I’ve personally taste-tested a variety of Chinese sesame paste substitutes to find the best one for every cooking occasion.
Whether you’re on the hunt for the closest flavor match, in need of a last-minute pantry substitute, or want a swap that fits your diet, I’ve got the answers.
Tahini is the best substitute for Chinese sesame paste, but it’s got a milder flavor. You can easily boost the flavor with a splash of sesame oil though. Peanut butter is also a decent alternative. Or you can make sesame paste from scratch.
Ready? Let’s jump right in.
I made small batches of Taiwanese noodles to test several Chinese sesame paste substitutes.
Chinese sesame paste is traditionally made from unhulled sesame seeds that are toasted, then ground into a paste. It boasts a bold nutty flavor with a delectably creamy consistency.
It’s typically used to jazz up noodles, stir-fries, sauces, soups, and even desserts! I was looking for a substitute that could mimic sesame paste’s flavor and consistency.
Here are the substitutes I tested and my verdicts:
|Peanut butter||Can mix with sesame oil||9/10|
|Other kinds of nut butter||Walnut butter is good||8/10|
|Sunflower seed butter||Has a bitter edge||7/10|
|Sesame oil||Different consistency||8/10|
|Homemade Chinese sesame paste||It’s easier than you think!||10/10|
Our first substitute option takes us to the Middle East: tahini. It’s essentially the same as Chinese sesame paste, but there are a couple of key differences.
Firstly, tahini is usually made from hulled sesame seeds, meaning they’re outer shells have been removed. This gives tahini a milder, slightly less nutty flavor compared to Chinese sesame paste.
Secondly, the sesame seeds in tahini are often blended raw. Some homemade recipes include the toasting step, but traditionally, it’s skipped.
Because of the lighter flavor, you’ll need to use more tahini to get the same level of nuttiness as Chinese sesame paste. Or you can add a bit of sesame oil (in a ratio of 3 parts tahini to 1 part oil)
How to substitute: start with a 1:1 ratio, then adjust to taste.
That’s right, the same stuff you spread on your toast can be used in place of Chinese sesame paste. Peanut butter has a delicious roasted, nutty flavor that can mimic the taste of sesame paste.
If you’re going to use peanut butter as a substitute, I highly recommend sticking with a natural unsweetened variety. Peanut butter with added sugar is too sweet to use as a replacement and wont have the same earthy notes.
The natural stuff’s texture is also more similar to sesame pastes texture, and it’ll blend seamlessly into your dishes. When I’ve used processed peanut butter in a stir fry sauce, it ends up being lumpy.
How to substitute: replace Chinese sesame paste in a 1:1 ratio with natural peanut butter.
Other kinds of nut butter
There’s a world of nut butters out there beyond peanuts. Almond, cashew, pistachio, and walnut butters are all delicious and can stand in for Chinese sesame paste.
They all have a base nutty flavor like sesame paste, but each has its own unique finish. Almond, cashew, and pistachio butters are subtly sweet, while walnut butter has a slightly bitter taste similar to Chinese sesame paste.
Then there’s macadamia nut butter. It’s on the pricier side, but it’ll bring a more decadent, creamier twist to your dishes. Feel free to experiment and find your favorite.
How to substitute: replace Chinese sesame paste in a 1:1 ratio with your chosen nut butter.
Sunflower seed butter
If you’re allergic to sesame seeds and nuts, don’t worry. Sunflower seed butter has your back. It’s got a distinct flavor that can take some getting used to, so if you don’t like it the first time you try it, don’t be put off.
It has the nuttiness you want and an earthy, roasted flavor that’s pretty robust. And if you’ve got the natural stuff, it’ll have a bitter edge. Some brands will add sugar to balance out the bitterness.
The only downside with sunflower seed butter? It’s pretty expensive.
How to substitute: replace Chinese sesame paste in a 1:1 ratio with sunflower seed butter.
If you’re mainly after that nutty kick of Chinese sesame paste, sesame oil is a simple substitute. It doesn’t have the creamy consistency of the paste, but it’s packed with flavor.
I only needed to add a few drops to my noodles to get the nutty flavor I was after.
Pro-tip: you can also mix this with any of the nut butters mentioned above to give them a closer flavor to Chinese sesame paste.
How to substitute: while it won’t provide the same texture, replace Chinese sesame paste in a 1:1 ratio with sesame oil to keep that bold, nutty flavor.
Homemade Chinese sesame paste
Who knew making Chinese sesame paste would be so easy? The traditional recipe involves unhulled sesame seeds, which aren’t the easiest to source. So this recipe uses hulled seeds and adds a splash of sesame oil as the seeds blend for a nuttier taste.
There’s barely any hands-on cooking involved in the process. However you’ll need to keep a close eye on the sesame seeds as they roast in the oven. Recipe creator Mishka Makes Food suggests stirring the seeds every 8-10 minutes.
This DIY method is pretty cool because you can adjust the consistency to your liking. If you want a thicker paste, you can use less sesame oil. But I wanted a luscious consistency with my noodles, so I stuck with the recipe’s 3 tbsp recommendation.
How to substitute: replace Chinese sesame paste in a 1:1 ratio with homemade Chinese sesame paste.
Substitutes To Avoid
Not all the suggestions I tried were successful. Hazelnut butter was one of the options I saw while researching. And while it did have a nutty flavor, it’s far sweeter than Chinese sesame paste. Save it for your baked goods instead.
Soybean pastes like miso or doenjang were also suggested. Although these pastes were delicious, miso and doenjang are mostly salty, with a funky, fermented flavor – a far cry from Chinese sesame paste’s intensely nutty taste.
Chinese Sesame Paste Substitutes + 3 To Avoid
- 2 cups sesame seeds + 3 extra tbsp
- 6 to 7 tbsp sesame oil
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place your sesame seeds in a rimmed baking sheet.
- Roast the sesame seeds for 40 minutes or until golden brown. Keep stirring them every 8-10 minutes and keep an eye on the last few minutes of roasting to ensure they don't burn.
- In your blender or food processor, add 4 tbsp of your sesame oil then add the roasted sesame seeds. Blend everything until thick and creamy. Add two more tbsp of sesame oil and blitz again until smooth.
- Transfer to a jar and use immediately or store in the fridge.