Sesame (//; Sesamum indicum) is a flowering plant in the genus Sesamum. Numerous wild relatives occur in Africa and a smaller number in India. It is widely naturalized in tropical regions around the world and is cultivated for its edible seeds, which grow in pods.
Sesame seed is one of the oldest oilseed crops known, domesticated well over 3000 years ago. It was a major summer crop in the Middle East for thousands of years, as attested to by the discovery of many ancient presses for sesame oil in the region. Sesame is drought-tolerant and is able to grow where other crops fail.
Sesame has one of the highest oil contents of any seed. With a rich nutty flavor, it is a common ingredient in cuisines across the world. Like other nuts and foods, it can trigger allergic reactions in some people.
The world harvested about 3.84 million metric tonnes of sesame seeds in 2010. The largest producer of sesame seeds in 2010 was Burma. The world's largest exporter of sesame seeds was India, and Japan the largest importer.
It 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 yellow, 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 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 to 2 cm, and the number of loculi from 4 to 12. The fruit naturally splits opens (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.
Sesame seeds are small. The size, form and colours vary with the thousands of varieties now known. Typically, the seeds are about 3 to 4 millimeters long by 2 millimeters wide and 1 millimeter thick. The seeds are ovate, slightly flattened and somewhat thinner at the eye of the seed (hilum) than at the opposite end. The weight of the seeds are between 20 and 40 milligrams. The seed coat (testa) may be smooth or ribbed.
Sesame seeds come in many colours depending on the cultivar harvested. The most traded variety of sesame is off-white coloured. Other common colours are buff, tan, gold, brown, reddish, gray and black.
Sesame seed is sometimes sold with its seed coat removed (decorticated). This is the variety often present on top of buns in developed economies.
Sesame seed is considered to be the oldest oilseed crop known to humanity. Sesame has many species, and most are wild. Most wild species of the genus Sesamum are native to sub-Saharan Africa. Sesame Indicum the cultivated type, originated in India.
Charred remains of sesame recovered from archeological excavations have been dated to 3500-3050 BC. Fuller claims trading of sesame between Mesopotamia and regions that are now Pakistan and India occurred by 2000 BC. Some reports claim sesame was cultivated in Egypt during the Ptolemiac period, while others suggest the New Kingdom
Records from Babylon and Assyria, dating about 4000 years ago mention sesame. 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 from Turkey 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 very 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 as well as presence of excess water, the yields are significantly lower in either conditions. Moisture levels before planting and flowering impact yield most.
Most commercial cultivars of sesame are intolerant of water-logging. Rainfall late in the season prolongs growth and increases high harvest-shattering losses. Wind can also cause shattering at harvest.
Initiation of flowering is sensitive to photoperiod and to sesame variety. The photoperiod also impacts the oil content in sesame seed; increased photoperiod increases oil content. The oil content of the seed is inversely proportional to its protein content.
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 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.
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 percent 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 perfectly coloured sesame seeds. This is done because sesame seeds with consistent appearance are perceived to be of better quality by consumers, and sell for a higher price. Immature or off-sized seeds are removed and used for oil production.
Production and trade
|Top ten sesame producers in 2010|
The total global harvest was about 3.84 million metric tonnes of sesame seeds in 2010. The largest producer in 2010 was Burma (Myanmar), and the top three producers, Burma, India, and China, accounted for 50 percent of global production.
Sesame was grown on over 7.8 million hectares in 2010.
The global average yield of sesame seeds was 0.49 metric tonnes per hectare in 2010. The table in this section presents the 2010 production (million metric tons) and yields (metric tons per hectare) for the top ten producer countries.
The most productive sesame seed farms in the world were in the European Union with an average composite yield of 5.5 metric tonnes per hectare in 2010; Italy reported the best nationwide average yield of 7.2 metric tonnes per hectare. There is a large yield gap and farm loss differences between major sesame seed producers, in part because of knowledge gap, poor crop management practices and use of technology.
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. Africa produces a variety of sesame seeds.
Beginning in the 1950s, U.S. production of the crop has been largely centered in Texas, with acreage fluctuating between 10,000 to 20,000 acres (40 to 80 km2) in recent years. The country's crop does not make up a significant global source; indeed imports have now outstripped domestic production.
The world traded over a billion dollars worth of sesame seeds in 2010. The trade volume has been increasing rapidly in the last two decades.
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 sesame. China exports lower priced food grade sesame seeds, particularly to southeast Asia. Other major importers are the United States, Canada, Netherlands, Turkey and France.
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 percent) 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, by premium prices and by quality, the largest exporter was India, followed by Ethiopia and Myanmar.
Nutrition and health treatments
- Nutritional content
For thousands of years, sesame seeds have been a source of food and oil. Sesame has one of the highest oil content of any seed, some varietals exceeding 50 percent oil content compared to soybean's 20 percent. Sesame oil is one of the most stable vegetable oils, with long shelf life, because of the high level of natural antioxidants (sesamin, sesamolin, and sesamol). Oil from the seed is used in cooking, as salad oils and margarine, and contains about 47 percent oleic and 39 percent linoleic acid. Sesame seed oil, like sunflower seed oil, is rich in Omega 6 fatty acids, but lacks Omega 3 fatty acids. Sesame seed is also rich in protein, at 25 percent by weight. The flour that remains after oil extraction is between 35 to 50 percent protein, has good effective carbohydrates, and contains water-soluble antioxidants (sesaminol glucosides) that provide added shelf-life to many products. This flour, also called sesame meal, is an excellent high-protein feed for poultry and livestock. The addition of sesame to high lysine meal of soybean produces a well balanced animal feed.
In 2008, about 65 percent of the annual sesame crop was processed into oil and 35 percent was used in food. The food segment included about 42 percent roasted sesame, 36 percent washed sesame, 12 percent ground sesame and 10 percent roasted sesame seed with salt.
- Health claims
Kamal-Eldin et al. have reviewed patent literature claiming beneficial effects of sesame seed. They note that these health claims are based on the very high levels (up to 2.5%) of furofuran lignans with beneficial physiological activities, mainly sesamin, sesamolin, and sesaminol glucosides. Among edible oils from six plants, sesame oil had the highest Ferric Reducing/Antioxidant Power (FRAP) value, which means the herbs and additives are better preserved in sesame oil. To the extent these herbs have health benefits, the study proposes that it may be possible that ingestion of these herbs preserved in sesame oil could increase resistance of polyunsaturated fatty acids of cell membranes and lipoproteins to oxidation within the body.
Sesame seeds and sesame oil are a serious allergen to some people. Even some infants have been found to exhibit allergies to sesame. In Australia the occurrence of allergy to sesame seed was estimated to be 0.42 percent among all children, while in the United Kingdom the allergic reaction was found to affect 0.04 percent of adults. The occurrence of allergy to sesame in patients with some form of food allergy was found to be much higher than in the general population, ranging from 0.5 percent in Switzerland to 8.5 percent in Australia. In other words, allergy to sesame affects a small percentage of overall human population, but sesame allergy is high in people who already show symptoms of allergy to other foods.
The symptoms of sesame seed allergy can be classified into:
- Systemic reactions: Primarily presenting anaphylaxis characterized by symptoms including hives (urticaria), lip and eyelid swelling (angioedema ) sneezing, nasal itching, congestion, rhinorrhea, wheezing, cough, tightness of throat, hoarse voice, difficulty in breathing, abdominal pain, unconsciousness, shock with drop of blood pressure. In the systemic reactions can also be included severe reactions like dizziness, drowsiness, chills and collapse as has been reported in patients after ingestion of a falafel burger.
- Other symptoms: Facial or generalized redness (“flushing”), hives (urticaria) on smaller or larger parts of the body, swelling of the eyelids, lips or other parts of the face, itching of the eyes or of the skin in general, hay fever symptoms in the eyes and eczema. Respiratory symptoms observed include hay fever, asthma, cough, wheeze, or difficulty in breathing. Gastrointestinal symptoms: Itching in the mouth and/or tongue soon after chewing and ingesting (Oral allergy syndrome) and abdominal pain.
Amounts as low as 100 mg of sesame seeds or flour and 3 ml of oil can trigger allergic reactions in severe cases of sesame allergic individuals. Most patients, however, show allergic reactions after consuming 2–10 grams of sesame seeds or flour. The onset of the symptoms may occur within a few minutes up to 90 minutes after ingestion of a sesame seed product. Most patients had other allergic diseases such as asthma, hay fever, and eczema, and most patients also had a relative with an allergic disease. More than two thirds of the patients with sesame allergy also had food allergic reactions to other foods.
Prevalence of sesame allergy varies per country. While it is one of the three most common allergens in Israel, sesame allergy prevalence is considered small relative to other allergens in the United States. Some experts consider sesame allergies to have "increased more than any other type of food allergy over the past 10 to 20 years" in the United States. Such increasing prevalence led Canada to issue regulations that require food labels to note the presence of sesame.
In addition to products derived from sesame such as tahini and sesame oil, persons with sesame allergies are warned to stay away from a broad assortment of processed foods including baked goods, tempeh, and generic "vegetable oil." In addition to possible food sources, individuals allergic to sesame have been warned that a variety of non-food sources may also trigger a reaction to sesame, including adhesive bandages, cosmetics, hair care products, perfumes, soaps and sunscreens, drugs, some fungicides and insecticides, lubricants, ointments and topical oils, and pet food.
At least one study found that "standard skin and blood testing for food allergies doesn’t predict whether a child has true sesame allergy."  In which case, a food challenge under the direction of a physician may be required to properly diagnose a sesame allergy.
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 breads, including bagels and the tops of hamburger buns. Sesame seeds may be baked into crackers, often in the form of sticks. In Sicily and France, the seeds are eaten on bread (called "ficelle sésame", sesame thread). In Greece the seeds are also used in cakes.
In Asia, sesame seeds are sprinkled onto some sushi style foods.[clarification needed] 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, like Chinese cuisine use sesame seeds and oil in some dishes, such as dim sum, sesame seed balls (Chinese: 麻糰; pinyin: mátuǎnpinyin or 煎堆; 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 delicious 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 nit clusters and eaten as snacks. In Manipur (India) black sesame is used in the preparation of Thoiding and in Singju (a kind of salad). Thoiding is prepared with ginger and chili and vegetables are used in the spicy Singu dish. In Assam, black sesame seeds are used to make Til Pitha and Tilor laru (sesame seed balls) during bihu. In Punjab and Tamil Nadu (both in India), a sweet ball called "Pinni" (پنی) in Urdu and 'Ell urundai' in Tamil, "Ellunda"(എള്ളുണ്ട) in Malayalam, "Yellunde" (sesame ball, usually in jaggery) in Kannada and tilgul in Marathi is made of its seeds mixed with sugar.
Also in Tamil Nadu, sesame oil used extensively in their cuisine, 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, as well as to temper the heat of their spicy foods, pickles and condiments.
Sesame seed cookies and wafers, both sweet and savory, are popular in places like 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.
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 seeds is also used in sweet confections.
In South Asia, Middle East, 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 (胡麻豆腐) is made from sesame paste (Tahini) 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 flat breads or artisan nutrition bars, such as alegrías.
In Sicilian cuisine, what are commonly called "Italian sesame seed cookies" are known as giuggiuleni (plural, pronounced ju-ju-LAY-nee). A giuggiulena (singular) 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 too rapidly.
|Kunjut, Shushma||Քունջութ, կունճուտ,
|Zhī Má, Hú Má||芝麻, 胡麻||Chinese (Mandarin)|
Ssisaem, Ggae, Kkae
|참깨, 깨씨, 씨샘, 깨||Korean|
|Teel, Till, Sésame||French|
|Teel, Till||तीळ||Marathi, Konkani|
The word sesame is from Latin sesamum, borrowed from Greek sésamon "seed or fruit of the sesame plant", borrowed from Semitic (cf. Hebrew sumsum, Arabic simsim, Aramaic shūmshĕmā), from Late Babylonian *shawash-shammu, itself from Assyrian shamash-shammū, from shaman shammī "plant oil".
From all the 3 roots above, words with the generalized meaning “oil, liquid fat” are derived, e.g., Sanskrit taila [तैल]. Similar semantic shifts from the name of an oil crop to a general word “fat, oil” are also known for other languages, e.g., “olive” has given rise to English “oil”.
Upon ripening, sesame fruit capsules split, releasing the seeds with a pop. It has been suggested that this is root of the phrase "Open Sesame" in the historic fable of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves in One Thousand and One Nights. The opening of the capsule releases the treasure of sesame seeds.
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (March 2012)|
According to Assyrian legend, when the gods met to create the world, they drank wine made from sesame seeds.
In Hindu legends and beliefs, sesame seeds represent a symbol of immortality and the god Maha Vishnu's consort Maha Sri Devi herself represents the properties of the sesame seed. Black sesame seeds are used in many rituals. As such, its oil is considered as the most auspicious oil next to ghee used in Hindu rituals and prayers.
In recent times, sesame seeds have become an ingredient in wiccan practices. Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Wicca in the Kitchen suggests their use to aid conception, to draw money, or for protection.
Sesame seeds are also used conceptionally in Urdu literature, in the proverbs "til dharnay ki jagah na hona"; meaning a place so crowded that there is no room for a single seed of sesame, and "in tilon mein teil nahee" (ان تلوں میں تیل نہیں); referring to a person who appears to be useful but shan't be of much use (selfish) when the time comes, literally meaning: there is no oil (left) in this sesame.
A simit is a small circular Turkish bread with sesame seeds
Thai workers harvesting sesame
Sesame seed balls are very popular treats in East Asia
- Open Sesame, Haaretz
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Sesamum.|
|Wikispecies has information related to: Sesamum indicum|
- Sesamum indicum in Flora of Pakistan
- Katzer's Spice Pages: Sesame
- GFU for Underutilized Species
- pharmacographica indica page 42