Delicious traditions: SoCo Tahini brings bold flavors to CLE

Growing up in Israel, Dana Harary was accustomed to tahini—really good tahini—being the main condiment she used. “It's like our mayonnaise, or our ketchup, or our peanut butter—our everything,” she says. “It's not just a hummus ingredient.”

But when she’d visit her grandparents in Cleveland for up to two months at a time, she’d have a hard time finding quality tahini. “I just could never find it, and when I finally would find it buried away somewhere in the grocery store at ankle level, I'd be like, ‘No that's not it,’” she recalls. So, Harary started bringing Israeli tahini with her on her trips to Cleveland.

Soon, her Cleveland friends and family were asking Harary to bring them tahini when she came to visit.

Dana Harary and her co-founder, Goni Light When she moved to Lyndhurst three years ago, she and cofounder Goni Light also a native Israeli, started Seeds of Collaboration (SoCo)—a tahini manufacturer with three varieties of tahini: Artisanal Tahini, Tahini & Dates, and Tahini & Pesto.

Light, who lives in Brooklyn with her husband Yonathan Sela, started making homemade tahini and selling it before the trio got together and partnered with sesame seed growers to source the best sesame possible and with a Palestinian tahini expert to slow roast and stone grind the seeds.

“SoCo was started because of us tahini addicts not really finding this creamy dreamy tahini that we're used to eating on a daily basis,” says Harary. “And when I say daily, like three times a day or so, and I'm not exaggerating.”

Harary, Light, and Sela spent some time perfecting their tahini recipes before launching SoCo two years ago. Additionally, the founders donate 1% of proceeds to MEET (Middle East Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow), a non-profit that connects young Israeli and Palestinian students in business.

“We wanted to bring in the real tahini that we love that is stone ground that is slow roasted,” says Harary. “That is just a consensus among Israelis and Palestinians. And we always joke that if there's one thing that [Israelis and Palestinians] agree on, it’s that the best tahini comes from a Palestinian city called Nablus.”

Tahini Pesto on Cauliflower.Sela and his family have been making tahini for five generations, and they still use their traditional, artisanal method of slow roasting and stone grinding the seeds. “He really pays attention to every detail about the seeds that come into the factory,” Harary says. “Some of the seeds that come in the factory doors will never make their way into the jars because he takes every batch and sends away whatever is not up to his standard.”

When SoCo first started selling the tahini around Northeast Ohio, one of the first people to adopt the three varieties was Doug Katz, owner of Zhug in Cleveland Heights and Amba in Ohio City.

Katz says the Zhug staff tasted about 14 different kinds of tahini before opening Zhug in November 2019—searching for the best tasting tahini for the Israeli flavors of the restaurant.

“In the process of opening Zhug we had researched tahini and we knew it was a big part of what we were going to do—we have it on the menu with our pickles, in our hummus, and it was a part of some other recipes as well,” he recalls. “We were tasting tahini and we just felt like most of them had this bitterness that was really not great. We ended up with about 12 different jars of tahini and did just a tasting of all of them and picked one that we really thought was the best.”

Katz says they were picking up two 40-pound buckets of tahini each week when Harary walked into Zhug and pitched SoCo to Katz.

After tasting so many tahinis before opening Zhug, Katz told Harary he wasn’t interested. But Harary left samples, and Katz tried SoCo.

“I tasted it and actually was better than the one we were using,” Katz recalls. “I called her back and I said, ‘we'd love to use it. And I can't believe it but it's much better.’ Then we started working with it and I started to love it. Now, out of seven days a week I think at least six, if not seven, I'm eating tahini because I'm so I'm so addicted to it.”

 On top of developing a premium tahini, Harary says SoCo’s three varieties prove that tahini is also quite versatile.

“We are trying to bring out the message that tahini is not just a hummus ingredient,” she says. “The more tahini you put in hummus, and the better tahini you put in hummus, you get better hummus. But it can also be a salad dressing. It can be an ice cream topping. It can be your peanut butter and jelly solution if you are trying to not eat nuts, or you just want to have better nutrition in your sandwich. It can be a pasta sauce. It can be so many different things.”

Additionally, Harary points out that tahini works with most diets. “It is dairy-free and it's nut-free; it's keto-friendly, it's paleo-friendly. The tahini and dates, our fans say it's the healthy version for peanut butter and jelly and we have people eating out the jar with by the spoonful because they like it so much. So, they'll put it on slices of apple or put it on their sandwich and add slices of banana, or even top their ice cream.”

Harary and Katz have been working together to develop recipes with the three tahini varieties—ranging from traditional hummus or white bean tahini festive dip with the pesto hummus, to vegan tahini maple infused donuts or smoothies.

Katz personally enjoys mixing the Tahini & Dates with apple juice for a sweeter snack. “I just mix that tahini with apple juice and whenever I feel like eating something unhealthy, I just go to that bowl [of tahini and juice] and it’s super satisfying,” he says.

SoCo Tahini is available nationwide and online, or can be bought locally at Heinen’s stores, Murray Hill Market, or Gingham Market in Lakewood, among other places.

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.