There’s noth­ing like fresh, warm, just-ground tahi­ni right out of the tap. I learned this first­hand when Omri Hur­witz, a sesame seed importer, and his wife, Jack­ie Zitel­man Hur­witz, a cofounder of a small-batch tahi­ni com­pa­ny, took me to watch tahi­ni being made from scratch.

We went to a tahi­ni and hal­vah fac­to­ry in Nablus, a city in the West Bank of the Pales­tin­ian ter­ri­to­ries. The fac­to­ry own­er, a Pales­tin­ian who kept his name to him­self to avoid crit­i­cism for work­ing with Israelis, uses seeds that have been soaked (some­times in salt­wa­ter, which helps sink the tougher hulls), hulled, run through a cen­trifuge, roast­ed, and ground into the sub­stance that has become such an essen­tial part of Israeli cui­sine. (After the Chi­nese, Israelis con­sume the most sesame seeds per capi­ta in the world.)

As we watched, he held a plas­tic con­tain­er under a met­al spig­ot and wait­ed as a steady stream of vis­cous beige liq­uid pooled inside. The sig­nif­i­cance of what I was see­ing — the seeds import­ed from Ethiopia by an Israeli now being processed by a Pales­tin­ian — was not lost on me. It lit­er­al­ly felt like peace in the making.

We drank the pure tahi­ni from small paper cups. It coat­ed my tongue with a rich­ness that rede­fined the term mouth­feel.”

The sig­nif­i­cance of what I was see­ing — the seeds import­ed from Ethiopia by an Israeli now being processed by a Pales­tin­ian — was not lost on me.

Pales­tini­ans and oth­er Arabs have been mak­ing tahi­ni for cen­turies, often using meth­ods that have been passed down from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion. In East Jerusalem you can vis­it Al Jebri­ni, a near­ly 150-year-old fac­to­ry where tahi­ni is ground on cen­tu­ry-old basalt stones; these are favored for the smooth tahi­ni they pro­duce and the lack of sed­i­ment that more mod­ern, indus­tri­al grind­stones some­times deposit into the fin­ished prod­uct. In addi­tion to the bet­ter-known tan vari­eties of tahi­ni made from hulled and whole sesame seeds, a small amount of red” tahi­ni is some­times avail­able at Al Jebri­ni. Though ground from the same Ethiopi­an sesame seeds as its paler cousins, the red tahi­ni is slow-roast­ed in giant ovens and stirred often. This yields its sig­na­ture red­dish tint.

Since antiq­ui­ty, sesame has been an essen­tial food­stuff in the Lev­ant — the region that today includes Israel, Syr­ia, Lebanon, Jor­dan, and the Pales­tin­ian ter­ri­to­ries, and beyond. Orig­i­nal­ly prized for its oil, sesame was first ref­er­enced in cuneiform tablets found in the Fer­tile Cres­cent. Herodotus wrote about sesame crops on the shores of the Tigris and Euphrates 3,500 years ago. And a thir­teenth-cen­tu­ry Iraqi cook­book, Kitab al-Tabikh, is the first place where tahi­ni itself is ref­er­enced as a culi­nary ingredient.

Tahi­ni has a unique abil­i­ty to main­tain its char­ac­ter while adapt­ing to a wealth of dish­es both savory and sweet. Silky and nut­ty, it can take a star­ring role, or play back­up singer to oth­er ingre­di­ents. Add lemon juice, gar­lic, salt, and ice-cold water to pure tahi­ni paste and you get a fluffy dip that can eas­i­ly eclipse hum­mus on a table of spreads and sal­ads. Thin out that paste and you’ve got a creamy dress­ing any green leaf would wel­come. But add it to caramel in a choco­late-crust­ed tart, driz­zle it on French toast, or blend it into a smooth­ie with med­jool dates and vanil­la, and you’ll won­der why tahi­ni isn’t used in desserts more often.

Thank­ful­ly, in recent years excel­lent tahi­ni can be pro­cured state­side, at some Mid­dle East­ern gro­cers and online. Open up a tub or jar, and you’ll be sur­prised to dis­cov­er that good import­ed tahi­ni still feels mirac­u­lous­ly warm. You may not be drink­ing straight from the tap, but it’s the next best thing.

Adeena Suss­man is the author of Saba­ba: Fresh, Sun­ny Fla­vors From My Israeli Kitchen, which was named a Best Fall cook­book by The New York Times, Bon Appetit, and Food & Wine. She is cur­rent­ly work­ing on her fol­lowup to Saba­ba, Shab­bat: Recipes and Rit­u­als From My Table To Yours. The co-author of 15 cook­books, Adeena’s three most recent col­lab­o­ra­tions, includ­ing Crav­ings and Crav­ings: Hun­gry For More with Chris­sy Teigen, were New York Times Best-sell­ers. A life­long vis­i­tor to Israel who has been writ­ing about that country’s food cul­ture for almost 20 years, Adeena made Aliyah in Decem­ber 2018. She cooks and writes in Tel Aviv, where she lives in the shad­ow of that city’s Carmel Mar­ket with her hus­band, Jay Shofet. You can fol­low her on Insta­gram @adeenasussman.