Sesame (also called benne) seeds, popularly known as ‘Til‘ in Hindi and Bengali, are the oldest condiment known to mankind. They are tiny, flat oval, nutty and fragrant seed variants. They add a lovely nutty taste and a delicate, almost invisible crunch to many Asian and Middle Eastern dishes. Both these races are known for their longevity. In Europe and North America the seeds are used to flavour and garnish various foods, particularly breads and other baked goods.
Once, it was thought to have mystical powers, and sesame still retains a magical quality, as shown in the expression “open sesame,” from the Arabian Nights tale of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.” The famous phrase, “open sesame,” reflects the distinguishing feature of the sesame seed pod, which bursts open when it reaches maturity. The scientific name for sesame seeds is Sesamun indicum.
Probably originating in Asia or East Africa, sesame is now found in most of the tropical, subtropical, and southern temperate areas of the world. Before the time of Moses, the Egyptians used the ground seed as grain flour. The Chinese used it 5,000 years ago, and for centuries they have burned the oil to make soot for the finest Chinese ink blocks. The Romans ground sesame seeds with cumin to make a pasty spread for bread.
The benefits of sesame seeds are not just culinary, but good for our body as well. They may be tiny, but they have huge health benefits. Sesame seeds include a combination of vitamins and minerals and are one of the healthiest foods in the world.
What Are Sesame Seeds?
Sesame seeds are probably one of the first oil seeds known to mankind.
Sesame plant is a flowering plant belonging to the Pedaliaceae family. These seeds have the highest oil content among all seeds and a delicate, nutty flavour that becomes more pronounced when they are roasted under low temperature for a few minutes.
These seeds can be consumed in the raw or dried form, or even as roasted snacks. They are used as an ingredient in several cuisines.
Dry roasted sesame seeds are ground with olive into a thin, light brown coloured paste, known as ‘Tahini’, which is a popular Middle Eastern dip. In Europe, they are commonly used in the manufacture of margarine.
There are several varieties of sesame seeds depending on the type of cultivar such as white, black and brown seeds.
White sesame seeds have higher iron content than the black ones and are mostly used as ingredients in food or in the form of oil.
Black sesame seeds are more flavourful and have a stronger aroma than white or brown sesame seeds and are preferably used in medicines. They contain 60% more calcium than the white ones.
White sesame seeds are hulled, whereas the black and brown ones retain their hulls.
Sesame Seeds Nutrition Facts
All varieties of sesame seeds are extremely nutritious. They have a high oil content of 40% to 60%.
Sesame seeds are an excellent source of copper, a very good source of manganese, and a good source of magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, iron, zinc, vitamin B1, vitamin B6, folate, protein, tryptophan, molybdenum, selenium and dietary fibre. 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 fibres called lignans.
Health Benefits of Sesame Seeds
In addition to their culinary uses, these seeds possess nutritive, preventive, and curative properties, which render them usable in traditional medicines. Sesame seed oil is a rich source of phytonutrients such as omega-6 fatty acids, flavonoid phenolic antioxidants, vitamins and dietary fibre.
Modern science has now proven the many incredible benefits of sesame that the ancients knew about, millennia ago. In fact, the history of using sesame seeds for medicinal purposes was documented as far back, as over 3,500 years ago in ancient Egyptian scrolls.
Sesame seeds are one of the most potent super-foods that you can find. The health benefits include the following:
A high protein vegetarian diet
Sesame seeds are a good source of dietary protein, with high-quality amino acids making up 20% of the seed. Therefore, they are perfect to form part of a high-protein vegetarian diet. Just sprinkle them over your salads, veggies, and noodles.
Boost metabolic function
Sesame seeds contain a high amount of protein, which gets broken down and reassembled from its component parts into usable proteins for the human body. This adds to overall strength, healthy cellular growth, mobility, energy levels, and a boosted metabolic function.
Sesame seeds contain magnesium and other nutrients that have been shown to combat diabetes. The usage of sesame seed oil as the sole edible oil has been found to be effective in lowering the blood pressure and plasma glucose in hypersensitive diabetics.
Reduce high blood pressure
Sesame seeds have been proven to be an effective way to reduce blood pressure. They contain a high concentration of magnesium, a compound that can actively reduce hypertension.
Sesame seeds, particularly the black ones, are rich in iron. Hence, they are highly recommended for those suffering from anaemia and weakness.
Reduce the pain of Arthritis
Researcher found that eating even just a small amount of sesame seeds can greatly reduce the pain associated with arthritis of the knee. Sesame seeds were more effective than even a prescribed medicine.
Have anti-inflammatory effects
Using black sesame seed oil, either topically or by consumption, can help reduce ailments and conditions caused by inflammation. The high amount of copper in this oil helps the users cope better with inflammation caused conditions affecting the body joints.
Improve bone health
Sesame seeds contain zinc that boosts the bone mineral density and the bone health. The deficiency of this mineral can cause osteoporosis in the hip and spine area. Sesame seeds are a great source of calcium, a trace mineral that is vital to bone health.
Sesame seeds contain several nutrients that have stress-relieving properties. Minerals like magnesium and calcium act as an antispasmodic by regulating the muscle function i.e. contraction and relaxation. Thiamin (vitamin B1) has calming properties that aid in proper nerve functioning. The deficiency of this vitamin can lead to muscle spasms, moodiness, and depression. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that is involved in the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that reduces pain and regulates the sleep pattern and mood. The inadequacy of serotonin production and transmission in the brain can result in anxiety and depression.
Keep your heart healthy
The essential minerals found in sesame seeds help to regulate your heart. They control the muscle activity of the heart, to make it beat at regular intervals, and they help to make your heart stronger.
Lower bad cholesterol
Sesame seeds are a great source of oleic acid, which is a mono-unsaturated fatty acid that lowers the bad cholesterol, LDL, in the blood and helps to increase the good cholesterol, HDL.
Help patients recover from a stroke
The high amounts of magnesium and zinc found in sesame seeds has been found to be very effective in restoring the blood flow to the damaged brain cells caused by a stroke.
Protect you from cancer
Research has found that sesame seeds have some very effective cancer fighting properties. This is due to a powerful antioxidant called, sesame, which can change the way that white blood cells attack the cancerous cells.
Prevent gingivitis and plaque
In India, sesame seed oil is used to prevent tooth decay and gum disease. Scientists have proved that rinsing the mouth in sesame seed oil, for a prolonged period, does act as a chemical antiseptic that kills bacteria in the mouth.
Aid digestive health
Sesame seeds support a healthy digestive system and colon as they are rich in fibre. This high fibre content helps in smooth functioning of the intestine, thus facilitating waste disposal and relieving constipation.
Strengthen respiratory health
Magnesium contained in sesame seeds prevents asthma and other respiratory disorders by preventing airway spasms.
Nullify the effects of alcohol
Sesame seeds help the liver to decompose the harmful effects of alcohol as well as other substances that generate poisoning in the body.
May help protect you against multiple sclerosis
Tests, to date, have only been conducted on animals, but early results show that the seeds do inhibit the production of IFN-gamma, which is believed to be a cause of the condition.
Can help to detox the liver
Sesame seeds are a good source of methionine, which is a great aid to improving the functioning of the liver and helping to detox the body.
Good for eye health
According to traditional Chinese medicine, there is a strong relationship between the internal organs and external parts such as the eyes and the liver. The liver stores blood and since a certain branch of the liver channel goes to the eyes, the liver can also send blood to the eyes to support their functioning. Black sesame seeds are beneficial for the liver as they increase the liver blood, thereby nourishing the eyes. Their therapeutic effects help in treating blurred vision and tired, dry eyes.
Nourish the organs
Black sesame seeds have been found to increase energy, nourish the brain and slow down aging. The regular consumption of black sesame seeds can help reduce the symptoms of backache, painful or tight and stiff joints, and weakness in the joints.
Improve skin health
The high zinc content helps produce collagen, giving skin more elasticity and helping repair damaged body tissues. Regular use of sesame oil can reduce skin cancer. Sesame seed oil prevents harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun from damaging your skin, preventing the appearance of wrinkles and pigmentation. Baby skin, particularly the area covered with diapers, often gets rashes due to the acidity of body wastes. Sesame seed oil protects their tender skin against these rashes. Applying it to the nose and ears provides protection against common skin pathogens. It also combats dryness of skin.
Protect from radiation damage to DNA
Sesamol in sesame seeds and sesame oil has been shown to protect against DNA damage caused by radiation.
Encourage hair growth and aids hair darkening
Sesame seeds contain essential fatty acids such as omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 which promote hair growth. Sesame seed oil stimulates hair growth by nourishing, conditioning, and promoting a healthy scalp. The regular massage with warm sesame seed oil penetrates your scalp, thus increasing the blood circulation. It is comparable to a liquid vitamin that feeds your hair roots and shafts. Also, sesame seed oil is known for its hair darkening qualities that make it effective for people suffering from premature greying of hair. It can be used with carrier oils like olive or almond oil to reap the maximum benefits.
How to Select and Store
Sesame seeds are generally available in pre-packaged containers as well as bulk bins. Just as with any other food that you can purchase in the bulk section, make sure that the bins containing the sesame seeds are covered and that the store has a good product turnover to ensure maximal freshness.
Whether purchasing sesame seeds in bulk or in a packaged container, make sure there is no evidence of moisture. Additionally, since they have high oil content and can become rancid, smell those in bulk bins to ensure that they smell fresh.
Unhulled sesame seeds can be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry, dark place. Once the seeds are hulled, they are more prone to rancidity, so they should then be stored in the refrigerator or freezer.
Word of Caution: Excessive consumption of sesame seeds can cause irritation in the stomach and colon. They can also show up on drug tests due to their small amount of THC. However, both of these things occur when the seeds are consumed in very large amounts.
In conclusion, sesame seeds are extremely beneficial for health with packed full of essential nutrients, but are often overlooked. Try and include them in your diet and you will see the benefits. You can try and use sesame oil as a cooking base as well.