Sesame

Stir Crazy for Sesame

Sesame seeds come from the sesame plant, also called benne, which is a flowering plant in the genus Sesamum. The sesame plant, native to sub-Saharan Africa, has been grown for thousands of years. As it is tolerant in drought-like conditions, the sesame plant is more frequently produced nowadays in areas throughout Asia, mainly India and Myanmar. The plant is widely cultivated for its edible seeds, which are grown in the fruit of the plant, which are long pods. As the fruit dries, this causes the pods to open up and reveal the sesame seeds. This allows for use of the seeds for flavoring purposes amongst several cuisines. 


Cooking with sesame

Whether used in Asian recipes, Mediterranean meals, Middle Eastern dishes, or Caribbean cuisine, sesame seeds are a simple ingredient that add a rich and nutty flavor. Sesame seeds are commonly added to buns, bagels, and even baked into crackers to enhance the food items. 


Aside from adding sesame seeds to dishes, flavors are also enhanced with sesame oil. Sesame oil is an edible vegetable oil extracted from ripe sesame seeds and is one of the earliest known oils created from crops. Sesame oil production is high in areas like Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Sesame oil has also been used for other applications besides cooking. This includes using sesame oil as a massage oil for healing in Ayurvedic medicine practices since it removes heat from the body. 


Tahini is another sesame-derived ingredient. Tahini is a condiment produced by toasting hulled sesame seeds. Tahini paste is a staple ingredient in several cultures used in Eastern Mediterranean and North African cuisines. In addition to using tahini on its own as a condiment, it is also a key ingredient in hummus, baba ganoush, and halva. Due to its protein and calcium-rich properties, tahini is often used in plant-based dishes. 


Health & nutritional benefits

Sesame seeds and sesame oil are high in dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals. The seeds are especially a good source of vitamin B1. When consumed on a regular basis, sesame seeds may help decrease high cholesterol and triglycerides levels. Sesame seeds are also a source of plant-based protein and calcium and are therefore vital to bone health.  Like with other seeds and nut-based foods, several individuals are vulnerable to allergic reactions caused by sesame ingredients. Make sure to avoid using sesame ingredients in cooking if you have experienced prior allergic reactions to other nut-based ingredients.