Sesame seeds come in yellow, brown, white, and black varieties (Sesamum indicum), all of which score high in terms of the healthy nutrients they contain. Enrich your dishes with whole, dried sesame seeds, sprouted sesame seeds, sesame paste, sesame flour, or sesame oil, all of which will add a savory, nutty flavor to your dishes.
What is sesame? We all know sesame seed rolls and sesame burger buns, but sesame seeds have uses in cooking that go well beyond baked goods.
We often distinguish between hulled and unhulled (whole) raw sesame seeds. Whole sesame seeds are simply unhulled, raw seeds that have been dried. Unhulled sesame seeds are the more nutritious variety and have a more intense, tangy, nutty taste. Sesame seeds can be sprinkled raw over salads, are an important ingredient in sushi, and taste good in breakfast cereals like Erb Muesli. In addition to the more common white, yellow, and brown seeds, there is a black variety of sesame. However, there is hardly any difference between the varieties in terms of taste.
Sesame seeds are particularly tasty when roasted and are therefore a component of various spice mixes such as gomashio in Japan (goma: Japanese for sesame), and Chinese and Middle Eastern spice mixes. In Africa, roasted sesame seeds are freshly crushed and sprinkled over food. What can tahini be used for? The sesame paste tahini is used to make hummus in Middle Eastern cuisine. Sesame seeds are also very popular in making sweets, such as for the Eastern European confection halva. In the US, sesame seeds are used to make waffles (benne) and in Mexico, they are an ingredient of the sauce mole poblano.
Cold-pressed sesame oil has a nutty taste and goes well with salads, and is often a key ingredient in Asian recipes. Toasted sesame oil is strong and amber colored, and can be used to add flavor to your cooking.
First, sauté 300 g whole sesame seeds in a pan, taking care not to burn them. Then puree the cooled sesame seeds with 50 mL sesame oil and a pinch of salt, until it forms a smooth, homogenous paste. The mixture can be kept refrigerated in an airtight container for a few weeks.
Puree 350 g tahini with 200 g dates until a smooth mixture forms. Mix with the pulp from a vanilla bean pod, some saffron, and a dash of rose water. Then spread on a baking tray lined with baking paper and refrigerate overnight. Garnish with sesame seeds and cut into cubes before eating.
Puree 500 g cooked chickpeas with 3 cloves garlic and the juice of a lemon. If necessary, add a little water. Add 4 tablespoons tahini and season with olive oil, salt, and cumin to taste. You can add extra flavor to the hummus with chopped parsley or fresh cilantro.
Ordinary and organic sesame seeds are available at most major supermarkets such as Walmart, Whole Foods Markets, Kroger, and Safeway (United States); Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Aldi, Lidl, and Holland & Barret (Great Britain); Metro, Extra Foods, and Goodness Me (Canada); Coles, Woolworths, and Harris Farm (Australia). For whole, roasted, and multicolored sesame seeds, as well as tahini, sesame flour, and sesame oil, it is advisable that you look in organic grocery stores, health food shops, and other specialty stores. Sesame oil is often sold in Asian supermarkets. Organic raw tahini can be found online.
Sesame is in season year-round, as it is grown in many countries throughout the world.
Original wild varieties of sesame (Sesamum malabaricum or S. mulayanum) can be found in South Asia, and feral sesame plants can be found throughout most all subtropical and tropical regions.
Sesame is an annual, herbaceous plant that grows to be 10 to 120 cm tall, and on rare occasions up to 180 cm. The stems can be branched or unbranched. They are square and grooved, with a texture ranging from glabrous to finely haired, and often covered with glands. Sesame leaves are also finely haired with glands, and have an opposite leaf arrangement. The sesame plant has bell-shaped flowers that are white, pink, or pink with dark markings. Sesame seeds grow in capsules that are rectangular, finely-haired with glands. The seeds ripen in the capsule to be 2.5 to 3 mm long and 1.5 mm wide, and tend to be black, brown, or white.1
Wild sesame seeds contain more chlorophyll than cultivated seeds and ripen unevenly in the seed capsule. This is because the basal part of the stem opens while the upper part is still flowering. Harvest is therefore carried out by hand before full ripeness. The plants are then hung out to dry. After this, the seeds can be shaken out of their capsules.2
Sesame seeds have a shelf life of several months. They should be stored in a cool, dark place.
Cold-pressed sesame oil contains phenolic antioxidants that protect it from spoilage.2 Once the oil is open, you should check whether it smells rancid or tastes bitter — if it does then stop using it.
Sesame sprouts should only be eaten fresh as they quickly develop a bitter taste.
Sesame contains about 50 % oil, with white seeds having the highest oil content (52–59 %). The oil content of sesame seeds varies between seed colors as the seed shells of white, brown, and black varieties differ in thickness. The brown seeds contain about 50 % oil and the black seeds 43–51 % oil. The oleic acids in sesame are palmitic acid (5.7 g/100 g), stearic acid (1.6 g/100 g), arachidonic acid (0.25 g/100 g), oleic acid (19.9 g/100 g), linoleic acid (18.7 g/100 g), and linolenic acid (0.67 g/100 g).2
What is important here is the healthy ratio of linoleic acids (omega-6 fatty acids) to alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3 fatty acids). Sesame seeds have a poor ratio of 57:1, where the healthy average daily ratio should not exceed 5:1. In order to improve this ratio, it is recommended that you combine sesame with omega-rich seeds such as flaxseed or chia seeds. For example, you can try Erb Muesli, which is rich in omega-3. In the list of ingredients, select "sort by nutritional value" to filter healthy ingredients and find those that will help you to balance your nutrient ratios.
Studies show that the composition and content of fatty acids remain almost constant at temperatures of up to 220 °C. At roasting temperatures of above 240 °C, however, the content of unsaturated oleic acids such as linoleic acid and oleic acid significantly decreases.2
Sesame seeds contain valuable substances that accompany fat such as vitamin E (heat-stable tocopherols, 490–680 mg/kg oil), 0.55 % sesamin, and 0.5 % sesamolin. Sesamol and sesamolin largely prevent the oxidization of sesame seeds and sesame oil, although the unsaturated fatty acids oleic acid (18’) and linoleic acid (18’’) are very sensitive to atmospheric oxygen. Vitamin E, which occurs predominantly in the form of gamma-Tocopherol, considerably improves the oxidation stability of sesame seeds and sesame oil.2
Sesame seeds contain more than 35 % protein and a rather unusual amino acid composition for an oilseed. While they are lacking substantial quantities of essential amino acids such as lysine and leucine, sesame seeds are rich in sulfurous amino acids (e.g., methionine). They furthermore contain sufficient quantities of tryptophan (0.39 g, or 156 % of the recommended daily intake).2,3 In order to improve the profile of the essential amino acids, it is recommended that sesame seeds be eaten alongside pseudograins such as amaranth or quinoa.
Although iron absorption is more difficult from plant sources, sesame is considered a good source of iron (15 mg/100 g, or 104 % of the recommended daily intake). The bioavailability of iron can be improved by combining your consumption of iron-rich plants with fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C.
Other nutrients that can be found in high quantities in sesame seeds (more than 100 % of the recommended daily intake per 100 g) are copper (408 %), manganese (123 %), and calcium (122 %). Sesame seeds also contain notable quantities of selenium (34 µg / 100 g or 63 % of the recommended daily intake) and magnesium (351 mg / 100 g or 94 % of the recommended daily intake). Barley, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, and wheat grown in the United States may contain even greater amounts of selenium. Detailed information on the nutritional value of sesame seeds can be found in the tables below.3
Sesame seeds contain beneficial nutrients and are in some ways as healthy as flaxseed and chia seeds, which are referred to as superfoods. The magical phrase “open sesame” in the folk tale collection “One Thousand and One Nights” is arguably a symbol of sesame’s nutritional richness.
Are sesame seeds good for you? Phytosterol compounds contained in sesame seeds can reduce the absorption and new formation of cholesterol. They also improve HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels, which are responsible for transporting cholesterol back to the liver. High HDL levels can protect you from vascular deposits and prevent heart attacks and strokes.4
The phenolic and antioxidative compounds in sesame seeds can thus protect cells from oxidative damage and may particularly prevent arteriosclerosis and carcinogenicity resulting from the oxidation of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol.2
The ideal calcium-magnesium ratio is between 2:1 and 3:1, a ratio that can be found in sesame seeds. One reason for the importance of this ratio is that the same hormone system regulates both minerals. Another reason is that the loss of these two minerals through sweating occurs at a ratio of about 2:1. The reabsorption of urine fluid in the kidneys is furthermore interlinked: the higher the magnesium intake, the lower the calcium intake, and vice versa.5
Sesame seeds strengthen your bones, teeth, liver, and kidneys; can hydrate dry tissue; and lowers blood sugar.6
Sesame seeds are gluten-free and are therefore a suitable food for people with celiac disease (celiac sprue, gluten-sensitive enteropathy). Check for the gluten-free symbol, which may only appear on licensed products, before buying sesame products.
Sesame is classified as a major allergen that is subject to allergen labeling requirements. Processed foods containing large quantities as well as traces of sesame seeds must be labeled.1
Oil extracted from ripe sesame seeds can be used as a remedy. This oil is used pharmaceutically in ointments, to remove scabs and crusts, and as a soothing oil for dry skin. In injection solutions, sesame oil serves as a solvent for fat-soluble drugs.1
Sesame can help with premature hair loss and graying, during periods of recovery, with chronic constipation, tooth decay, osteoporosis, joint stiffness, and dry cough. Sesame seeds can be consumed orally for symptoms such as tinnitus, visual impairment, dizziness, and headaches associated with a weak liver and kidneys. Sesame leaves can furthermore be eaten to treat cases of cholera in children, diarrhea, dysentery, catarrh, and bladder infections, while sesame oil can be consumed orally to help with constipation. Sesame seed infusions can be externally applied to help treat piles (hemorrhoids). Sesame oil and limewater mixtures are furthermore helpful for burns, boils, and ulcers.6
To date, black sesame (Sasamum indicum nigrum) has been used as a cure exclusively in alternative medicine, as well as in East Asian medicine, where it is considered to be a panacea.7
Where does sesame come from? Cultivated sesame (Sesamum indicum) originates from wild plants in South Asia (Malabar Coast, Northwestern India, Pakistani Punjab). Sesame has been found in archeological layers from the third millennium BCE in these regions, which were part of the Indus Valley Civilization. Findings show that sesame was already known in Mesopotamia before 2,000 BC. There are speculations that sesame was known and used very early on in Africa, however according to Wikipedia, this cannot be confirmed. It is probable that sesame could be found in Egypt during the Greek period from the fourth to the first century BCE. The earliest traces of sesame in southern Africa data back to the fourth and sixth century CE. Today, sesame is cultivated in tropical and subtropical regions all over the world.1
Sesame needs a warm and sunny location with moderate humidity to thrive. Sesame grows up to be tall and thin; seeds should be planted 30 to 50 cm apart from each other. In slightly cooler regions with humid summers, you may be more successful growing sesame in pots or containers as the plant needs constant temperatures of 15 to 20 degrees Celsius to thrive. In cooler regions, try planting sesame on walls, in corners, greenhouses, sunrooms, or other places where heat accumulates in summer.8
It is easy to grow organic sesame plants as they don’t require fertilizer or too much in the way of special soils. In small-scale, extensive farming, such as in Africa, cultivation and harvesting is still done by hand. Special varieties of sesame are planted with seed capsules that only open by intensive shaking after harvesting and drying.9
The main countries where sesame is grown are China, India, Myanmar (Burma), Sudan, Ethiopia, and Nigeria. Recently, Burkina Faso, Paraguay, and Bolivia have also begun cultivating sesame. Most sesame seeds used in Europe come from Ethiopia, India, Burkina Faso, and Sudan.10
In individual areas of cultivation, the harvest yield varies greatly and averages 350–500 kg/ha per year. The yield is lower than that of other oilseeds, which explains the high retail price of sesame seeds.2
Wild bees and honey were shown to be important for a high yield of sesame seeds in the framework of a research project in West Africa by the University of Rostock. Through bee pollination, farmers can increase their yields by up to 60 %.11 Sesame plants are assumed to contain considerable amounts of nectar and pollen, and are therefore a good pasture for bees.
Sesame (Sesamum indicum) is a widespread, cultivated plant in the sesame family (Pedaliaceae). It is likely one of the oldest oil plants in the world.1
Black sesame (Sesamum indicum nigrum) used to be considered its own species of sesame, but today it is simply considered a colored variety of sesame (Sesamum indicum).
Alternative names for sesame include gingelly, benne, and sesamol.
Insecticides1, lubricants, soaps.6