You may know tahini as the star ingredient in hummus, but this sesame-derived sensation is so much more than that. Tahini adds nuttiness to sauces and dips and richness to desserts (try swirling a couple of tablespoons into brownie batter). So what should you do when your recipe calls for this versatile ingredient and there’s none to be found? Don’t worry, friends. You can still cook up a heavenly mouthful of nutty flavor. If you’re in need of a substitute for tahini, we have six tasty options.
But first, what is tahini?
A paste made from toasted, ground sesame seeds, tahini is a staple in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. Good quality tahini is a treat for the tastebuds, boasting a subtly-sweet and nutty flavor with a well-balanced bite of bitterness on the finish. In fact, it’s because of this palate-pleasing complexity and understated presence that tahini paste gets such high praise in the culinary world, where it’s used as a secret ingredient in salad dressings, dipping sauces and marinades. While it’s certainly treasured for its taste, tahini brings more to the table than just its distinctive flavor: This paste is also prized for its creamy, silky texture. In other words, it will give your food a decadent mouthfeel—no dairy needed.
Bottom line: When a recipe calls for tahini, it’s because it plays an important part in the flavor or texture of the dish, and sometimes both. Check out this list of the best tahini substitutes, then pick one that best meets the criteria of your cooking agenda.
1. DIY tahini
The good news is that tahini is actually super simple to make and the homemade stuff is the best substitute for the store-bought variety. To make your own tahini, all you need is sesame seeds and a neutral oil. (Sesame oil is the prime candidate for tahini recipes, but canola will work just as well in cases where texture and subtlety reign supreme.) Simply toast the sesame seeds ever so lightly on the stove until fragrant and golden; then transfer them to a food processor and blend with just enough oil to form a smooth paste that is thin enough to pour. Easy-peasy.
2. Sunflower seed butter
On the off-chance that you have sunflower seed butter but not tahini in the pantry, you’re in luck. Simply blend some sesame oil into that seed butter and the resulting paste will be a convincing tahini imposter, both in terms of texture and taste. (Note: If you whip your sunflower seeds with canola, your sauce won’t quite mimic the taste of tahini but it will have the same mouthfeel.) No premade seed butter on hand? If you have a salty sunflower seed snack hanging around for noshing purposes, you can make your own following the same instructions mentioned above for DIY tahini.
3. Cashew and almond butter
The price tag is a bit steep when it comes to these spreads, but they have a mild richness that works well when substituting for the flavor and texture of tahini. In terms of taste, the effect is not identical: Both of these butters provide a similar nutty flavor but they lack the pleasant bitterness of tahini. That said, cashew and almond butter can make nice in most recipes that call for their sesame seed cousin.
4. Peanut butter
This swap is likely the most practical solution because unless you have an allergy, you probably have some PB hanging around your pantry. Like the more expensive nut butters, peanut butter does a fine job at providing silky smooth texture in tahini’s stead. The flavor is stronger, however, so it should be used sparingly to mimic the mouthfeel of sesame paste and blended with sesame oil if possible, to better achieve the same flavor.
5. Greek yogurt
True, something will be lost when you substitute tahini with Greek yogurt but depending on the recipe, that might not be such a bad thing. This option isn’t great for recipes where tahini is used to offset sweetness—like when it’s drizzled on sweet potatoes or spread on toast with jam. But for many other purposes (like in zesty dips and silky dressing), Greek yogurt has a thick and creamy consistency that closely mirrors the texture of tahini—just with a little extra tang.
6. Sesame oil
When it comes to both marinades and salad dressings, sesame oil can save the day. It comes from the same source as tahini and it has a very similar flavor profile. There’s no paste here, though, so it won’t do the trick when texture is what your recipe needs. But in terms of flavor, sesame oil is a pinch-hitter. But since this substitute is oiler than tahini, you’ll likely need less of it—start with half the amount and adjust to taste.