Sesame Seeds

How can such a tiny seed impart such a deep, intense, and satisfying flavour? This question has eluded me for decades… which may explain why my obsessive “research” finds me constantly experimenting, testing and delighting in it’s true wonder!

Suffice it to say, I do get a little passionate and I dare say carried away when it comes to sesame seed love. But consider this: It has been cultivated for at least 5000 years and travelled from India to the Middle East and Asia. Ancient Egyptian scrolls include sesame seeds in a list of medical drugs dating back to 3600 years ago. Originally prized for its oil, which is resistant to rancidity, sesame seeds were also used as a condiment and are depicted in drawings on ancient Egyptian tomb walls where bakers appear to be adding sesame seeds to bread dough. So…sesame seeds have been part of the human diet, culinary pantry and medical cabinet for centuries!

Did I mention that this plant is both drought and flood resistant ? It’s referred to as the survivor plant because it can grow where other plants cannot!

Toasted Sesame seeds impart a rich nutty aroma and flavour and are widely used in many cuisines around the world. A delicious Japanese condiment called gomashio is made from ground sesame seeds and salt or seaweed and used in many dishes including sushi and vegetable dish. One of my favourites: Korean cuisine uses both sesame seeds and oil in so many dishes! Just open any Korean cookbook and you will see very few recipes that do not contain toasted sesame seeds and oil. Not and overwhelming amount either, just enough to balance the soy sauce, rice vinegar, garlic, sweetner and red pepper flakes.

Sesame tahini is essentially “sesame butter” and is used in everything from sauces and dips, to sweet desserts like halva. But really in then end, give me a toasted sesame seed bagel and I will be in heaven…are you with me?

Nutritionally speaking sesame seeds are loaded with minerals! Not only are sesame seeds an excellent source of copper and a very good source of manganese, but they are also a good source of calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, vitamin B1, zinc, molybdenum, selenium, and dietary fiber. In addition to these important nutrients, sesame seeds contain two unique substances: sesamin and sesamolin. Both of these substances belong to a group of special beneficial fibers called lignans, and have been shown to have a cholesterol-lowering effect in humans, and to prevent high blood pressure and increase vitamin E supplies in animals. Sesamin has also been found to protect the liver from oxidative damage.Sesame seeds are nutritionally dense and contain 206 calories 1/4 cup.

Additionally, sesame seeds are a good source of phytosterols. Phytosterols are compounds found in plants that have a chemical structure very similar to cholesterol, and when present in the diet in sufficient amounts, are believed to reduce blood levels of cholesterol, enhance the immune response and decrease risk of certain cancers.

Sesame seeds remain an important component in global cuisine. Delicious, nutritious, versatile and inexpensive, sesame seeds can add a delightful accent of flavour or become the main focal point of any dish. Enjoy them on everything!

Liz Murray