Menu
Search
Menu
Close

Tahini

From Spicing Up the Grill
UPDATE: MAY 2018

Ziyad has issued a nationwide recall of our winning product due to salmonella contamination. Consumers who have purchased Ziyad Tahini Sesame Paste with certain lot codes should return the product to the store for a full refund. More information

How we tested

Tahini is a potent paste made from toasted sesame seeds; it’s similar in texture to natural peanut butter. Apart from being a core ingredient in hummus, tahini is often thinned with water or lemon juice and drizzled over falafel, kebabs, pilaf, and roasted or raw vegetables in Middle Eastern recipes. Sesame seeds are generally the sole ingredient—so how different could competing tahinis be? To find out, we tasted seven products, priced from $6.44 to $11.99 and sold in 15- to 16-ounce containers, plain and in hummus.

Right off the bat, our tasters noticed big differences in flavor in the plain tasting, calling our preferred tahinis “toasty” and “nutty” and lower-scoring tahinis “bitter” and “sour.” Flavor discrepancies were less evident in hummus. Although tahini can be made with whole sesame seeds, most manufacturers use seeds that have their outer coatings (hulls) removed before grinding. The hulls contain bitter compounds called oxalates that can be the source of those unpleasant flavors (seeds with the hulls intact are also harder to grind to a smooth consistency). Overroasting the seeds is another factor that can lead to bitterness. Off-flavors can also be the result of rancidity from poor handling or storage of the seeds.

Consistency was another important factor. Sesame seeds are 50 percent oil by weight, which is very similar to the oil content of peanuts. As with natural peanut butter, the oil in tahini typically separates from the paste at room temperature. For some products, a gentle stir was enough to reincorporate the components and form a fairly smooth, fluid tahini that poured neatly from the container. But other options were gritty or so thick that we had to scrape them from their containers with a metal spoon or stiff spatula. The thickest tahini was simultaneously dry and damp, like wet sand. Even after a spin in the food processor, the thick and grainy tahinis produced hummus that was also thick and slightly grainy. While the chickpeas and oil had covered up the biggest textural differences, they couldn’t conceal them completely, and those products earned spots at the bottom of our rankings. Tasters much preferred the “silky,” “buttery” texture of hummus made with smooth, fluid tahini.

Our new favorite, Ziyad Tahini Sesame Paste ($7.59 for 16 ounces), is made with hulled sesame seeds and is fairly pale in color, indicating gentle roasting. Tasters loved its “strong, clean tahini flavor.” It was also one of the smoothest products in our lineup, so hummus made it with had a “lush,” “silky” consistency that made it our clear favorite.

Methodology

A panel of 21 tasters sampled seven nationally available tahinis plain (stirred gently to reincorporate oil and paste) and in hummus. Products were selected from among the top-selling supermarket brands as compiled by IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm. Ingredients and nutrition information were obtained from product packaging. Additional information on processing methods was gathered from manufacturers. Prices were paid in Boston-area supermarkets or online. We averaged the results of the tastings, weighting hummus more heavily because tahini is rarely eaten plain, and products appear below in order of preference.

Register for AmericasTestKitchen.com

It's FAST and it's FREE.

Why register? Unlock FREE ACCESS to recipes and ratings from the current season of America's Test Kitchen.

The Results

Winner
Recommended

Skippy Peanut Butter

In a contest that hinged on texture, tasters thought this "smooth, "creamy" sample was "swell" and gave it top honors, both plain and baked into cookies. Its rave reviews even compensated for a slightly "weak" nut flavor that didn't come through as well as that of other brands in the pungent satay sauce.

$2.39 for 16.3-oz. jar (15 cents per oz.)*
Recommended

Jif Natural Peanut Butter Spread

The big favorite in satay sauce, this peanut butter's "dark, roasted flavor"—helped by the addition of molasses—stood out particularly well against the other heady ingredients, and it made cookies with "nice sweet-salty balance." Plus, as the top-rated palm oil-based sample, it was "creamy," "thick," and better emulsified than other "natural" contenders.

$2.29 for 18-oz. jar (13 cents per oz.)*

Reese's Peanut Butter

This is what peanut butter should be like, " declared one happy taster, noting specifically this product's "good," "thick" texture and "powerful peanut flavor." In satay sauce, however, some tasters felt that heavier body made for a "pasty" end result.

$2.59 for 18-oz. jar (14 cents per oz.)*

Skippy Natural Peanut Butter Spread

The only other palm oil-based peanut butter to make the "recommended" cut, this contender had a "looser" texture than its winning sibling but still won fans for being "super-smooth." Tasters thought it made an especially "well-balanced," "complex" peanut sauce.

$2.39 for 15-oz. jar (16 cents per oz.)*
Recommended with Reservations

Peanut Butter & Co. No-Stir Natural Smooth Operator

Though it says "no-stir" on the label, this "stiff" palm-oil enriched peanut butter was "weeping oil" and came across as "greasy" to some tasters. However, it turned out a respectable batch of cookies—"chewy in the center, crisp and short at the edge"—and made "perfectly good" satay sauce.

$4.49 for 18-oz. jar (25 cents per oz.)*

Maranatha Organic No Stir Peanut Butter

On the one hand, this organic peanut butter produced cookies that were "soft and sturdy" yet "moist," with "knockout peanut flavor." On the other hand, eating it straight from the jar was nearly impossible; its "loose," "liquid-y," and "dribbly" consistency had one taster wonder if it was "peanut soup."

$5.69 for 16-oz. jar (36 cents per oz.)*
Not Recommended

Smart Balance All Natural Rich Roast Peanut Butter

Besides being unpalatably "tacky" and "sludgy," this "natural" peanut butter suffered from an awful "fishy" flavor with a "weird acidic aftertaste" that tasters noted in all three applications. Our best guess as to the culprit? The inclusion of flax seed oil, an unsaturated fat that's highly susceptible to rancidity.

$3.59 for 16-oz. jar (22 cents per oz.)*

Smucker's Natural Peanut Butter

With its only additive a negligible amount of salt, the only truly natural peanut butter in the lineup elicited comments ranging from mild dissatisfaction ("needs enhancement with salt and sugar") to outright disgust ("slithery," "chalky," "inedible"). Cookies were "dry and crumbly" with a "hockey puck" texture, and the satay sauce was "stiff," "gritty," and "gloopy."

$2.69 for 16-oz. jar (17 cents per oz.)*