just don’t forget who we have to thank for this wonder-spread.