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American Sesame Growers Association


Picture of Sesame seeds, sesame oil, and tahini, a butter paste made from sesame

Recipes using Sesame
Nutrition Information on Sesame

Sesame Markets

Asia is the largest consumer of sesame. In most of Asia the primary use of sesame is as a cooking oil. Most commercial sesame contains 48-52% oil. The oil is very stable oil is known as the King of the vegetables oils in the east and Queen of the vegetable oils in the west. Sesame contains natural oil-soluble and water-soluble antioxidants: sesamin, sesamolin, sesaminol, and sesaminol glucosides. In heating additional lignans are formed: sesamol.

Foods fried in sesame oil have longer shelf-life. In Japan the seed is toasted prior to oil extraction resulting in a toasted oil that is extremely stable and provides flavor to the foods. In India the oil is a bit bitter for easy identification to avoid adulteration with cheaper oils. The stability of sesame is further illustrated by the fact that researchers trying to induce mutations have had to use much higher levels of mutagens than most crops.

As with other vegetable oils, sesame oil has been used to make soap and margarine, but the high cost of the sesame oil precludes these uses presently. In the past sesame oil was used in lanterns. The oil is used in many intra-muscular injections as a carrier to spread the medicine faster. Many insecticides use sesame oil as a synergist for the active agent.

In Asia the seed is also used as whole seed. The Japanese eat with their eyes before they taste the food. Sesame is used as a garnish with black sesame decorating light foods such as fish and light sesame decorating dark foods. In Japan sesame sits on most tables and is used as a flavoring much as salt and pepper are used in the West. The sesame is ground on to the food right at the table. In Japan sesame is also fried until it pops giving a unique flavor. In Korea, whole seed is added to many sauces used in daily meals.

In the Middle East the sesame is ground into a paste known as tahini. In Saudi Arabia in the desert the tahini is very stable and is a staple in the diet of the Bedouins. They mix the tahini with ground chick pea kernels making hummus. The tahini is also eaten by itself as an energy food. In places the sesame paste is mixed with peanut butter to enhance the flavor and the extend the shelf-life.

In the Middle East sesame is made into a sweet known as halva, which is considered as a high energy food. Similarly, sesame is used in many sweets throughout Asia. The use of sesame bars with sesame and honey is spreading in the West where a bar in British Columbia was made in Poland from sesame seed imported from India.

In the western world sesame is primarily used as a confectionary. The seed is dehulled and placed on top of buns and breads. Increasingly, the seeds are incorporated into crackers, food products and items such as sesame sticks. The use of hummus is spreading into most deli counters in grocery stores. Health food stores sell sesame in bulk.

Even though the price of oil is 3 times higher than most oils, there is an increasing amount of oil consumed: there is some crushing in the US. Some of the oil is used in cooking and is commonly used in Chinese and Japanese restaurants in the US. Sesame oil is further refined and used extensively in cosmetics. In looking at labels, particularly on facial crèmes, sesame oil is one of the ingredients. In India the effects on the human skin have been long known and many bathe with sesame oil regularly. Increasingly processors are extracting minor components from sesame oil. Sesamin can be bought from commercial sources. One Japanese company puts the sesamin in pills and markets them for reducing hangovers after drinking alcohol.

The potential use of the sesame plant as a source of protein was studied by Yermanos. There is potential to do one cutting for plant protein and then harvest the crop for seed. However, work still needs to be done on the palatability of the fresh material. In Venezuela, sugar had to be added to dry sesame stalks for cattle to feed on it. In Venezuela, horses have been turned into sesame fields to eat the weeds and leave the sesame plants; similar results in the US have occurred with cattle and sheep. Goats will eat the plants.

In India sesame is used in religious ceremonies and is used in festivals. In the Sandarn Koil Tapasu Festival, sesame seeds are cooked very slowly in sugar creating a sugar coating around the individual seed. The treat is then given to friends and relatives to bring luck in the next year. The original wedding cakes used in the West come from sesame cakes served at weddings in ancient Greece. In China sesame is sprinkled over rice and red beans and served at the exchange of wedding presents. The slaves in the US brought sesame from Africa and planted it at their doors to bring luck and ward off evil spirits.

Sesame is used in flower gardens because they provide flowers over a 30-40 day period. Gardeners use sesame as a companionate plant because they inhibit root knot nematodes. Decorators use sesame stems in dry arrangements.

In the US sesame is used to attract and feed game birds. In Ohio and Oklahoma farmers plant sesame on ditch banks and along wooded creeks to sustain quail and pheasants. In South Carolina farmers still use the name of beniseed and plant sesame for dove hunting. In the 1950s the cultivar 'Paloma' (Spanish for dove) was specifically developed by the USDA for President Eisenhower's hunting trips. In experimental nurseries doves linger through the fall and early winter as hawks and falcons prey on them. In late January 2003, hundreds of doves were still in Oklahoma even though the temperatures were below freezing. The doves can become so fat and plentiful that hundreds of them on a telephone line above a sesame field broke the line. The nurseries have provided cover for rabbits, deer, badgers, wild hogs, armadillos, rattlesnakes, and occasionally a bobcat. The deer will only eat the leaves if desperate during a drought, but they love to pick the capsules from the stem and rub their antlers on selected lines.