Chinese sesame paste is a popular condiment used in noodles, salad, hot-pot dipping sauce, etc. It can be substituted in three ways.
Made from toasted sesame seed, Chinese sesame paste (芝麻酱) is a thick, brown paste, with a strong, distinctive nutty aroma. It’s widely used in Chinese cuisine, for noodles, salad, hot-pot dipping sauce, steamed twisted buns or simply as a spread like peanut butter. Normally it’s sold in glass jars, with a layer of oil on top to preserve its freshness.
In my recipes, I always use pure Chinese sesame paste which has a very thick consistency (on the left of the photo above). You always need to thin it with the same amount of water before adding to dishes (or sauce). Use the back of a spoon to swirl gently. It takes a bit of time to completely combine the paste and the water. It should be smooth and runny in the end (on the right of the photo above).
Do not confuse Chinese sesame paste with Tahini (main component of hummus), a paste which is also made from sesame seeds. The former is made from toasted whole sesame seeds, whereas the latter is made with toasted ground hulled sesame seeds. Thus, they have different tastes and texture.
You can find Chinese sesame paste in most Chinese or general Asian shops. If you are unable to find it in your local store, I have three substitute ideas for you.
Option 1: Add 1/4 part sesame oil to 1 part Tahini, then mix well.
Option 2: Grind 1 parts toasted sesame seeds in a mortar (or in a grinder), add 1/4 part sesame oil and 1 part peanut butter. Mix until well combined. (As shown in photos above)
Option 3: Use finely ground toasted sesame seeds.
Obviously, substitutes are unlikely to provide exactly the same flavour and texture. But I find those three options are great for certain dishes. For example, in Chinese-style spaghetti salad, you can use either option No. 1 or No. 2. For Dan Dan noodles, option No. 3 is feasible.
It’s recommended to store opened Chinese sesame paste in the fridge and consume within 3 months.