Sesame seeds are small oval-shaped, flat and slightly crunchy seeds that are often used in Asian, African and Middle Eastern cuisines. Although sesame is most commonly associated with its use in tahini — a popular condiment made from pureed sesame seeds — its rich nutty flavor is also enjoyed in sweets, sauces, salads and baked goods.
Though widely available in supermarkets, it's worth noting that the most flavorful sesame is freshly ground from whole sesame seeds, as opposed to a pre-ground version. The sesame seed can be used in its whole form as a garnish, sprinkled over dishes, or as a coating for fish and meat. It can also be pressed to make sesame oil, or ground into a paste, known as tahini, which is commonly used in falafel, hummus, and baba ganoush.
Sesame seeds have a rich and nutty flavor, with a buttery texture when eaten raw. They have a mildly sweet taste when lightly toasted and are often used to enhance the flavor of Asian, African, and Middle Eastern dishes. Sesame oil, which is extracted from the seeds, is very flavorful and fragrant. When heated, the oil releases a nutty and slightly sweet aroma.
In terms of nutrition, sesame seeds contain a good amount of healthy fats, protein, dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Notably, they are an excellent source of calcium and iron. As are many plant sources of iron, the iron in sesame seeds is not as well absorbed by the body as iron from animal sources, such as red meat. The calcium content of sesame seeds is greater than that found in cow’s milk and most other dairy products. Like other seeds, nuts, and legumes, sesame seeds are a good source of magnesium, which helps to regulate blood sugar levels and promote healthy muscles and nerves.
Sesame seeds also contain two phytosterols, which are plant compounds that are similar to cholesterol in structure. Phytosterols may help to reduce LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol levels in the blood.
Since sesame is high in fat, it can be vulnerable to going rancid if not properly stored. Therefore, it's always best to buy sesame in its whole form, as opposed to its pre-ground or pre-pressed forms, as the whole seeds have a longer shelf life. It's also a good idea to buy non-irradiated sesame, as irradiation is a process used to prolong shelf life but can reduce the nutritional quality of a variety of foods.
To store sesame, transfer it to an airtight container and store it in a cool, dry place, like the pantry. It is also possible to store them in the refrigerator or freezer, as long as they are put in an airtight container. Sesame that has been ground or pressed into oil should be stored in the fridge to maximize its shelf life and prevent it from developing an off flavor.
Due to its versatility and health benefits, sesame seeds are an excellent addition to a wide variety of dishes. For instance, the seeds can be lightly toasted to bring out their nutty flavor. They can also be blended into sauces, tossed into salads, baked into cookies and muffins, and used to make hummus and falafel.
Overall, sesame seeds offer a good balance of flavor, nutrition and versatility — making them a wonderful ingredient to keep on hand. Whether you’re interested in incorporating sesame into your dishes, making a batch of homemade tahini or simply wanting to sprinkle sesame on top of your meals, these tasty and nutritious seeds will add flavor and texture to any recipe.