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Ask the RD

Question: I bought tahini to make hummus, and now I have most of the jar left. Are tahini and sesame seeds nutritious, and what else can I use them for?

Answer: Middle Eastern and Mediterranean ingredients have never been more popular. It’s true not only of flavorings like pomegranate molasses and harissa but also of sesame seeds and tahini. In the U.S., tahini is no longer just an ingredient in hummus. It is showing up in salad dressings, dipping sauces, smoothies and ice cream. Tahini is even having a social media moment, swirled beautifully into brownies. Its earthy, nutty, slightly sweet and bitter flavor, along with its creamy texture, makes it delicious in savory and sweet foods.

Tahini is high in protein, fiber, and healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. It is rich in antioxidants, including vitamin E and lignans like sesamin, episesamin and sesamolin. While research on sesame doesn’t consistently show that it lowers blood cholesterol, it does reduce blood triglycerides, another heart disease risk factor (Khalesi et al. 2016).

One small study of soccer players found that consuming sesame seeds increased aerobic capacity and reduced muscle damage and oxidative stress (Barbosa et al. 2017). The authors believe the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of sesame could help reduce overtraining effects in athletes. These properties could also explain why sesame may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (Hsu & Parthasarathy 2017).

Americans who consume hummus have better nutrient intake and overall diet quality, lower body mass index, and lower waist circumference than those who don’t (O’Neil, Nicklas & Fulgoni 2014). This could be explained by other differences in hummus eaters’ diets and/or by the garbanzo beans in hummus, but tahini may also play a role.

Eating 30–40 g (about 2 tablespoons) per day of sesame seeds, tahini or sesame oil has been shown to have health benefits (Khalesi et al. 2016; Barbosa et al. 2017). Two tablespoons are easy to eat if you sprinkle sesame seeds on your breakfast cereal or grain bowl; spread tahini on your sandwich; blend up a tahini dressing with lemon juice and garlic to drizzle on green salads; toss roasted vegetables with sesame oil; or even indulge in some traditional, sweet tahini halvah.

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