When a recipe calls for tahini it is usually for a specific reason as it brings a unique taste and distinctive texture. If you don’t want to use it or just don’t like its flavor, choose one of these tahini substitutes. Our top recommendation is sunflower seed butter as the best substitute for hummus, but we are explaining when, why, and how to use each alternative.
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
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 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 with tahini (pictured below) or check out this vibrant pink roasted beet hummus recipe also with tahini. We add them to pasta, wraps, quesadillas, and pizza. For even more ideas visit our what to eat with hummus post.
Popular ways to use tahini
You might have heard 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 desserts
- Ice creams, shakes and smoothies
- Non-dairy milk
5 reasons why 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 need an allergy-friendly alternative.
- It is too high in fat (albeit healthy fat) for your diet.
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 or ground sesame seeds. You can use any type, although you will get a 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 recipe. Substitute in 1:1.
Black sesame paste
Black sesame paste also known as Kuro Neri Goma is a Japanese condiment that 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 desserts”. Especially the chocolate kind. I use peanut butter in this sweet potato brownie and this super fudgy chocolate brownie recipe. 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 – It is easier to blend it with other ingredients if you 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 of sunflower seeds will give you ½ cup sunbutter. It means 1 cup of 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 types of seed butters like pumpkin seed butter*, poppy seed butter*, watermelon seed butter*, hemp seed butter*, and so on. All these seeds have a 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 kinds of seed butter, 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. It is a similar method as making homemade peanut butter. Start chopping the seeds with your food processor. Stop and scrape the sides from 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 seed butter? 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 that can be valid substitutions and that is “Brownies, cakes, cookies and other baked desserts”, 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 butter would be the best option for you. You can absolutely substitute cashew butter or almond butter for tahini even in hummus. Here is a great recipe to make hummus with peanut butter.
You can buy them online, but you can also make butter from any nuts with your food processor. Use our homemade peanut butter. Start chopping the nuts with your food processor. Stop and scrape the sides from 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 butter? 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 a concentrated sesame flavor. Since the consistency is different, 1:1 substitution is not recommended. 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 of 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 the ratio of 3 Tablespoons for ¼ cup tahini, but pay attention to the difference in the 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 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 a 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 greek yogurt 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 you 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 yogurt or sour cream.
We do have a vegan sour cream recipe using sunflower seeds (see below photo), 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 slightly nutty flavor as well.
-> Where can you use yogurt 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 consistency, 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 detail 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: