Culinary Arts

What Are Sesame Seeds? Learn How to Cook With Sesame Seeds

Written by MasterClass

Jun 26, 2019 • 3 min read

Sesame seeds have a long history of use in cooking across many different cultures and are a versatile condiment, packed with vitamins and fiber.


What Is Sesame?

Sesame, or Sesamum indicum, is a flowering plant that grows in tropical regions around the world, including Tanzania, Myanmar, India, and Sudan. The sesame plant is the oldest oilseed crop known to man. The sesame plant requires little farming support and thrives in drought-like conditions where many other crops fail to grow, growing well in high heat with full sun.

What Are Sesame Seeds?

Sesame is cultivated for its seeds, which are edible and used as a condiment and ingredient in cuisines across the globe. Sesame seeds grow in seed pods, which burst open when they’re fully ripe. Once harvested, they’re cleaned and their exterior coats are removed, a process called hulling. Sesame seeds are small but they have a very high oil content and a nutty flavor when toasted.

3 Common Types of Sesame Seeds

Sesame seeds typically are sold in three colors:

  1. Golden or brown sesame seeds are the most common.
  2. White sesame seeds are typically more expensive and more readily available in Europe and the Americas.
  3. Black sesame seeds are common in Asian countries.

The History of Sesame

Sesame was first grown in India around 3500 BC and became a tradable good around 2000 BC. The health and culinary benefits of sesame seeds have been known to humans for centuries; Ancient Egyptians used sesame seeds for medicinal purposes while early Turkish people pressed them to extract oil.

Today, Japan is the world’s largest sesame seed importer where the seed is used to make sesame oil, a common ingredient in Japanese cuisine. Other major sesame seed importers include China, the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, Turkey, and France.

How to Cook With Sesame Seeds

From Chinese to Greek to Middle Eastern cuisines, sesame seeds are a pantry staple around the world. Whether they’re placed atop a hamburger bun in the United States or ground into a paste to make tahini in the Middle East, they add a nutty taste and texture to dishes in a variety of countries.

Here are some suggestions on how to cook with sesame seeds:

  • Sprinkle sesame seeds on stir-fries, salads, or cold noodles before serving for added texture.
  • Grind sesame seeds into a fine powder and add it to hot cereal like oatmeal for added nutrition.
  • Use sesame seeds in salad dressings or marinades for added texture and a nutty flavor.
  • Mix ground sesame into yogurt or smoothies with flax seeds for a boost of fiber
  • Add sesame seeds to your bread, muffin, or cookie batter before baking for rich, nutty flavor.

Easy Roasted Sesame Seeds

You can enhance the flavor of your sesame seeds by roasting them at 350ºF for a few minutes until they’re a light golden brown, which brings out the nutty flavor of sesame seeds.

4 Health Benefits of Sesame Seeds

Though they’re small, sesame seeds contain a variety of health benefits, including:

  1. Vitamins and minerals. Sesame seeds are a good source of several B vitamins, vitamin E, iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc.
  2. Fiber. Three tablespoons of unhulled sesame seeds contain 3.5 grams of fiber, which supports digestive health and may reduce your risk of heart disease. Eating more sesame seeds is a good way to increase your daily dietary fiber intake.
  3. Healthy fats. Sesame seeds are high in quality protein and healthy fats. These vital fatty acids and amino acids give your body energy.
  4. Anti-inflammatories. Sesame seeds contain copper, which acts as an anti-inflammatory and can help reduce swelling and relieve pain.

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