What is tahini? Why do you need to or why do you want to find an alternative for it? When a recipe calls for tahini it is usually for a specific reason as it brings a unique taste and distinctive texture. We give you the best substitutes for tahini explaining when, why, and how to use each one of them.
What is Tahini?
Tahini is a paste of toasted sesame seeds. It is usually made of hulled white sesame seeds. It is very dense like a nut butter and has a unique bitter, nutty or in this case bitter, seedy taste.
Tahini is a pantry staple in the Middle East. It is also one of the main ingredients of one of the most popular Middle Eastern spread. Can you guess which one? Yes, you are correct. The answer is hummus. It is also the most popular dish you need tahini for.
Here is our favorite Classic Oil-free Hummus recipe (pictured below). We add them to pasta, wraps, sandwiches and pizza. Check out this delicious Mediterranean Hummus Pizza. But we have even more ideas in our What to Eat Hummus With post, like 25+ delicious combinations. See for yourself! How about some pink hummus? Try our Roasted Beet Hummus recipe as well.
The most popular ways to use tahini
You might heard of tahini in connection with hummus, but there are other recipes that use this ingredient. Tahini is especially popular in the WFPB (whole foods plant-based) diet as an oil substitute. Here are the most popular ways to use tahini:
- Halva (also known as halvah or halwa) which is a Middle Eastern sweet delicacy
- Salad dressings
- Sauces, dips and marinades
- Soups, stews, curries
- Spread for breakfast toast
- Cookies, brownies, cakes, pies and other baked goods
- Ice creams, shakes and smoothies
- Non-dairy milk
Why do you need an alternative?
There are usually 5 reasons why you would be looking for a tahini replacement. We will give you the best tahini-free option for each reason.
- It is too pricey where you live.
- It is not available to buy where you live.
- You don’t like the taste and/or texture.
- You are allergic to sesame seeds.
- It is too high in fat (albeit healthy fat) for your diet.
List of The Best Tahini Substitutes
We go through each and every alternative explaining why or why not they are similar to tahini. When and how can they be used instead depending on the original recipe and the purpose of tahini there. Here is our list of the 8 best substitutions for tahini:
- Homemade tahini from toasted sesame seeds
- Black sesame paste (Japanese condiment)
- Sunflower seeds or sunbutter
- Other seed butters (like pepitas)
- Nut butters (peanut, almond, cashew, walnut and so on)
- Sesame oil
- Kerisik (toasted coconut paste)
- Yoghurt and sour cream
If you are looking for a substitute because tahini is too pricey or not available to buy where you live, making tahini at home may solve your problem. I found this entertaining video about how they make traditional tahini in Turkey. In short, here is how authentic tahini is made:
- Sesame seeds are hulled and washed.
- Hulled seeds are roasted on a giant stone bed heated with fire.
- They use stone mills to turned the roasted hulled sesame seeds into a paste which is called tahini.
If you want to make tahini at home you can buy unhulled and raw, hulled and raw, and toasted sesame seeds. You can use any types, although you will get slightly different taste. If you want the least bitter version, go with the toasted seeds or toast the hulled raw seeds at home. It is a similar method as making Homemade Peanut Butter, but here you can find instructions on How to Make Tahini at Home.
-> Where can you use homemade tahini? It works like store-bought tahini in any recipes. Substitute in 1:1.
Black Sesame Paste
Black sesame paste also known as Kuro Neri Goma is a Japanese condiment which is used to make sweet and savory dishes. You can buy it online* or make it at home. Make sure it is 100% black sesame seeds (and maybe sesame oil). Its taste is quite rich and nutty, maybe even more than tahini made of white sesame seeds.
-> Where can you use black sesame paste? To be honest I wouldn’t make hummus with black sesame paste instead of tahini as the color may get kind of funky. If we go back to our list of “The Most Popular Ways To Use Tahini” there is only one category this can be a valid substitution and that is “Brownies, cakes, cookies and other baked goods”. Especially the chocolate kind. I use peanut butter in this Sweet Potato Brownie and this Super Fudgy Chocolate Brownie recipes. You can absolutely substitute it for tahini or for black sesame paste.
Sunflower Seeds (or Sunbutter)
As tahini is made of sesame seeds, you would think that any other seed can be a valid alternative. And you may be right but there is one seed that prevails them all. We found that the closest match to sesame seeds is sunflower seeds. And we have 4 reasons for it:
- it is available in most stores
- it is budget-friendly
- it gives you a nutty taste but less bitter
- it has a slightly less fat content
This is also the Best Tahini Substitute for Hummus. Check out our Hummus without Tahini (pictured below) recipe where we used sunflower seeds instead of tahini. It came out delicious. You wouldn’t miss tahini at all.
- Use sunflower seeds – If you have a high power blender like Vitamix or Blendtec, you can use the whole seeds.
- Switch to sunflower seed butter – If your blender or food processor is not strong enough, use sunflower seed butter. Choose one which is 100% sunflower seeds* and there are no sugar or salt or other funny ingredients.
- Make sunflower butter – You can make sunflower butter with your food processor. Albeit if you have a large one, you may need too much to make it work. But it is totally doable. It is a similar method as making Homemade Peanut Butter. Start chopping the seeds with your food processor. Stop and scrape the sides time to time. Continue until you have a free-flowing paste.
-> Where can you use sunbutter (or sunflower seeds)? You can substitute sunbutter for tahini 1:1. If you use sunflower seeds, you need to adjust the measurements as 1 cup sunflower seeds will give you ½ cup sunbutter. It means 1 cup sunflower seeds can substitute for ½ cup tahini. You can use sunbutter in all recipes I listed above like salad dressings, sauces, dips, stews, brownies, baked goods and even Halva (here is a Sunflower Seed Halva recipe).
Other Seed Butters
You can venture out to try other seed butters like pumpkin seed butter*, poppy seed butter*, watermelon seed butter*, hemp seed butter*, and so on. All these seeds have slightly different taste and color. Like with black sesame paste, poppy seed butter is also black, while butter from pepitas is dark green. You can absolutely substitute tahini for these seed butters, but you need to pay attention to their different features before choosing one or the other.
You can make butter from any seeds with your food processor. Albeit if you have a large one, you may need too much to make it work. But it is totally doable. It is a similar method as making Homemade Peanut Butter. Start chopping the seeds with your food processor. Stop and scrape the sides time to time. Continue until you have a free-flowing paste. It is even easier with a high power blender like Vitamix or Blendtec.
-> Where can you use other seed butters? You can substitute any seed butter for tahini 1:1. Due to their different color and taste I would be cautious to use them for salad dressings, sauces, soups or stews. It can definitely give a unique color and taste experience if you are up for it. There is only one category these can be valid substitutions and that is “Brownies, cakes, cookies and other baked goods”, especially the chocolate kind that will hide their color. But I most definitely would not use these to make hummus.
Nut Butters (Cashew, Almond, Peanut)
If you want to substitute tahini because you don’t like its bitter taste, nut butters would be the best option for you. You can absolutely substitute any nut butters for tahini even in hummus. Here is a great recipe to make Hummus with Peanut Butter.
You can buy the online, but you can also make butter from any nuts with your food processor. Albeit if you have a large one, you may need too much to make it work. But it is totally doable. It is a similar method as making Homemade Peanut Butter. Start chopping the nuts with your food processor. Stop and scrape the sides time to time. Continue until you have a free-flowing paste. It is even easier with a high power blender like Vitamix or Blendtec (see below picture).
-> Where can you use nut butters? You can substitute any nut butter for tahini 1:1 in any recipe.
Sesame oil is a pressed oil from sesame seeds which can also be a substitute for tahini in certain cases. Think of sesame oil as an ingredient with concentrated sesame flavor. This means that it is not a 1:1 substitution, and you need to use it sparingly.
In our Classic Oil-free Hummus recipe we add ¼ cup tahini to 3 cups (16 oz) chickpeas. To get the same flavor, you need only 2-3 Tablespoons from sesame oil. You can make up the difference in liquid amount with water, aquafaba, or olive oil.
-> Where can you use sesame oil? You can substitute sesame oil for tahini in ratio of 3 Tablespoons for ¼ cup tahini, but pay attention to the difference in liquid amount which has to be compensated with other ingredients. Certainly you cannot make halva or other baked goods with solely sesame oil, but you can give your salad dressings, sauces, dips, marinades, soups, stews, curries the needed nutty flavor without compromising on texture.
Kerisik (toasted coconut paste)
I stumbled upon Kerisik in Quora (if you don’t know Quora, in short it is a question-and-answer website where questions are asked, answered by users). It is a Southeast Asian condiment made of a grated coconut. Here is a quick video on how shredded coconut is turned into a dark brown paste called kerisik. It has a nutty, caramelized, coconutty flavor.
-> Where can you use kerisik? It is a condiment with very specific taste, color and texture. In Southeast Asian cuisine it is used for Rendang Curry recipes. I have seen several curry recipes where they add 2-3 Tablespoon tahini to enhance the flavors of the already aromatic curry. For these recipes, you can certainly substitute kerisik for tahini.
Yoghurt and sour cream
Adding yoghurt or sour cream (dairy or dairy-free) can certainly add a tangy creaminess. However, these substitutes certainly lack one element, which is the nutty taste. I can only see it as a valid substitute if your use it in combination with other nutty ingredients, like sesame oil.
In our Classic Oil-free Hummus recipe we add ¼ cup tahini to 3 cups (16 oz) chickpeas. To get the same flavor, you can add 2-3 Tablespoons of sesame oil and make up the difference in liquid amount with yoghurt or sour cream.
We do have a Dairy-free Sour Cream recipe using sunflower seeds, where we try to mimic with different spices and ingredients the nutty taste. However, if you are looking for a tahini substitute it may just work as it can bring not only the tangy creaminess, but the slight nutty flavor as well.
-> Where can you use yoghurt or sour cream ? If we go back to our list of “The Most Popular Ways To Use Tahini” these ingredients can give your salad dressings, sauces, dips, marinades, soups, stews, curries the needed tangy, creamy texture, without the nutty flavor.
More ingredient guides and substitutions
We have been writing more and more guides for specific ingredients that are important in a vegan or gluten-free diet. We explain in details how to prepare them, how to cook with them, what to serve with them. Here are some of the other articles you might be interested in:
- The Best Tapioca Flour Substitutes
- Is hummus gluten-free?
- Is couscous gluten-free?
- Gluten-free Pantry Guide
- List of 90+ Gluten-free Flours
- Guide to Cooking with Eggplants
- Guide to Cooking with Oyster Mushrooms