Some ramen ingredients are obvious. Everybody loves to add an egg, or a few chunks of meat, or some vegetables to their ramen bowl. Then again, there are some ingredients that are less than obvious.
Consider this scenario: you’re getting home from work, and it’s been a long day. In fact, it’s been a long week, and you haven’t been shopping in days. Your options are down to some ramen, a few random veggies, and some condiments. Can you make a real dinner out of this, or is it time to order GrubHub?
If you’ve got some tahini in your fridge, you’ll be able to augment any bowl of ramen. Tahini is known for its bold, nutty flavor, which is much more potent than most nut butters. It can be added to noodles without broth, along with other ingredients, to form a homemade sauce. It can also be blended into a broth to thicken it up and add to the flavor.
In fact, tahini isn’t just something you throw on your ramen when there’s nothing else available. It’s an ingredient in several popular recipes, including many highly-rated ones. If you want to broaden your ramen repertoire, read on to learn more about this powerful ingredient.
What Is Tahini?
Tahini, also known as tahina, is a paste or butter made from ground sesame seeds. It’s a traditional Middle Eastern food, and it’s a key ingredient in many regional dishes. If you’ve eaten hummus or baba ghanoush, you’ve eaten tahini. It’s also the main ingredient in tarator, a popular sauce that’s used for fish and vegetables. Beyond the Middle East, tahini is also commonly used in Greek, Turkish, and even some Balkan cuisines.
Tahini itself is simple, with only three ingredients. It’s made from hulled sesame seeds, oil, and salt. The seeds are toasted, then ground into a powder. This powder is mixed with oil, which acts as an emulsifier, creating a creamy, pourable butter. The salt is added for flavor.
You’ll find tahini in a number of savory recipes. However, it’s also well-suited to sweeter dishes. This might sound counterintuitive, but think of other bitter foods like cocoa and coffee. Both of them have a totally different character when you add a little sugar. In fact, some people even use tahini for cookies and other sweets. So you can use it in sweet, creamy ramen recipes as well as savory ones.
Keep in mind that tahini is not the same as tahini sauce. Tahini sauce uses tahini as a base, but it includes a lot of other ingredients. It’s mixed with lemon juice, along with herbs, spices, and other ingredients. Different tahini sauces pair well with a variety of foods, but few of them would be good ramen ingredients.
Are There Any Good Tahini Substitutes?
The best substitutes for tahini are cashew butter and almond butter. You’ll barely notice the difference in most spicy recipes, but on their own or in mild recipes, the taste is quite different.
In a pinch, you can use natural, unsweetened peanut butter. It’s not perfect, but it’s a close approximation. Sweetened peanut butter tastes nothing like tahini, although it can be a great ramen ingredient in its own right.
If you need a nut-free option, sunflower seed butter comes close to tahini. It’s not quite as bitter and it has some more savory overtones. But it won’t trigger nut allergies, and it’s certainly delicious.
What Does Tahini Ramen Taste Like?
Tahini ramen will taste like tahini. But that’s probably not what you wanted to hear. It’s a bit like saying that chicken ramen tastes like chicken.
It would be tempting to compare tahini ramen to peanut butter ramen. Both ingredients have similar characteristics. However, peanut butter is typically sweeter than tahini. Tahini, meanwhile, has a far more nutty, bitter flavor. It shouldn’t taste unpleasantly bitter, though. If your tahini tastes like coffee grounds, it’s most likely expired.
When using tahini in your ramen, be careful not to add too much. The flavor is very potent, and it can overpower your other ingredients. This is particularly true in a sweet or creamy recipe. In those recipes, it’s best to start with only one or two teaspoons, and add more tahini afterwards if necessary.
How Do You Use Tahini to Make Ramen?
There are a few ways to incorporate tahini into your ramen. The first is simply to add it to your broth. Blend it in when the broth is nice and hot, and it will dissolve. Your broth will be a bit thicker, and it will have a nutty taste to it. It will also stick to your noodles better than a traditional watery broth.
Many recipes involve making your own ramen sauce. Tahini goes well with popular bases like soy sauce, as well as with cream bases. In some cases, people combine their own ingredients with the noodles’ spice packet, creating a unique medley of flavor.
A third method is to fry the tahini and noodles together. This is normally done when you’re making a stir fry, and the results can come out similar to a pad Thai. The difference here is that pad Thai typically requires a lot of peanut butter, sometimes over two tablespoons. If you added that much tahini to a recipe, it would be far too powerful, like using an entire bottle of mustard on a hot dog.
What Type of Ramen Goes Best With Tahini?
Tahini’s bold flavor pairs well with spicy dishes. Because it’s so potent, it won’t get overpowered by chili and other intense spices. At the same time, it makes your ramen a bit creamier without making it sweet. This goes well in creamy dishes, as the bitter and sweet flavors will combine. It’s also an ideal ingredient for many savory dishes.
Combine it with flavorful vegetables like onions and shallots. Sweet veggies like carrots will create an excellent contrast. We’d avoid using it with bitter ingredients like Brussels sprouts.
Is Tahini Vegan?
Tahini is normally vegan. We say “normally” because it’s normally made with vegetable oil. Since the only other ingredients are sesame seeds and salt, there are no animal products. That said, a small handful of manufacturers use an animal fat base for their tahini. In that case, it would be vegan. When in doubt, check the ingredients.
Another thing to keep in mind is that many tahini sauces aren’t vegan. Many contain yogurt, sour cream, and other dairy ingredients. If you’re shopping for a tahini sauce instead of a plain tahini, read the ingredients carefully. And if you're wondering...is all ramen vegan?
Can I Make My Own Tahini?
Making tahini at home is quick and easy. Start with a cup of hulled sesame seeds. You can use un-hulled seeds, but the resulting tahini will be more bitter, which many people find unpleasant. Toast the seeds by spreading them out in a skillet and cooking them on medium-low heat. Stir them constantly; you don’t want them to burn. Once they start to release a roasted aroma, take them off the heat.
Put the toasted seeds in a food processor, and grind them until they’re the consistency of wet sand. Be careful not to over-grind them.
At this point, add 3-4 tablespoons of a neutral-flavored vegetable oil. Avocado oil and canola oil are ideal, but a light olive oil will do in a pinch. Blend this in, using your food processor’s low setting. Do this until it’s nice and creamy.
Taste the tahini, and add salt if you like. That’s all there is to it!
Tahini sauce + roasted kabocha squash + miso ramen = flavor perfection. This recipe is super easy and absolutely delicious.
The kabocha squash is roasted and coated in a sauce made from tahini, garlic, ginger, sesame oil, soy sauce, lemon juice, and water. How amazing does that sound?
Tahini is the perfect pairing with our savory miso ramen. Add tofu, a soft-boiled egg, mushrooms, green onions, and you have yourself a meal!
The mushrooms and tofu are cooked in tahini, and it's also stirred into the broth to make it extra nutty and creamy.
This recipe pairs a tahini miso broth with shiitake and white mushrooms, spinach, green onions, cilantro, and a soft boiled egg.
We love the creamy sesame flavors with the earthy blend of mushrooms and greens.
The Final Word
Tahini is one of the best ways to create a unique, delicious bowl of ramen. Add it to a broth, mix it into a sauce, or fry it up with your noodles. There are so many ways to add it to your recipe, and it pairs well with many ingredients. Mix in some protein and some crunchy veggies, and you’ll be swimming in flavor.