Sesame
Sesame Seeds [Til, Gingly (India, Hindi); Ellu (India, Dravidian); Kunjid (Persian); Benne (US South, Caribbean - from African); Simsim, (East Africa); Chamggae, Cham-kkae, Ssisaem, Ggae, Kkae (Korea); Goma, Shima (Japan); Kunjut, Shushma (Armenia); Juljulan, Zelzlane, Sumsum, Simsim (Arabic); Zhi Má, Hú Má (China); Ajonjolí (Mexico); Sesamum indicum of family Pedaliacae (Sesame family) of order Lamailes]

While more Sesamum species are native to Africa, domestication and harvesting of sesame seed probably first occurred in India or Persia. Both seeds and oils pressed from the seeds are widely used throughout the world, including the seeds use on baked goods in the US and Europe.

Not much sesame seed is grown in the US because harvesting it is labor intensive. Some varieties have been developed that are mechanically harvestable and these are grown mostly in Texas where the climate is suitable for those varieties. Burma, India and China are the leading producers.

The photo specimens are White (left), Black (right) and freshly dry pan roasted white seeds (center). While raw sesame seeds have a mild seed flavor and just a touch of bitterness, roasting lightly takes away the bitterness and makes them sweet with a distinct nutty flavor, highly desirable as a garnish for salads and the like.

More on Lamiales.


Black Sesame Seeds are preferred for many uses in East Asia, though white are also used there. Which is used is more a matter of appearance than flavor, though black seeds are somewhat more bitter.

White Sesame Seeds are preferred in the Near East, Europe and the US.

Beige Sesame Seeds also exist but are not much used.

Buying & Storage:   Try to buy sesame seeds from a source that sells them in good volume to assure they are fresh. Indian, Near Eastern and Southeast Asian markets are good sources. I buy mine from the local Korean markets which carry white, black and toasted. Buy a quantity that you can use up in 6 months or so. For roasted, I recommend buying white sesame seeds and roasting them yourself as I have encountered rancidity in commercially roasted seeds and some are roasted too dark.. It only takes a few minutes to dry pan roast them and the flavor is far better.

Store sesame seeds in a tightly sealed jar away from light and heat. Rancidity is easily detected by smell and taste by anyone who has encountered bad peanuts. Some products of rancidity are suspected of being carcinogenic so consumption of rancid seeds and oils should be avoided.

Subst:   Toasted sesame seeds can be substituted by a bit of dark sesame oil but otherwise there's no satisfactory substitute. Fortunately sesame seeds are now easily available so substitution isn't much of an issue.

Sesame Oil
Sesame Oils Sesame Oil is generally unrefined and used mostly as a finishing oil rather than as a cooking oil, though in the past it was much used as a frying oil in some parts of India, now replaced by peanut oil which is better for the purpose.

Cold Pressed Oil (Gingelly Oil) from natural sesame seeds is widely used in the region around Malaysia and Singapore as an ingredient in pickles, but is also used as for brief frying at moderate temperatures. It can be found in markets serving communities from southern India and Southeast Asia, or you can find it from health food and natural food sources at a far higher price. If a recipe calls for quite a bit of sesame oil and fries food in it, you can presume this is the oil it intends.

Dark Sesame Oil is pressed from roasted seeds and carries much of the nutty flavor. It is seldom used as a frying oil as it will quickly loose its flavor at higher temperatures. It is often added to stir fried dishes in the last few seconds before they are taken off the heat. It is also widely used in marinades and in salad dressings.

Dark Sesame is most commonly associated with China, Japan and Korea, but is also used throughout Southeast Asia - and now worldwide. It is easily available in practically any market or supermarket that sells cooking oils, particularly the Japanese Kadoya brand. Asian markets will likely have a dozen different brands with somewhat different characteristics. "Sesame Oil" outside Southeast Asia generally presumes dark.

Buying & Storage: Sesame oil should be purchased in a quantity you will use up in 6 months or so after opening. Store sesame oil in a tightly sealed bottle away from light and heat and with as little air in the bottle as practical. Under under good conditions it can last a year.

Subst: Gingelly oil can be substituted with pure olive oil (not virgin) with just a tiny touch of dark sesame oil added. A little different and lacking the faint bitterness of Gingelly but it'll do the job. Dark sesame oil can be substituted by dry roasting white sesame seeds until golden and grinding them up with a little oil.

Tahini - Sesame Paste
Tahini There are two varieties of Sesame Paste, Middle Eastern Tahini and Asian Paste. Tahini is made by grinding hulled sesame seeds very lightly roasted (no color). Asian sesame paste is made from unhulled seeds very lightly toasted and has a more bitter flavor. Tahini can pass in Asian recipes but it doesn't work the other way around.

Tahini is a very important ingredient in the Middle East and North Africa, used in dressings, soups, halva, hummus and many other dishes. Today it is easily available in any market serving a Middle Eastern community and at least one brand in most supermarkets. It should contain only 100% sesame seeds - no other ingredients.

Buying & Storage:   Any market serving even a a small Near Eastern community will have this, or you can get it at a health food outlet at a higher price. Storage is very similar to peanut butter. It can be stored for a few weeks in a tightly closed jar in a cool place away from light. Some oil will separate out on top protecting the rest of the contents - just stir the oil back in before using. Refrigerated it will keep for at least a year in a tightly sealed jar.

Hummus   -   [Humus (Turk)]
Hummus Technically this is Hummus-bi-Tahini (Chick Peas and Sesame) and legend says it has been made in the Middle East since antiquity - but actual evidence points to 18th century Damascus. Regardless of its origin it is today a very important preparation in the Middle East and Turkey, used as an appetizer and as an ingredient in many recipes.

The exact proportions and flavoring ingredients vary widely with region but it's generally made from chick peas (garbanzo beans), tahini (sesame paste), lemon juice, garlic, salt and olive oil. The photo specimen was made in Lebanon: water, dried chick peas, sesame paste, salt, citric acid.

Sesame Halva   -   [Tahin Helvasi (Turk), Halwa, Halvah, Halava, Helva, Halawa, Helwa (various)]
Halva

The word "halva" derives from the Arabic for "sweet" and designates a sweet confection variously made from various ingredients. A version made from Sesame paste sweetened with honey (traditional), sugar or fructose is very popular in southeastern Europe, Ukraine, Russia, Turkey, Caucasus, eastern Mediterranean, Iraq and Egypt.

This is a crumbly cake with a somewhat fibrous texture (more fibrous in honey versions) and may have pistachio nuts added and other flavorings. The photo specimen is plain, made in Turkey from "sesame paste, sugar, emulsifier, acidity regulator, nature-identical vanillin aroma", all listed in truly microscopic print to get in all the languages needed for world export.

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