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American Sesame Growers Association


Sesame In The United States

Letters from Thomas Jefferson document his trials with sesame between 1808 and 1824. Jefferson stated that sesame "…is among the most valuable acquisitions our country has ever made…. I do not believe before that there exists so perfect a substitute for olive oil." (1)

Sesame did not become a viable crop in the United States, however, until the middle of the last century when it was produced in West Texas. Production was highly labor intensive and, as labor costs rose, the sesame crop disappeared.

Except for what you see described in this website and related websites, sesame production throughout the world today is still highly labor intensive and, therefore, restricted to developing countries.

The sesame plant demands that this be so. As the plant matures in the field, the capsules holding the seeds dry, open and the seeds fall to the ground. Losses can be 30% or as high as 100% in bad weather. Varieties that break open like this are known as dehiscent.

In order to grow these dehiscent sesame varieties, the plant must be cut by hand when it is still green and placed in shocks to dry. When dry, the seed is shaken from the capsules, as shown in the picture below. Swathing is sometimes used as are basic hand threshers, but the process still requires considerable labor.

However, through years of traditional plant breeding, sesame varieties in the United States have been developed with the characteristic that, now, as the plants dry in the field, the capsules continue to hold the seeds and the seeds are protected from loss. These varieties are known as non-dehiscent sesame.

As shown in the picture below at the left, as the plant begins to dry the capsules of the dehiscent varieties open, exposing the seed to loss. Conversely, as the non-dehiscent varieties dry, the capsule remains sufficiently but not totally closed, as shown in the picture below at the right. There is enough of an opening to release moisture and to ensure that the combine can open the capsule and release the seed as it is harvested.

Dehiscent Sesame

Non-Dehiscent Sesame

With these new varieties, sesame has again become a valuable crop grown in the United States. Non-dehiscent varieties allow the plant to dry standing in the field like sorghum or wheat or corn or soybeans. It can be harvested with standard combines, as shown below, and cleaned and stored with standard grain handling equipment.

Sesame can now be a major alternative field crop for the American farmer.

Non-dehiscent is defined as "adapted for mechanical harvesting with minimal loss."

(1) Betts, E.M. 1999, Thomas Jefferson's garden book (1766-1824) Thomas Jefferson Memorial Floundation, Inc., Chalottesville, VA.