We Found the Most Delicious (and Surprising) Ingredient Swap for Dairy

Use this instead of butter, cream sauces, or mayonnaise—you may already have it in your kitchen.

Ever wondered what gives hummus its creamy texture and nutty flavor? It's tahini.

Tahini is made from ground and toasted sesame seeds. It's a nut butter (a seed butter, really) that's rich, velvety, and savory and is a staple in Middle Eastern, North African, and Mediterranean cuisines. Its saucy texture makes it perfect for drizzling into sweet and savory dishes. That's why tahini is good for more than just being the "secret sauce" in hummus.

In fact, according to Amy Zitelman, the CEO and co-founder of Soom Foods, tahini is an ideal replacement for dairy products—like butter, mayonnaise, or cream-based sauces—in the kitchen. "Tahini makes a great, nutrient-dense substitute for dairy in salad dressings, soups, dips, smoothies, [and] even macaroni and cheese. It can also be a replacement for butter in mashed potatoes and in certain baked goods," Zitelman says.

This is mainly due to tahini’s creamy texture and mild, toasty flavor. Good tahini should have a luxurious mouthfeel, almost butter-like. You can use it just like peanut butter: Swirl tahini into cake or brownie batter or blend it into smoothies. You can add it to stir-fried or roasted vegetables (eggplant!) or noodles, mix it into a dairy-free Caesar salad dressing, or drizzle tahini over this beautiful chickpea and rice bowl.

For those with dairy and nut allergies, tahini "milk" can be made with 1/4 to 1/3 cup of tahini and 3 to 4 cups of water. You can use it as an alternative to regular milk or nut milk in lattes, cappuccinos, and so on.

According to nutrition expert Adina Fradkin, RD, tahini is a cholesterol-free, plant-based ingredient that offers a high amount of protein compared to dairy ingredients like milk, cream, and butter. It also contains several grams of fiber per serving and an impressive amount of iron (and all of the above contain neither). Tahini's zero grams of sugar also make it an ideal replacement for milk, which has 12 grams of natural lactose sugar per cup.

"Despite its higher fat content, the fats in tahini are primarily healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats, whereas about half of the fat in whole milk is saturated fat, often associated with heart disease risk," says Fradkin. Tahini is also a desirable dairy replacement because it's a concentrated source of calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus.

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