If you're in need of a tahini substitute for a tasty Mediterranean dish, I've found 8 tasty alternatives that can fill the role of tahini in a pinch! Its creamy texture and distinct flavor of toasted sesame seeds can be hard to replicate, but with this guide, you can come very close!
8 easy substitutions to try if you've run out of tahini, plus how to make your own!
Worldwide cuisine is not just about the big complex flavors of a popular dish in a certain region. It is also about the bold flavors found in the simple ingredients.
Every foodie region of the world has condiments that are essential for just the right taste in many dishes. Mediterranean food has olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Asian cuisine has soy sauce, hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, and many more!
South American cuisine brings the heat with a variety of amazing hot sauces, and while it may not seem quite as exciting in comparison, the good old USA has ketchup and mustard.
Then there is the deliciousness of tahini sauce from the Middle East.
What is Tahini?
Tahini may seem like a complex condiment, but it is quite simple. Tahini is made from three simple ingredients: sesame seeds, oil, and salt.
These three ingredients are blended together to make a creamy sauce that can be used as a topping or mixed into a recipe to add additional flavor.
What does Tahini Taste Like?
Traditionally, the sesame seeds used to make tahini are toasted prior to be blended. Toasting the seeds enriches the flavor and brings out a mild nuttiness.
When mixed with the oil and salt, you get a balance of the toasted earthiness of the seeds that are enhanced with savory element of the oil. While there is a distinctive taste, it offers a neutral flavor that pairs well with a variety of foods.
Hulled vs Un-hulled Tahini
The tahini that you will most likely come across in the stores is made from hulled sesame seeds, this means the brown outer “shell” has been removed from the seeds.
This is the taste of tahini that is referred to above. Un-hulled tahini is less popular, but something you may still come across (or even make yourself).
This is made from sesame seeds that still have the brown outer layer. It is darker in color and has a slightly bitter taste to it.
What is Tahini Used For?
Beyond the taste of tahini, its rich creamy texture is just as important in providing the right taste and texture to different dishes. In the Middle East, tahini is used to top traditional sandwiches such as falafel or shawarma.
It often used to enhance the flavor of other sauces and condiments, such as hummus and baba ghanoush. Its uses go beyond just the traditional cuisine though!
Tahini is a delicious choice as a dressing for grain bowls or salads, or as an addition to a dressing. It can even be used as a substitute for nut butters in many recipes.
As a nut-free, gluten-free, and vegan ingredient – it can be used as a substitute in many recipes. What about when you need a substitute for tahini though?
The Best Substitutes for Tahini
Once you taste tahini and see how versatile it is in the kitchen, it is possible you will want to use it all the time. This is great, until you run out and need it for your favorite dish.
One of the best things about tahini is that is quite easy to make at home; therefore, the best substitute for an empty jar of store-bought tahini is to simply make your own.
However, that may be a bit too time intensive depending on what you are using it for. So, before getting into how to make your own tahini sauce at home, here are six tasty alternatives you can use instead of tahini, in most recipes.
1. Sunflower Butter
Sunflower butter is made from processed sunflower seeds. It is the best overall alternative for tahini sauce because it has a similar mild earthy and nutty flavor, that is not as strong as some other nut butters.
It is also a nut-free option, so that those who are allergic to nuts can use this easily to replace tahini. Sunflower butter can be found in many grocery stores. It is also easy to find in health food stores. Just like tahini is easy to make, you can also easily make your own sunflower butter!
For the best taste, lightly toast a cup of sunflower seeds in a skillet. Then, toss them in a blender or food processor and add a tablespoon of a neutral oil like canola oil. Blend until smooth. Add more oil as needed to reach the desired consistency, as well as salt to taste.
Whether using homemade sunflower butter or store bought, you can use sunflower butter in an equal 1:1 substitute for tahini in any recipe.
2. Cashew Butter
Cashew butter is another great alternative for tahini sauce because of its neutral flavor. While it won’t be an exact flavor exchange for the tahini, of all the nut butters, this is the milder choice.
This is a nut butter though, so if someone you are cooking for has a nut allergy, you will want to avoid this as an option.
Cashew butter can be used in a 1:1 ratio for tahini butter in any recipe.
3. Almond Butter
Like cashew butter, almond butter will offer a similar smooth consistency that is often the goal of a recipe that calls for tahini. Almond butter has a more distinct taste though, so it won’t work well in all recipes.
The best recipes to use almond butter in are those that you don’t mind a stronger nuttier flavor. Baked goods, like cookies, are great choices.
Almond butter can also work in certain salad dressings or sauces where a pronounced nutty flavor would be tasty.
Use Almond butter as an equal exchange in a 1:1 ratio for tahini sauce.
4. Peanut Butter
Of all the nut butters, peanut butter has the least similar flavor profile to tahini sauce. The great thing about peanut butter though is that you probably have some in your cupboard right now.
We love a substitute that is always on hand! Peanut butter has the same smooth creamy consistency (don’t buy chunky!) of the other nut butters and tahini sauce.
This makes it a good choice for similar recipes that you would use almond butter as a substitute for.
Use peanut butter in a 1:1 exchange for tahini sauce in recipes that you don’t mind having a stronger nutty flavor.
5. Other Nut Butters
While cashew, almond, and peanut butter are the most common nut butters used in booking, you could use any nut butter you like or have on hand. Macadamia nut butter, Brazil nut butter, and pecan nut butter would all work similarly as substitutes.
Just as with the others, be mindful that each one will offer its own unique flavor profile to the recipe.
Flavor Note for Nut Butters
If you have sesame oil on hand, you can add a small amount to your nut butter to enhance the savory flavor. This will allow you to use any nut butter as a better substitute in a stew, soup, or other savory dish.
Sesame oil is quite strong, so start with just a ¼ teaspoon and add more if needed.
Making Nut Butters
If you have nuts on hand, you can make your own nut butter the same way that you make sunflower butter. Since nuts already have a pronounced flavor, you do not need to toast them; however, it can help to soak them for a few hours in a cup of cold water.
Soaking them prior to blending softens the nuts. It also helps provide a less sharp flavor for the final nut butter.
6. Black Sesame Paste
This is a substitute that you may not have in your kitchen, but if you find it at a local Asian market, could be used. Black sesame paste is a Japanese condiment that is made in similar fashion to tahini using un-hulled black sesame seeds.
This Japanese style tahini has a richer taste than tahini but can be a delicious flavor addition to baked goods – especially those that include a chocolate base. It can also be used in savory dishes that have a darker sauce.
Use black sesame paste in a 1:1 exchange for tahini in dishes where you do not need or desire the naturally lighter color offered by tahini.
7. Greek Yogurt
Greek yogurt can work in place of tahini in a handful of recipes. It has the same creamy texture that tahini offers to many dips and dressings. It does not have the complex flavor that tahini offers though.
Since the yogurt will not enhance the flavor, it is best to use this as substitute when you only need it for texture. Another thing to keep in mind is that Greek yogurt will often curdle in hot dishes, so stick to cold recipes like dips and dressings.
If a recipe calls for small quantities of tahini, a ¼ cup or less, then exchange with Greek yogurt in an equal 1:1 ratio.
If the recipe calls for more than a ¼ cup, begin by using half the amount in Greek yogurt and adding more as needed or balancing it out with another substitute. Too much yogurt could dimmish the flavor of the dressing or dip.
8. Homemade Tahini Sauce
If you find you use tahini quite frequently in your cooking, you may do well to make your own tahini at home. This way you always have some on hand!
What you will need:
- Hulled Sesame Seeds (look for the white sesame seeds)
- Neutral Flavored Oil (canola or grapeseed oil are both great options)
- Heat a dry skillet (no oil or butter) over medium heat.
- Add 1 cup of sesame seeds to the skillet and stir frequently to toast on all sides.
- Toast seeds for about 3-5 minutes or until they begin to become fragrant.
- When seeds offer a nice, toasted aroma, take them off the heat and transfer them to a food processor.
- Add 3 tablespoons of oil to the blender and blend (depending on your oil and the consistency you want, you may need to add more oil).
- Add a ¼ teaspoon of salt and continue to blend.
- Taste the tahini and add more salt or oil if needed; continue to blend until you reach your desired taste and consistency.
Use your homemade tahini sauce in all your favorite recipes, just like you would the tahini you buy in the store!
Transfer your tahini sauce to an airtight container and keep refrigerated for up to 1 month.
We hope through this guide you've found a substitute for tahini sauce that meets your needs! Let us know how your dish turned out by dropping us a comment below!
Homemade Tahini Sauce
- 1 cup sesame seeds (hulled)
- 3 tablespoon canola oil (or your oil of choice, more as needed)
- ¼ teaspoon salt (to taste)
- To begin, heat a dry skillet (no oil or butter) over medium heat. Add sesame seeds to the skillet and stir frequently to toast on all sides until they become fragrant (3-5 minutes).1 cup sesame seeds
- Once seeds offer a nice, toasted aroma, take them off the heat and transfer them to a food processor. Add oil to your food processor and blend briefly (*depending on your oil and the consistency you want, you may need to add more oil). Then, add the salt and continue to blend.3 tablespoon canola oil, ¼ teaspoon salt
- Taste your tahini and add more salt or oil if needed. Continue to blend until you reach your desired consistency. Place your tahini in an airtight container and refrigerate it for up to 1 month.
- Sesame seeds burn quickly, so monitor them closely as they are toasting.
- Oils you could use in this recipe include but are not limited to: Olive oil, grapeseed oil, sunflower oil, sesame oil, or vegetable oil. If using sesame oil, make sure it is raw sesame oil, not toasted. Toasted sesame oil is overpowering and will give your tahini a "Chinese food" flavor.
- Due to the low volume of liquid in this recipe, a food processor is preferred to a blender. If your food processor is not very powerful, it should still work but the texture might be a tad more grainy.
Angela is an at home chef that developed a passion for all things cooking and baking at a young age in her Grandma's kitchen. After many years in the food service industry, she now enjoys sharing all of her family favorite recipes and creating tasty dinner and amazing dessert recipes here at Bake It With Love!