One of the first oil seeds known to humankind, sesame seeds have been widely employed in culinary as well as in traditional medicines for their nutritive, preventive, and curative properties. Sesame is a primary source of phytonutrients such as omega-6 fatty acids, flavonoid phenolic anti-oxidants, vitamins, and dietary fiber with potential anti-cancer as well as health promoting properties.
Sesame plant is a tall annual herb in the Pedaliaceae family, which grows extensively in Asia, particularly in Burma, China, and India. It is also one of the chief commercial crops in Nigeria, Sudan, and Ethiopia. Scientific name: Sesamum indicum.
|White sesame in a bowl.||Brown and black sesame seeds.|
Sesame plant requires well-drained sandy soil and tropical environment to flourish. It grows about 5 feet in height and bears plenty of pink-white foxglove-like flowers. The pods appear soon containing white, brown, or black seeds depending upon the cultivar type, arranged in vertical rows inside thin sacs. Each pod (2-5 cm in length) is a long rectangular box like a capsule with deep grooves on its sides. Each pod (1 to 2 inches in length) may contain up to 100 or more seeds.
Sesame seeds are small, almost oblate in shape. Toasted sesame features pleasant, nutty flavor.
Flavorful, crunchy sesame seeds are widely considered as healthy foods. 100 grams of seeds carry 573 calories. Although much of its calorie comes from fats, sesame contains several essential health-benefiting nutrients, minerals, antioxidants, and vitamins.
The seeds are especially rich in mono-unsaturated fatty acid, oleic acid, which comprises of up to 50% of fatty acids in them. Oleic acid helps lower LDL or "bad cholesterol" and increases HDL or "good cholesterol" in the blood. Research studies suggest that Mediterranean diet which is rich in mono-unsaturated fats may help prevent coronary artery disease, and stroke by favoring healthy serum lipid profile.
The seeds are also valuable sources of dietary protein with fine quality amino acids that are essential for growth, especially in children. Just 100 g of seeds provide about 18 g of protein (32% of daily recommended values).
Sesame seeds contain many health benefiting compounds such as sesamol (3, 4-methylene-dioxyphenol), sesaminol, furyl-methanthiol, guaiacol (2-methoxyphenol), phenyl ethanthiol and furaneol, vinyl guacol, and decadienal. Sesamol and sesaminol are phenolic anti-oxidants. Together, these compounds help stave off harmful free radicals from the human body.
Sesame is among the seeds rich in quality vitamins, and minerals. They are an excellent sources of B-complex vitamins such as niacin, folic acid, thiamin (vitamin B1), pyridoxine (vitamin B6), and riboflavin.
100 g of sesame contains 97 μg of folic acid, about 25% of recommended daily intake. Folic acid is essential for DNA synthesis. When given to expectant mothers during their peri-conception period, it may prevent neural tube defects in the newborns.
Niacin is another B-complex vitamin found abundantly in sesame. About 4.5 mg or 28% of daily required levels of niacin provided from just 100 grams of seeds. Niacin helps reduce LDL-cholesterol concentrations in the blood. Also, it enhances GABA activity inside the brain, which in turn helps reduce anxiety and neurosis.
The seeds are incredibly rich sources of many essential minerals. Calcium, iron, manganese, zinc, magnesium, selenium, and copper especially concentrated in sesame seeds. Many of these minerals have a vital role in bone mineralization, red blood cell production, enzyme synthesis, hormone production, as well as regulation of cardiac and skeletal muscle activities.
Just a handful of sesame a day provides enough recommended levels of phenolic anti-oxidants, minerals, vitamins, and protein.
Sesame seeds can be readily available in the spice stores all around the year. One may choose whole, husked or airdried, toasted seeds in these stores. The seeds can be available in black, brown, yellow or white colors, packed inside air-sealed packs as well as in bulk bins. Hulled seeds appear white.
Sesame seeds compose of significant proportions of unsaturated fats, and hence, should be stored in airtight containers to avoid them turn rancid. At home, place them in cool dark place. If stored properly, dry seeds stay fresh for several months. Store hulled "white" seeds always inside the refrigerator.
Avoid old, offensive smelling (rancid) seeds.
Sesame seeds feature delicate nutty flavor. Their flavor indeed becomes more pronounced once they gently toasted under low flame heat for a few minutes.
Sesame seeds used liberally in cooking. The seeds ground with olive or any other vegetable oils to prepare semi-solid, flavorful paste, which then added to different recipes.
Here are some serving tips:
|Hummus. Photo credit|
Dry, toasted sesame seeds and vegetable oil mixed into a thin light brown paste, tahini. Tahini is one of the main ingredients in the famous middle-eastern dip, hummus.
Toasted seeds sprinkled over sandwiches, biscuits, bread, cakes, salads, and stir fries.
The seeds largely employed in the production of margarine in Europe.
Roasted and crushed seeds often sprinkled over salads, desserts, particularly sundaes and other confectionery preparations.
Gomashio is a Japan's specialty, which uses ground sesame seeds.
Sesame oil obtained from the seeds is one of the most sought after cooking oil in Malaysia, Indonesia and southern states of rural India.
Sesame seed allergy is a kind of hypersensitivity reaction in some sensitive individuals. The reactions include hives, dermatitis, and itching. Sometimes, the disease manifestation may be severe and may lead to severe physical symptoms like vomiting, stomach pain, swelling of lips and throat leading to breathing difficulty, chest congestion, and death. It is, therefore, sesame products may be avoided as food in these individuals. (Medical Disclaimer).
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Stanford School of Medicine Cancer information Page- Nutrition to Reduce Cancer Risk.
Nutritional, Medicinal and Industrial Uses of Sesame (Sesamum indicum L.) -PDF.