Open se­same: tahini deemed one of 2019’s ma­jor food trends

The National - News - - ARTS & LIFESTYLE - Emma Day

It’s been a corner­stone of Mid­dle Eastern, and par­tic­u­larly Le­van­tine, cook­ing for cen­turies, and tahini is still just as in de­mand as it’s ever been. In fact, its pop­u­lar­ity is spread­ing: the se­same seed paste has been touted as one of the year’s trendi­est foods by Bri­tish su­per­mar­ket chain Waitrose.

The gro­cery com­pany, which has stores in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, has named tahini as one of 2019’s most pop­u­lar food­stuffs in its an­nual

Food and Drink Re­port, re­leased last week. The condi­ment, which is made from toasted and ground hulled se­same seeds, was listed as a trend-lead­ing food with a tra­jec­tory that’s set to con­tinue in 2020.

De­scrib­ing tahini as a “core” com­po­nent of hum­mus, Waitrose re­vealed: “It’s now a pop­u­lar in­gre­di­ent in its own right, with searches for tahini paste on Waitrose.com up more than 700 per cent from last year.” The su­per­mar­ket’s 2019-2020 re­port is based on “mil­lions of” sales fig­ures from its branches and web­site over the last 12 months, as well as a poll of 2,000 UK adults who shop across a range of re­tail­ers.

Tahini, which is used in baba ganoush as a salad dress­ing and as a dip for meats and falafel, is also used in Asian and African dishes. Zahra Ab­dalla, a food blog­ger and cook­book au­thor who lives in Dubai, is un­sur­prised that tahini is ris­ing in pop­u­lar­ity out­side of the Mid­dle East. “It’s a won­der­fully ver­sa­tile in­gre­di­ent that adds depth, tex­ture and flavour to both savoury and sweet recipes,” she tells The Na­tional. “In ad­di­tion, there are so many health ben­e­fits to tahini: it is rich in an­tiox­i­dants, has anti-in­flam­ma­tory com­pounds and an­tibac­te­rial ben­e­fits.”

The au­thor of Cook­ing with Zahra: A Culi­nary Jour­ney of Tra­di­tional and Mod­ern Mid­dle Eastern Cui­sine,

even has a spoon­ful of the paste when she feels a cold or sore throat creep­ing up on her, cit­ing it as a high source of pro­tein, vi­ta­mins B and E, and mag­ne­sium, iron and cal­cium. “That usu­ally does the trick to help me re­cover faster.”

When it comes to cook­ing with tahini, Ab­dalla rec­om­mends adding the condi­ment to honey or date mo­lasses for a quick break­fast. “It’s also won­der­ful when com­bined with lemon juice, olive oil, wa­ter and chilli pow­der as a rich, nutty sauce per­fect for any grilled veg­etable, falafel or even as a salad dress­ing,” she says. “You can even be cre­ative and add tahini to your brown­ies, cheese­cakes or pro­tein ball recipes for a nutty layer of flavour.”

Ab­dalla, a mother of three, buys her tahini ready-made from the su­per­mar­ket “as it makes my life eas­ier”, and says cooks shouldn’t feel guilty about not mak­ing ev­ery­thing from scratch. “I think that with the grow­ing trend of both ve­gan and keto di­ets, peo­ple are need­ing to be more cre­ative about how to eat healthy and com­plete meals that are both de­li­cious and nu­tri­tious.”

For those who want to give it a go, home-made tahini re­quires hulled se­same seeds, ground in a food pro­ces­sor with a touch of oil – start with a few ta­ble­spoons – un­til the mix­ture be­comes smooth and silky.

Join­ing the condi­ment in vogue this year, ac­cord­ing to Waitrose, were crum­pets, sales of which were up 27 per cent, and cel­ery juice, with sales of the organic veg­etable ris­ing by 30 per cent at the su­per­mar­ket chain. Ve­gan ready meals, sea­weed and soba noo­dles were also named as food­stuffs ris­ing in pop­u­lar­ity through­out the year.

Waitrose high­lighted Mid­dle Eastern cook­ing in gen­eral as a grow­ing trend, not­ing that its cus­tomers ap­pear to be mak­ing plenty of dishes from the re­gion. “Waitrose Cook­ery School cour­ses in Mid­dle Eastern mezze, Moroc­can kitchen and chicken shawarma are cur­rently sell-outs, while ris­ing sales of sumac, ba­harat and za­atar show that we’re cook­ing in­creas­ingly am­bi­tious dishes,” the re­port stated.

“My kitchen would not be com­plete un­less it had sumac, pome­gran­ate mo­lasses, za­atar, saf­fron, rose­wa­ter and orange blos­som in stock,” agrees Ab­dalla. “All th­ese in­gre­di­ents add a won­der­ful layer of de­li­cious flavour to my recipes.”

Getty; Zahra Ab­dalla

Tahini is used as a dip and to make hum­mus; right, cook­book au­thor Zahra Ab­dalla

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