Sesame has a unique flavor, reminiscent of sunflower seeds.
Used in Middle Eastern cuisine, where is added to breads, cakes, used as tahini paste, or as an ingredient in confectionery, as in halva. In Oriental cuisine, sesame seeds are frequently toasted or ground in Chinese, Japanese and Korean cooking, as a condiment.
Both sesame seed and oil are widely used. Sesame seeds have a distinctive nutty flavor that becomes very subtle in the oil.
Although sesame comes from India, and there is evidence it was cultivated there for the first time, sesame seed is seen as an ingredient in Middle Eastern or Chinese cuisine.
How to identify sesame
The plant is an annual herbaceous with deep green lanceolate leaves. It can grow up to 6 feet (2 m) with white to purple flowers.
The seeds are small and usually pale cream, almost white, in color but color can vary to brown, red or black. Sesame seeds grow in pods.
- Muki goma - hulled white sesame seeds.
- Shiro goma - hulled white sesame seeds.
- Kuro goma - black sesame seeds.
Gomashio is a Japanese seasoning made from toasted sesame seeds and sea salt.
How to use and store
The part of the sesame plant used are the edible seeds which can be dried or ground to make tahini. The seeds are rich in oil that can be extracted and used in cooking. Store sesame seeds in an airtight container in a cupboard, protected from direct light.
Toasting the seeds lightly in a pan, until they jump, will improve flavor. Sprinkle toasted seeds in breads, creackers, buns and cakes, before baking, or over shushi and salads as they are.
The seeds can also be toasted in large batches, in the oven.
Sesame oil is the choice for Far East cuisine and it is the oil used for any stir fry or marinating meats. Sesame oil can be flavored as in hot chili sesame oil.
How to grow
Sesame grows in warm climates, mainly tropical or sub-tropical regions. Sesame is an annual plant that takes 3 to 6 months to mature.The seeds grow best in well drained soils and perform poorly if water clogged. Plant seeds in warm, moist soil and not too deep.
It is widely grown in India, China and the Far East in general. Africa is also a significant producer. Some sesame is grown in Central America, mainly Mexico and Texas, but not to be global suppliers.
Cooking with sesame
Sesame seeds are often added to bread - in Greece, Cyprus or the Middle East - and baked or fried cakes - Spain. Tahini is a paste made from ground sesame seeds that is served with garlic and lemon to eat with bread; add pureed chickpeas and you have hummus. The Middle Eastern halva counts sesame seed as an important ingredient and similar sweets are found in India.
Shrimp and sesame seed toasts are a delicious Chinese appetizer or snack. These consist of deep fried bread with a spread of mashed shrimp and covered with sesame seed. Bulgogi is a Korean dish made of marinated beef cut into strips, stir-fried or barbecued, and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds.
Take inspiration from the Far East. Use sesame oil for Chinese style stir-fries and sprinkle with lightly toasted sesame seeds. Make a sauce from roasted and ground sesame seeds in the Japanese style. Add to chicken and beef dishes as used in Korean cuisine. Used ground sesame to thicken spicy Indian dishes.
Place 1 cup sesame seeds in a frying pan over medium heat and toast, stirring constantly, until they just begin to turn a light brown. Place in a food blender. Grind to a coarse texture and stir in the salt. Keep in a covered jar in the refrigerator.
If you are baking, the recipe list sesame seeds among the ingredients and you don't have it, you could substitute 1 Tbs sesame seeds with:
- 1 Tbs poppy seeds - smaller - sunflower seeds - larger but similar flavor - or pumpkin seeds - much larger.
- 1 Tbs finely chopped nuts such as peanuts, almonds or cashews.
Substitute 1 Tbs untoasted sesame oil with 1 tsp toasted sesame oil + 2 tsp peanut or sunflower oil, or, alternatively, use 1 Tbs peanut oil, sunflower oil, groundnut oil, or vegetable oil.
Substitute 1 Tbs toasted sesame oil with 2 tsp toasted, crushed seeds + 1 tsp untoasted sesame oil or peanut oil, or 2 tsp tahini.
Substitute 1/2 cup tahini with same amount of sesame paste, almond, cashew or peanut butter, or a nut butter and untoasted sesame oil mix.