By: Amy Grant
If all you know about sesame seeds is from eating sesame seed hamburger buns, then you’re missing out. So what else can you do with sesame seeds? Read on to find out how to use sesame seeds at home and what sesame is used for around the world.
Sesame plant seeds (Sesamum indicum) have been cultivated by ancient cultures for 4,000 years. Many cultures utilized sesame seeds from Egypt to India to China. what is sesame used for? The seeds may be used as is, toasted, or pressed for their prized sesame oil and come in colors from white to black and red to yellow.
They have a distinct nutty flavor that’s packed with protein, calcium, antioxidants, dietary fiber and monounsaturated fatty oils called oleics, which have been shown to lower LDL or “bad” cholesterol.
What to do with sesame seeds? Lots! There are a number of sesame plant uses, from dredging chicken to adding to salads, dressings or marinades; adding to sweet treats, and sesame seeds can even be made into a milk substitute rather like almond milk.
Sesame seeds are used for so many things; it would be hard to list them all. If you’ve had hummus, then you’ve eaten sesame seeds. Hummus is made with tahini, ground sesame seeds, and is an essential ingredient in not only hummus but baba ghanoush.
How about sesame bagels? Many Asian cuisines sprinkle dishes with the seeds and/or use sesame oil in their cooking.
The simple ingredients of sesame and honey (sometimes peanuts are added) combine in a perfect harmony to form the Greek candy bar Pasteli. Another sweet treat, this time hailing from the Middle East and surrounding regions, is Halvah, a kind of soft, fudge-like candy that is made from ground sesame seeds and can only be described as scrumptious.
Sesame seeds have been cultivated for so long that their use is embedded in a multitude of cuisines, which means that the sesame seed novice is sure to find at least one, if not several, favorite uses for sesame seeds in the kitchen.
This article was last updated on
Read more about Sesame Plant
I often use sesame seeds in cooking, straight from a shop bought container.
Then I thought to myself, "These are seeds, I wonder if they will grow?".
Well, I took a handful of sesame seeds and placed them on the top of a compost filled container, and watered in well.
I then left the pot on a sunny window-shelf, and watered when it looked dry.
Within days, and I mean days not weeks, lots of little green shoots poked through the surface of the soil.
Like all little plants, they made a mad stretch towards the sun, and I made sure they had enough water and turned their pot often to try to keep them growing upwards.
I was so proud of my little sesame plants, and looking forward to seeing what kind of plant they would turn into - a sesame plant, obviously! - but as I had never seen one, I didn't know what to expect.
Those little plants grew rapidly, and then disaster struck. They wilted. The suffered from damping-off, which is a fungus that affects young plants when they are not given enough air circulation.
Sometimes there is no cause.
However, I will try again, but before that I wish to share with you what I have since learned about how to grow sesame plants from seed, shop bought or otherwise (but it's good to know that the sesame seed in our kitchen cupboards have not been treated and can still grow).
sesame plants growing in Korea
The word "sesame" is from Latin sesamum and Greek sēsamon which in turn are derived from ancient Semitic languages, e.g., Akkadian šamaššamu.  From these roots, words with the generalized meaning "oil, liquid fat" were derived.  
Sesame seed is considered to be the oldest oilseed crop known to humanity.  The genus has many species, and most are wild. Most wild species of the genus Sesamum are native to sub-Saharan Africa. S. indicum, the cultivated type,   originated in India.  
Archaeological remnants suggest sesame was first domesticated in the Indian subcontinent dating to 5500 years ago.   Charred remains of sesame recovered from archeological excavations have been dated to 3500-3050 BC.  Fuller claims trading of sesame between Mesopotamia and the Indian subcontinent occurred by 2000 BC.  It is possible that the Indus Valley Civilization exported sesame oil to Mesopotamia, where it was known as ilu in Sumerian and ellu in Akkadian. 
Some reports claim sesame was cultivated in Egypt during the Ptolemaic period,  while others suggest the New Kingdom.    Egyptians called it sesemt, and it is included in the list of medicinal drugs in the scrolls of the Ebers Papyrus dated to be over 3600 years old. Archeological reports indicate that sesame was grown and pressed to extract oil at least 2750 years ago in the empire of Urartu.   
The historic origin of sesame was favored by its ability to grow in areas that do not support the growth of other crops. It is also a robust crop that needs little farming support—it grows in drought conditions, in high heat, with residual moisture in soil after monsoons are gone or even when rains fail or when rains are excessive. It was a crop that could be grown by subsistence farmers at the edge of deserts, where no other crops grow. Sesame has been called a survivor crop. 
Sesame is an annual plant growing 50 to 100 cm (1.6 to 3.3 ft) tall, with opposite leaves 4 to 14 cm (1.6 to 5.5 in) long with an entire margin they are broad lanceolate, to 5 cm (2 in) broad, at the base of the plant, narrowing to just 1 cm (0.4 in) broad on the flowering stem. The flowers are tubular, 3 to 5 cm (1.2 to 2.0 in) long, with a four-lobed mouth. The flowers may vary in colour, with some being white, blue, or purple. Sesame seeds occur in many colours depending on the cultivar. The most traded variety of sesame is off-white coloured. Other common colours are buff, tan, gold, brown, reddish, gray, and black. The colour is the same for the hull and the fruit. [ citation needed ]
Sesame fruit is a capsule, normally pubescent, rectangular in section, and typically grooved with a short, triangular beak. The length of the fruit capsule varies from 2 to 8 cm, its width varies between 0.5 and 2.0 cm, and the number of loculi varies from four to 12. The fruit naturally splits open (dehisces) to release the seeds by splitting along the septa from top to bottom or by means of two apical pores, depending on the varietal cultivar. The degree of dehiscence is of importance in breeding for mechanised harvesting, as is the insertion height of the first capsule. [ citation needed ]
Sesame seeds are small. Their sizes vary with the thousands of varieties known. Typically, the seeds are about 3 to 4 mm long by 2 mm wide and 1 mm thick. The seeds are ovate, slightly flattened, and somewhat thinner at the eye of the seed (hilum) than at the opposite end. The mass of 100 seeds is 0.203 g.  The seed coat (testa) may be smooth or ribbed. [ citation needed ]
Sesame varieties have adapted to many soil types. The high-yielding crops thrive best on well-drained, fertile soils of medium texture and neutral pH. However, these have a low tolerance for soils with high salt and water-logged conditions. Commercial sesame crops require 90 to 120 frost-free days. Warm conditions above 23 °C (73 °F) favor growth and yields. While sesame crops can grow in poor soils, the best yields come from properly fertilized farms.  
Initiation of flowering is sensitive to photoperiod and sesame variety. The photoperiod also affects the oil content in sesame seed increased photoperiod increases oil content. The oil content of the seed is inversely proportional to its protein content. [ citation needed ]
Sesame is drought-tolerant, in part due to its extensive root system. However, it requires adequate moisture for germination and early growth. While the crop survives drought and the presence of excess water, the yields are significantly lower in either condition. Moisture levels before planting and flowering impact yield most. [ citation needed ]
Most commercial cultivars of sesame are intolerant of water-logging. Rainfall late in the season prolongs growth and increases loss to dehiscence, when the seedpod shatters, scattering the seed. Wind can also cause shattering at harvest. [ citation needed ]
Sesame seeds are protected by a capsule that bursts when the seeds are ripe. The time of this bursting, or "dehiscence", tends to vary, so farmers cut plants by hand and place them together in an upright position to continue ripening until all the capsules have opened. The discovery of an indehiscent mutant (analogous to nonshattering domestic grains) by Langham in 1943 began the work towards the development of a high-yielding, dehiscence-resistant variety. Although researchers have made significant progress in sesame breeding, harvest losses due to early dehiscence continue to limit domestic US production. 
Since sesame is a small, flat seed, it is difficult to dry it after harvest because the small seed makes movement of air around the seed difficult. Therefore, the seeds need to be harvested as dry as possible and stored at 6% moisture or less. If the seed is too moist, it can quickly heat up and become rancid. 
After harvesting, the seeds are usually cleaned and hulled. In some countries, once the seeds have been hulled, they are passed through an electronic colour-sorting machine that rejects any discolored seeds to ensure perfect colour, because sesame seeds with consistent appearance are perceived to be of better quality by consumers, and sell for a higher price. [ citation needed ]
Immature or off-sized seeds are removed and used for sesame oil production. [ citation needed ]
|Sesame seed production – 2018|
|Source: FAOSTAT of the United Nations |
In 2018, world production of sesame seeds was 6 million tonnes, led by Sudan, Myanmar, and India (table). 
The white and other lighter-coloured sesame seeds are common in Europe, the Americas, West Asia, and the Indian subcontinent. The black and darker-coloured sesame seeds are mostly produced in China and Southeast Asia. 
In the United States most sesame is raised by farmers under contract to Seseco which also supplies proprietary seed.  
Japan is the world's largest sesame importer. Sesame oil, particularly from roasted seed, is an important component of Japanese cooking and traditionally the principal use of the seed. China is the second-largest importer of sesame, mostly oil-grade. China exports lower-priced food-grade sesame seeds, particularly to Southeast Asia. Other major importers are the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, Turkey, and France. [ citation needed ]
Sesame seed is a high-value cash crop. Prices have ranged between US$800 and $1700 per metric ton between 2008 and 2010.  
Sesame exports sell across a wide price range. Quality perception, particularly how the seed looks, is a major pricing factor. Most importers who supply ingredient distributors and oil processors only want to purchase scientifically treated, properly cleaned, washed, dried, colour-sorted, size-graded, and impurity-free seeds with a guaranteed minimum oil content (not less than 40%) packed according to international standards. Seeds that do not meet these quality standards are considered unfit for export and are consumed locally. In 2008, by volume, premium prices, and quality, the largest exporter was India, followed by Ethiopia and Myanmar.  
In a 100 g (3.5 oz) amount, dried whole sesame seeds provide 573 calories and are composed of 5% water, 23% carbohydrates (including 12% dietary fiber), 50% fat, and 18% protein. Whole sesame seeds are rich (20% or more of the Daily Value) in several B vitamins and dietary minerals, especially iron, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, and zinc.
The byproduct that remains after oil extraction from sesame seeds, also called sesame oil meal, is rich in protein (35-50%) and is used as feed for poultry and livestock.   
A meta-analysis showed that sesame consumption produced small reductions in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.  Sesame oil studies reported a reduction of oxidative stress markers and lipid peroxidation. 
Contamination by Salmonella, E.coli, pesticides, or other pathogens may occur in large batches of sesame seeds, such as in September 2020 when high levels of a common industrial compound, ethylene oxide, was found in a 250 tonne shipment of sesame seeds from India.   After detection in Belgium, recalls for dozens of products and stores were issued across the European Union, totaling some 50 countries.   Products with an organic certification were also affected by the contamination.  Regular governmental food inspection for sesame contamination, as for Salmonella and E. coli in tahini, hummus or seeds, has found that poor hygiene practices during processing are common sources and routes of contamination. 
Sesame seed is a common ingredient in various cuisines. It is used whole in cooking for its rich, nutty flavour. Sesame seeds are sometimes added to bread, including bagels and the tops of hamburger buns. They may be baked into crackers, often in the form of sticks. In Sicily and France, the seeds are eaten on bread (ficelle sésame, sesame thread). In Greece, the seeds are also used in cakes.
Fast-food restaurants use buns with tops sprinkled with sesame seeds. About 75% of Mexico's sesame crop is purchased by McDonald's  for use in their sesame seed buns worldwide. 
In Asia, sesame seeds are sprinkled onto some sushi-style foods.  In Japan, whole seeds are found in many salads and baked snacks, and tan and black sesame seed varieties are roasted and used to make the flavouring gomashio. East Asian cuisines, such as Chinese cuisine, use sesame seeds and oil in some dishes, such as dim sum, sesame seed balls (Cantonese: jin deui), and the Vietnamese bánh rán. Sesame flavour (through oil and roasted or raw seeds) is also very popular in Korean cuisine, used to marinate meat and vegetables. Chefs in tempura restaurants blend sesame and cottonseed oil for deep-frying.
Sesame, or simsim as it is known in East Africa, is used in African cuisine. In Togo, the seeds are a main soup ingredient and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in the north of Angola, wangila is a dish of ground sesame, often served with smoked fish or lobster.
Sesame seeds and oil are used extensively in India. In most parts of the country, sesame seeds mixed with heated jaggery, sugar, or palm sugar is made into balls and bars similar to peanut brittle or nut clusters and eaten as snacks. In Manipur, black sesame is used in the preparation of chikki and cold-pressed oil. In Assam, black sesame seeds are used to make til pitha and tilor laru (sesame seed balls), as well as used with meat to cook til mangko during bihu. In Punjab and Tamil Nadu, a sweet ball called pinni in Urdu and ell urundai in Tamil, ellunda in Malayalam, yellunde/chigali, (sesame ball, usually in jaggery), is made of its seeds mixed with sugar. It is eaten in various forms during the festival of Makar Sankranti.
Sesame oil is used extensively in the cuisine of Tamil Nadu. Milagai podi, a ground powder made of sesame and dry chili, is used to enhance flavor, and is consumed along with other traditional foods such as idli. In Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, sesame oil is used as a preservative and to temper the heat of their spicy foods, pickles, and condiments.
Sesame seed cookies and wafers, both sweet and savory, are popular in places such as Charleston, South Carolina. Sesame seeds, also called benne, are believed to have been brought into 17th-century colonial America by West African slaves. Since then, they have become part of various American cuisines.
In Caribbean cuisine, sugar and white sesame seeds are combined into a bar resembling peanut brittle and sold in stores and street corners.
Sesame is a popular and essential ingredient in many Middle Eastern cuisines. Sesame seeds are made into a paste called tahini (used in various ways, including hummus bi tahini) and the Middle Eastern confection halvah. Ground and processed, the seed is also used in sweet confections. Sesame is also a common component of the Levantine spice mixture za'atar, popular throughout the Middle East.  
In South Asian, Middle Eastern, and East Asian cuisines, popular confectionery are made from sesame mixed with honey or syrup and roasted into a sesame candy. In Japanese cuisine, goma-dofu is made from sesame paste and starch.
Mexican cuisine refers to sesame seeds as ajonjolí. It is mainly used as a sauce additive, such as mole or adobo. It is often also used to sprinkle over artisan breads and baked in traditional form to coat the smooth dough, especially on whole-wheat flatbreads or artisan nutrition bars, such as alegrías.
In Sicilian cuisine, what are commonly called "Italian sesame seed cookies" are known as giuggiuleni . A giuggiulena usually refers to a cookie, while a giurgiulena usually refers to a nougat-like candy, often made as a Christmas food. Both are alternative spellings for "sesame seed" in the Sicilian language.
Sesame oil is sometimes used as a cooking oil in different parts of the world, though different forms have different characteristics for high-temperature frying. The "toasted" form of the oil (as distinguished from the "cold-pressed" form) has a distinctive pleasant aroma and taste, and is used as table condiment in some regions, especially in East Asia. Toasted sesame oil is also added to flavor soups and other hot dishes, usually just before serving, to avoid dissipating the volatile scents of the food too rapidly.