Sesame oil is an edible vegetable oil derived from sesame seeds. Besides being used as a cooking oil, it is used as a flavor enhancer in many cuisines, having a distinctive nutty aroma and taste. The oil is one of the earliest-known crop-based oils. Worldwide mass modern production is limited due to the inefficient manual harvesting process required to extract the oil.
One type of sesame oil, a pale yellow liquid with a pleasant grain-like odor and somewhat nutty taste, is used as frying oil. A second type of oil, amber-colored and aromatic, is made from pressed and toasted sesame seeds and is used as a flavoring agent in the final stages of cooking.
Despite sesame oil's high proportion (41%) of polyunsaturated (omega-6) fatty acids, it is least prone, among cooking oils with high smoke points, to turn rancid when kept in the open. This is due to the natural antioxidants, such as sesamol, present in the oil.
Light sesame oil has a high smoke point and is suitable for deep-frying, while dark sesame oil (from roasted sesame seeds) has a slightly lower smoke point and is unsuitable for deep-frying. Instead it can be used for the stir frying of meats or vegetables, sautéing, or for the making of an omelette.
Sesame oil is most popular in Asia, especially in Korea, China, and the South Indian states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu, where its widespread use is similar to that of olive oil in the Mediterranean.
East Asian cuisines often use roasted sesame oil for seasoning.
The Chinese use sesame oil in the preparation of meals.
In Japan, rāyu is a paste made of chili-sesame oil seasoning and used as a spicy topping on various foods, or mixed with vinegar and soy sauce and used as a dip.
In South India, before the advent of modern refined oils produced on a large scale, sesame oil was used traditionally for curries and gravies. It continues to be used, particularly in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, mixed with foods that are hot and spicy as it neutralizes the heat. It is often mixed in with a special spice powder that accompanies idli and dosa as well as rice mixed with spice powders (such as paruppu podi).
In Ayurvedic medicine, sesame oil (til tél) is used for massaging as it is believed to rid the body of heat due to its viscous nature upon rubbing.
In industry, sesame oil may be used as
a solvent in injected drugs or intravenous drip solutions,
a cosmetics carrier oil,
coating stored grains to prevent weevil attacks. The oil also has synergy with some insecticides.
Low-grade oil is used locally in soaps, paints, lubricants, and illuminants.