rē•Spinning Tradition: How Seed and Mill Put a Twist on Halva and Tahini
rē•connect with these traditional favorites.
For centuries, halva and tahini have been staples in Mediterranean culture and diets. Both are derived from seeds, but take on different food profiles in their final stages. Halva (which means “sweet” in Arabic) is traditionally a dense, sweet confection with varying textures depending on which seed is used as the base. As for tahini (which comes from the Arabic word “tahana”), it’s a beloved condiment that can be used by itself as a dip, as an ingredient in hummus, or, of course, in halva.
While different types of seeds can be ground into powders for halva and tahini, sesame seeds are the traditional option. The lore behind sesame goes back to Assyrian mythology, which said that the Gods drank sesame wine one night… And the next day? They created the earth.
Tahini and halva remain dietary staples to some, yet remain unknown or are misunderstood by an entire consumer base. Rachel Simons, Lisa Mendelson, and Monica Molenaar aspire to change this by rē•introducing (or just plain introducing) these foods to customers.
The Story of Seed + Mill
Seed + Mill was not the planned career choice for Simons, Mendelson, or Molenaar. The brand began to take root (no pun intended) after Simons decided to rē•spin her career path (after 18 years as a lawyer) in order to spend more time with her family. Simons then met her co-founders by chance, as they all had children attending the same school in Manhattan.
Mendelson had recently relocated to the United States from Israel and put her friendship with Simons and Molenaar on the fast track upon discovering their shared love of food, travel, and hospitality. She had dreams of introducing tahini and halva to more people in the United States, as both are such important elements of cuisine in Middle Eastern culture.
Simons tapped into her inner foodie-entrepreneur and joined Mendelson on her path to achieve her life vision. “Food is such an easy way to explore another person’s cultural identity, their memories, their history, and family rituals,” Simons tells rē•spin. “Finding a career path that allows me to nourish that kind of curiosity about people, history, and culture is such a privilege and brings me incredible professional and personal joy!”
In 2016, their dream came to life, opening a kiosk in Chelsea Market, using every inch of their 250 square-foot space to showcase their halva and tahini with customers from around the world. They were eager to introduce customers to their versions of halva and tahini; many customers had already tried these foods but found them dry, made with sub-par ingredients, or unable to get past the bitterness of tahini without ever realizing that it could be made sweet and versatile.
The three women made it a goal to improve the quality of these foods while maintaining a pared-down ingredient list, utilizing all-natural ingredients and premium Ethiopian sesame seeds as the base for each recipe. Accessibility also came into play, opting for contemporary packaging and educational information so that customers could properly store, serve, and create recipes with their Seed + Mill products. Their dream was to make tahini a staple American condiment — securing that coveted spot next to ketchup or mustard in someone’s refrigerator.
rē•Spinning the Mediterranean Staples
For Simons, Mendelson, and Molenaar, it was critical to honor the centuries-long histories and relationships that different cultures have with tahini and halva. For Simons, it’s an extra special moment when customers reach out to share a sentimental story of how the products helped them to connect them nostalgically to their roots.
Yet the trio still embellished tradition, putting their own creative spin on the classics, surprising and delighting customers with unique flavors like white chocolate and lemon. Simons, Mendelson, and Molenaar honored the integrity of both foods while breathing new life into them with cleaner, healthier ingredients, and unexpected flavor combinations that appeal to new and old consumers.
They do draw a line, however, when it comes to rē•spinning traditions too much, especially when it comes to tahini. For instance, the product is created by grinding sesame seeds into a paste. Some have encouraged them to call it “Sesame Butter” in order to appeal to the masses, but they keep the traditional name to pay homage to its roots.
The Health Benefits of Sesame Seeds
In true rē•spin style, we don’t just seek out tasty foods — but functional foods with health benefits, too. Celebrity chef, nutritionist, and reiki master Serena Poon points out that sesame seeds themselves possess health benefits that range from micronutrient content (think: magnesium) to protein, antioxidants, calcium, and minerals. “Tahini is a wonderful food to add to your diet,” she tells rē•spin. “For the most part, tahini delivers all the nutrition of sesame seeds.” She considers it one of the best — and most versatile — ways of consuming sesame seeds and their plentiful fiber, whether added to sandwiches as a peanut butter substitute, incorporated into recipes or used as a base for dressings. “Halva is made by adding sugar to sesame seed paste and delivers many of the same macro and micronutrients as sesame seeds,” Poon continues, rē•minding us that it is always important to consume sugar in moderation. “In terms of dessert, halva can definitely be considered a healthier option than many sweet treats.”
rē•Introducing Halva and Tahini Into Our Diets
Simons, Mendelson, and Molenaar also love to experiment with how they play around with recipes. Drawing inspiration from Yotam Ottolenghi, a popular Israeli chef, they’ve used both items as ingredients when creating his Halva and Tahini Swirled Brownies. They’re great for spicing up traditional favorites — try adding chunks of halva into chocolate chip cookies or your next batches of blondies. For a savory iteration, Simons loves making west~bourne’s recipe for jalapeño tahini sauce to pair with veggies, on top of a salad, or to drizzle over your choice of protein.
Halva and tahini have stood the test of time, but with creative minds like Simons, Mendelson, and Molenaar, the foods have been rē-invented and rē•introduced into the diets of lifelong fans and people unfamiliar with the foods. They are great for a wide variety of dietary preferences including vegans and flexitarians (people that consume a plant-forward diet), each bite full of calcium, protein, vitamins, and minerals — without sacrificing any flavor. “We’ve seen tremendous growth in halva, tahini, and a love for Middle Eastern cuisine. I think there’s a good reason for that,” Simons tells rē•spin. “The food from the Middle East is tasty, fresh, versatile, nutrient-dense, and often unintentionally vegan.”
If reading this makes you eager to integrate Seed + Mill’s tahini into your next meal, check out this recipe for the Herby Green Tahini Sauce — the perfect salad dressing or dipping sauce. Tip: Adjust the amount of water and lemon to achieve your desired consistency.
- 1 cup green herbs roughly chopped (any combination of parsley, mint, basil, or cilantro is great)
- 1/2 cup Seed + Mill Organic Tahini
- Zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 2-3 tbsp cold water
- 2-3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 tsp maple syrup
- Salt and pepper (to taste)
In a blender, combine all ingredients and blend until smooth. If the consistency is too thin, add more tahini and olive oil. If it’s too thick, add more water/lemon juice. This sauce can last in the fridge for up to 3 days.
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