American Sesame Growers Association
Posted on Wed, Apr. 05, 2006
THE CULINARY WORLD'S MAGIC SEED Little black seed is newest trend in culinary closet
By BETTY HALLOCK
Los Angeles Times
A little black seed is taking the
pastry world by storm.
Black sesame seeds -- earthy and
nutty, distinctively bitter, with a smoky, peppery flavor -- are appearing in
tuiles and ''macarons,'' ice creams and eclairs, cakes and panna cottas and
And this is no mere trendy garnish.
''It's a staple,'' says Johnny Iuzzini,
pastry chef at Jean Georges in New York. ''It isn't overly sweet or cloying
so it helps maintain the integrity of other ingredients in a dessert.''
Iuzzini uses black sesame seeds in
the ganache for his chocolates. Other chefs are using them in ice cream and
crème brûlée, in cream puffs and atop white sesame blancmange,
a cooked pudding.
At El Bulli, north of Barcelona,
Spain, pastry chef Albert Adria has fallen for the seeds. He has fashioned a
spiral swirl of black sesame crunch, dehydrated raspberries and lime gelatin,
with a quenelle of coconut ice cream. Another dessert, ''gran creu negra,''
an outsize cross of smeared black sesame paste with chocolate-lime sorbet and
chocolate cake, is Adria's homage to abstract-expressionist Catalan painter
At all-dessert restaurant Espai Sucre
in Barcelona, chef Jordi Butron is known for a lapsang souchong tea cream with
chocolate cake, black sesame tuile and yogurt.
Even in Paris, black sesame seeds
are making a showing. At Patisserie Sadaharu Aoki, the black sesame macarons
and black sesame eclairs are among the popular pastries, says spokeswoman Sandra
They've long been a traditional ingredient
in Asian sweets. So what is it about the little seeds that's now captivating
''It reminds me of toasted sunflower seeds that I ate in my childhood that in Spain are colloquially called 'pipas,''' says Adria, brother and partner of chef Ferran Adria.
Black sesame seeds may not be used
as frequently as vanilla or cinnamon, but ''it's a flavor that I keep coming
back to,'' says Ron Mendoza, pastry chef at Sona in West Hollywood, who has
black sesame ice cream and black sesame brittle on the menu.
Mendoza is experimenting with black
sesame seeds in his Pacojet, a high-tech machine for making ice cream, sauces
and purées. He says ''with summer coming up,'' a black sesame caramel
sauce might be ''paired with fruits like peaches and nectarines.''
As pastry chefs rethink dessert,
a transition from sweet toward salty, sour, spicy and bitter is accelerating.
Chefs are using vinegar, chiles, herbs, spices, ''fleur de sel'' and coarse
black pepper in desserts.
At wd-50 in New York, pastry chef
Sam Mason makes a black sesame ice cream with a pink grapefruit gelee, tarragon
meringue and warm grapefruit confit.
Josh DeChellis, chef at Sumile and
Jovia in New York, says black sesame when sweetened is ''vaguely reminiscent
of the flavor profile of bittersweet chocolate.''
Inspired by the flavor, he came up
with ''black sesame dice,'' Japanese black sesame paste whisked into a sugar
solution with lemon juice and gelatin. When set, it is cut into cubes, piled
on a plate and served with raspberries or cherries. ''I will never, ever, ever
take it off the menu,'' he says.
In Los Angeles, for black sesame
ice cream, sushi chef Ken Namba uses black sesame paste and black sesame seeds
that he toasts, then grinds in a food processor as well as in a mortar and pestle,
''for extra aroma. When you eat it, the smell of sesame should be strong.''
American chefs have been using black
sesame since the mid-1980s in sauces and to encrust fillets of meat and fish.
Chef Thomas Keller, of the French Laundry in Yountville, and Per Se in New York, has been incorporating black sesame into his menus since 1984. One of his signature dishes is a black sesame ''cornet'' of salmon tartare with crème fraîche. Keller has had a dessert of mango sorbet, yuzu-scented genoise, sesame nougatine and black sesame coulis on his menus.
Black sesame seeds tend to be more
bitter and richer than their white counterparts. When roasted, as they often
are, the bitter quality of black sesame is intensified. Pastry chefs are enthusiastic
not only about their flavor but also their color. Mason of wd-50 infuses his
ice cream with a superfine black sesame powder imported from Japan.
''It's fine like dust and it turns
the ice cream a mad gray color,'' he says. ''I love the battleship gray. It's
gorgeous. It's super sexy.''
The black sesame urge can be traced to Asia, where it is a common flavor in traditional Chinese and Japanese sweets. Chinese cuisine offers black sesame desserts, especially in dim sum. Black sesame seeds are sometimes used in Japanese sweets known as ''wagashi.'' Middle Eastern and Central Asian sweets known as ''halvah'' are made with sesame seeds, too, but they are usually white. Aesthetically, the inspiration seems to be coming from the Far East.
El Bulli's Adria says he began incorporating
black sesame into his desserts in 2004 after a trip to Japan, which is in the
throes of a ''sesame boom,'' according to industry insiders. Japan is the largest
single importer of sesame seeds in the world.
There, traditional uses include ''goma
dofu,'' a sesame tofu, and wagashi. A new focus on the health benefits -- some
proven, some not -- of sesame seeds and ''black foods'' (black soybeans, black
rice, Chinese black tea) have helped popularize black sesame.
Even the doughnut has been to Japan and back. When New York's popular Doughnut Plant opened branches in Tokyo, black sesame, along with ''yuzu'' and ''shiso,'' were premier flavors. Owner Mark Isreal brought the black sesame flavor back to his original store in New York.
''I thought people would be freaked
out by a black doughnut,'' he says, ''but it sold.''
In the U.S., white sesame seeds are
more familiar than the black. Called ''benne,'' sesame seeds were brought from
Africa to the U.S. in the 17th century. Most of the sesame seeds produced in
and imported to the U.S. are used for hamburger buns, bagels, bread and crackers.
Very little has been used for confections or sweets, although the benne wafer,
a cookie made with toasted white sesame seeds, brown sugar and pecans, is a
Low Country specialty.
Sesame seeds are cultivated on a
modest scale in the U.S. Other than what's grown in research nurseries, none
of it is black, according to Nathan Smith, consultant to Paris, Texas-based
sesame seed developer Sesaco Corp. Black sesame seeds are imported mostly from
''We're pretty far behind in terms
of what sesame can be... but we've seen the market for sesame grow significantly,''
Smith says, and the cultivation of black sesame seeds is being considered as
At Mutual Trading Co. in Los Angeles,
a wholesale purveyor to restaurants and Asian markets, sales of black sesame
seeds doubled in 2005 from 2004, according to assistant vice president Atsuko
Kanai. Sesame seeds are ''up and coming,'' she says.
The newest addition to the dessert
menu at Beacon in Culver City includes a black sesame crème brûlée.
Pastry chef Daniel Espindola says he was inspired by a Chinese sweet black sesame
soup, called ''zhi ma wu.'' The crème brûlée is thick and
creamy and dark.
A black sesame cream puff is a best-seller
at Keiko Nojima's 10-month-old Patisserie Chantilly in Lomita, in the South
Bay of Los Angeles. Nojima didn't offer that flavor every day until customers
demanded it. She was inspired by pastries in Tokyo, where she served an apprenticeship
and where patisserie flavored with black sesame is common. Nojima also makes
black sesame tuiles and a white sesame blancmange with black sesame seeds and
''kinako'' sauce, made with soy flour.
Black sesame seeds may have already
found their way into your favorite dessert.
''I believe that in the near future
their use will become established,'' says El Bulli's Adria. ''They'll be a normal,
Black sesame crème puffs
1/3 cup milk
1 T. sugar
6 T. butter
1 cup flour
4 eggs, divided
1 tsp. black sesame seeds
1 tsp. white sesame seeds
Steps: Bring milk, 2/3 cup water
and sugar to a boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add butter and allow
to melt. Remove from heat. Add flour all at once and stir until mixture is completely
blended and forms a ball. Return saucepan to the heat and cook, stirring until
the mixture does not separate and the pan has a thin film on the bottom, about
Remove from the heat and beat in 3 eggs, one at a time, until blended.
To make the puffs, spoon or pipe
about ¼ cup of choux for each puff onto two greased baking sheets. Beat
the remaining egg and brush it over the puffs. Combine black and white sesame
seeds and sprinkle over top of each puff.
Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes until the puffs are doubled in size and golden brown. Remove from oven and cool on a rack. Make a small slit on the side of each puff to allow steam to escape.