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Dimo Karakehayov: The tradition of tahini-making in Bulgaria passed down through generations

Dimo Karakehayov from the town of Ivaylovgrad (southern Bulgaria) is а third-generation tahini maker The 33-year-old entrepreneur talks to Radio Bulgaria about why Ivaylovgrad is the only region in the country where sesame seeds are grown:

“Ivaylovgrad is one of the southernmost points of Bulgaria and the climate here is very warm. The sesame that we grow is a heat-loving plant and appreciates the warm Mediterranean climate. It cannot thrive in the middle and northern regions of the country.”

There used to be several tahini-making enterprises in the Ivaylovgrad municipality, Dimo Karakehayov explains further:

“Before 1989, my grandfather worked in sucha tahini-making shop for 14 years. It is where he learned this craft. When private property first became possible after 1989, he came up with this idea and together with my father opened our tahini making shop using an authentic technology and the same stones, which are more than 100 years old. In the past, the stones used to be rotated by animals – mules and cutters. They were spinning in a circle and got the mill moving, while today we use electricity.”

Dimo Karakehayov’s family grows 500 decares of sesame for tahini making, while the rest is bought from local producers:

“Sesame is a shrub, 80 centimetres to 1 metre in height. It is sown in late May or early June as moisture and warmth are the most important preconditions, so it can sprout properly”, explains Dimo and adds, “The smaller fields are sown by hand, while the larger ones – with a seeder. We do not treat our fields with fertilizers or pesticides and our production is eco-friendly. Some of our plots are bio-certified. Sesame is harvested in September-October. Harvesting is quite time-consuming.The variety that we grow has a bright yellow color. Harvesting is done in teams and the sesame is plucked by hand, then we make bundles, arrange them upright and leave them in the sun to dry. The pods turn yellow, crack open and you can see the seeds lined in a row. Each bundle is shaken off and winnowed with an ancient sifter so that the leaves and larger particles can be filtered. The sesame is then filled in sacks and transported here in our shop.”

How did sesame start to be grown in this region?

“The tahini we produce is made from a variety of sesame that has been preserved for decades because each tahini maker puts aside some seeds for next year. My ancestors came fromKocapınar in Asia Minor, which is in the Bandırma region in Turkey, and they brought the sesame seeds with them. Thanks to our great-grandfathers, the seeds have been preserved for more than 100 years now. The bright yellow sesame is grown only in our region contrary to the imported one, which is white in colour.”

The production of sesame tahini is done in three steps. The first step is to wash the seeds in clean salted water. The second step is to dry them in a huge oven. According to the young entrepreneur, this is the most important part of the whole production process or as they say “the trick of the trade”.

Drying takes about three and a half hours, while the roasting itself – only a few minutes. The third step is grinding the seeds in the mill with the help of the huge stones. The variety that is grown in the Ivaylovgrad region is very rich in oil and when it is ground, even without adding any oil, it turns into a liquid paste, which flows down the chute. This is in fact the tahini which is filled in jars and is ready for consumption.

“It is very important to eat sesame tahini because it has many health benefits”, sums up Dimo. “It doesn’t contain any additives or preservatives.The whole-grain tahini that we produce is very good for the digestive system.”

The product is sold in Bulgaria and neighbouring Greece and Turkey.

English version Milena Kazakova

Photos: private library

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