The unique foods of Greece and their health benefits
– Tahini (Sesame butter)
Since ancient times, the Greeks had realized how precious the gifts of Mother Nature were. The Mediterranean climate along with the geological formations of the country created a fertile ground where an abundance of wild herbs and plants could grow. This month we explore the vast benefits of Tahini – sesame butter.
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” –Hippocrates
Tahini (Sesame butter)
Gastronomy, a field that examines the relation between food and culture, is a direct reflection of human nature. As humans, distinctive and unique due to their social, cultural and ethnological backgrounds eventually come to share certain common behavioral traits, so does cuisine; there are times when culinary specialties from rather distant cultures end up sharing the same primary ingredients…
ORIGIN AND TRAITS
Have you ever wondered how hummus, baba ganoush and the famous halva might be related? Well, it seems that these recipes owe their popularity and timelessness to the same factor, tahini.
From the Middle East (Turkey, Israel and Iraq) to the Mediterranean Basin, tahini might have changed various names (Ardeh in Persian) but it has not changed its identity. 3,500 years ago, Herodotus noted that sesame seeds were cultivated around the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and were served to royalty due to their nutritional benefits which we still get to this day.
Sesame seeds (Sesamum Indicum), an ancient superfood, are the sole primary source which tahini is made of. Soaked, in order to separate the bran from the kernels, the seeds are then toasted and ground into a thick paste or puree depending on the added tablespoons of olive oil. Unhulled seeds, keeping their outer shells, can be used so as to achieve a more intense flavor, which is however slightly bitter.
BENEFITS AND HEALING PROPERTIES
Varying in texture or flavor, homemade or store-bought, it is safe to say that the nutritional value of tahini is guaranteed. With a consistency of 50% oil and 20% protein, the seeds are a good source of polyunsaturated fats and amino acids.
Having a high content in lignans such as sesamin and sesamol, tahini helps regulate blood pressure, protects against cardiovascular diseases and enhances brain function. Lignans have also been linked to cholesterol control; according to a study published by Nutrition Research subjects who consumed 1, 5 ounces of tahini a day managed to decrease their total and LDL cholesterol by 6, 5% – 9, 5% in a 4-week-course.
A spoonful of tahini covers the daily copper needs and is also a great source of magnesium. These two minerals promote physical and mental health, help prevent oxidative stress and boost metabolic functions. They are also highly effective in decreasing the risks of osteoporosis.
Sesame seeds are champions when it comes to phytosterol content, ranking the highest among 27 types of nuts, legumes, seeds and grains which were put to the test. Phytosterols, and especially beta – sitosterol boost the immune system, prevent conditions of the respiratory tract and fight against chronic fatigue syndrome.
A good source of E, B vitamins and trace minerals, sesame seeds prevent skin cell damage, have anti-aging properties and promote collagen production which is responsible for the elasticity of the skin. Tahini also contains zinc, a mineral that aids in repairing damaged tissue.
Sesame oil is also used in dermocosmetics as its properties include treating burns and wounds as well as promoting skin hydration.
USE AND DOSAGE
Tahini can be consumed hulled or unhulled, toasted or raw, salted or untreated. Its health benefits are best maintained when it is unhulled, raw and organic. It is advised to keep it in the refrigerator as polyunsaturated fats are sensitive to heat and spoil easily.
Two tablespoons of tahini provide 30% of daily thiamin needs, 24% of magnesium, 22% of phosphorus, 14% of iron, and 12% of calcium. This means that you can get its health benefits straight from the jar or alternatively experiment with different textures and flavors.
Tahini makes the perfect sauce, dip or spread which goes with almost anything; consume it in the morning with a slice of bread, add it on top of pasta, use it as a salad dressing or even consume it as a dessert. It is an all-purpose staple!
Sesame seed sauce also goes well with fruit and vegetables so why not try adding a couple of tablespoons of tahini in your favorite smoothie and benefit from extra nutrients?
Remember that as tahini is calorically dense it is best advised to consume it in moderation. Moreover, as tree nut allergies are common, make sure that consumption is safe for you.
RESEARCH AND INTERNATIONAL INTEREST
The simplicity in its production along with its nutritional value and various ways to consume it, is what makes tahini one of the easiest aliments to incorporate in a diet.
According to a study published in The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, hypertensive patients who used sesame oil as their only form of dietary oil in a course of 45 days ended up with lower blood pressure and increased antioxidant status. ¹
Research has also been conducted regarding the potential benefits of sesame seeds against inflammation and oxidative stress. It was found that systematic consumption leads to increased plasma gamma-tocopherol levels and Vitamin E which help prevent chronic disease. ²
Overall, the health benefits of tahini have been proven and are still being under the test. Why not start enjoying it today?