Sesame is an ancient spice, one of the first recorded plants used for its seeds. It has been used for thousands of years and is still an oil seed of worldwide significance. Early Assyrians believed their gods drank sesame wine as a prelude to creating the world. A drawing on an Egyptian tomb of 4,000 years ago depicts a baker adding sesame seeds to dough. Around the same time, the Chinese were burning sesame oil to make a soot for ink. Ancient Greek soldiers carried sesame seeds as energy boosting emergency rations and the Romans made a kind of hummus from sesame and cumin.
Sesame has been considered a symbol of good luck and signifies immortality to Brahmins. Sesame oil is a non-drying oil, highly stable rarely turning rancid in hot climates. It is very rich in protein, a polyunsaturated fat used in margarine production and cooking oils. Non-culinary uses include its use as an ingredient in soap, cosmetics, lubricants and medicines. In southern India it is used to anoint the body and hair.
The “Open Sesame” of Arabian Nights fame, probably derives from the sound the ripe seeds make when they burst from their pods, a popping noise that sounds like a lock spring opening.
Preparation and Storage
The whole seeds are enhanced by lightly toasting before use. They are ready when they start to jump. Store in airtight containers out of light. Tahini paste tends to settle into layers and requires stirring before use. It should be kept in a tightly sealed glass jar.
Sesame Seed Health Benefits
Sesame seeds are high in energy but contain many health benefiting nutrients, minerals, antioxidants and vitamins that are essential for wellness. The seeds are especially rich in mono-unsaturated fatty acid oleic acid, which comprise up to 50% fatty acids in them. Oleic acid helps to lower LDL or “bad cholesterol” and increase HDL or “good cholesterol” in the blood. Research suggests that Mediterranean diet which is rich in mono-unsaturated fats help to prevent coronary artery disease and stroke.
Sesame Seeds Nutrition
The seeds are also very good source of dietary proteins with fine quality amino acids that are essential for growth. They contain many health benefiting compounds such as sesamol (3, 4-methylene-dioxyphenol), sesaminol, furyl-methanthiol, guajacol (2-methoxyphenol), phenylethanthiol and furaneol, vinylguacol and decadienal. Sesamol and sesaminol are phenolic anti-oxidants. Together, these compounds help stave off harmful free radicals from the body.
Sesame is rich in quality vitamins and minerals. They are very good sources of B-complex vitamins such as niacin, folic acid, thiamin (vitamin B1), pyridoxine (vitamin B6), and riboflavin. The seeds are incredibly rich sources of many essential minerals. Calcium, iron, manganese, zinc, magnesium, selenium, and copper are especially concentrated in sesame seeds. The seeds and fresh leaves may be used as a poultice. The oil has wide medical and pharmaceutical application.
Bene Seeds, Beniseed, Benne, Gingelly, Gingili, Gingilli, Semsem, Simsim, Teel, Til
Spanish: ajonjoli, sesamo
Arabic: tahina, tahine, tahini
Chinese: chi mah, hak chi mah (black sesame)
Indian: gingelly (oil)
Japanese: goma, kuro goma (black sesame)
Malay: bene, bijan