Gamechangers is a new series about the little things that have improved our lives and made us unsuspecting evangelists. If you’ve got a Gamechanger you want to tell us about, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you listen to chefs on cooking shows, as I spend much of my leisure time doing, you should ideally always be seeking to find the freshest, best, most top-of-the-line ingredients at all times. I can see the logic there—the steak from the butcher really does taste better than the shrink-wrapped t-bone at the grocery store. But I am also an imperfect human with limited resources and a grocery budget, and so have to make decisions about where best to invest my dollars. Not all my produce is farm-fresh, and not all of my bread is lovingly baked. (Mostly it is manufactured with indifference, but it holds up to peanut butter, which is mostly what I ask of it.) I try to get half-decent olive oil and always opt for good dairy when I can, but I do not pretend that I have it in me to make a special trip to get handmade mozzarella when I’m making pasta. The globule at the grocery store will do just fine, and frozen broccoli works without lowering the quality of my life much at all. But this summer, I discovered one of the grocery store staples that it’s actually worth paying more and going out of my way to obtain: good tahini.
If you make hummus at home, you probably have a tin of tahini somewhere in the back of your fridge. Maybe it is the omnipresent orange-and-brown tin sold in the supermarket near me, is slightly acrid in taste, and has about an inch of oil floating on top of it. Most likely it isn’t a substance you would think about spreading on your toast—it’s an ingredient for one purpose only, to prevent your hummus from just being chickpea puree. But tahini, as anyone familiar with Middle Eastern cuisine can tell you, can be so much more.
It turns out that most of the tahini found in your average grocery store is processed in a way that does no favors to the substance. The sesame seeds tend to get over-roasted, making the stuff more bitter than it's supposed to be. When, courtesy of a food-obsessed friend who has never sent me astray, I finally tried a spoonful of high-end tahini, I was shocked at how not burned-tasting it was. I felt like my whole life I had been eating Cool Whip when there was real whipped cream to be had in the world. Velvety, nutty, slightly bitter—good tahini is the kind of stuff that you could not only spread on toast, you could drizzle it on ice cream (I have). It makes for a great salad dressing, and, with a little olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, and water, turns into an incredible sauce to drizzle on roasted vegetables. It elevates hummus to new heights of snackability. It is, indeed, a gamechanger.
You can make your own tahini if you want, and thus avoid the dreaded brown-and-orange tin. But if you have limited time resources, I would advise you to invest in Soom Tahini. It’s a bit more expensive than the stuff off the supermarket shelf (on Amazon, it’s $16.50 for a shipment of two 11 oz. jars), but it is worth carving out the extra money in your grocery budget for. Soom also makes a chocolate sesame spread that is a topic of conversation at the office of this website at least once a week. (It’s like a more sophisticated, earthier Nutella.) Your quality of life will tick up, at least the next time you reach for the hummus.
Soom Foods Pure Ground Sesame Tahini, $16.50 for two jars, amazon.com