Sesame (Sesamum indicum L.) seeds have been widely cultivated in tropical regions throughout the world since prehistoric times. Its original home is known to be Ethiopia, however China, India, Myanmar and Sudan are currently the major producers, and there are about 36 species of the seeds in existence today.

 

Myth: Sesame seeds have limited culinary use.

Fact: Sesame seeds, now widely used in European and North American baking industries, add a delicate, nutty flavor to a variety of bread and pastry products. Its flavor becomes more noticeable when toasted under low heat. It provides an almost invisible crunch to many Asian dishes, and it’s also the main ingredients found in tahini (sesame paste) and the Middle Eastern sweet called halvah. Sesame is highly valued for its oil, which is exceptionally resistant to rancidity. In addition, sesame meal (gluten-free flour) is a byproduct used for food and feed because of its high protein content. Sesame butter (a thicker version of tahini) can be used like peanut butter in many recipes. Tahini is commonly used with chickpeas to make hummus, and in baba ganoush and halvah as well as many sauces and dressings. Roasted and crushed seeds are often sprinkled over salads, desserts, mostly sundaes, and other confectionery preparations.

Myth: Sesame is of low nutritional value.

Facts: Dried sesame seeds are an excellent source of magnesium, potassium, iron, calcium, phosphorous, zinc, copper, thiamin, niacin, folic acid and vitamin B6. It’s also a rich source of dietary fiber and contain riboflavin. The fats obtained from sesame seeds are 82 percent mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Other specific nutrients, including various amino and fatty acids, and minerals are in sesame seeds. The phytosterol content of sesame seeds is high compared to walnuts and Brazil nuts.

Myth: Besides culinary uses, sesame seeds provide no other health benefits.

Facts: Sesame seeds contain two lignans, noncarbohydrate parts of food, with antioxidant properties shown to have cholesterol-lowering effects in humans. Black sesame seeds have been shown to have possible anti-hypertensive effects by improving antioxidant and oxidative stress. Nutraceutical and pharmaceutical products of sesame has also been shown to decrease several health risks.

Myth: Sesame seeds are hard to find.

Facts: Within the U.S., sesame seeds, meal and tahini are available for purchase in many grocery and health food stores. Specialty ethnic markets are likely to sell a variety of sesame seeds, tahini and other confectionery products.

Myth: Sesame and/or its byproducts have no safety concerns.

Fact: Some individuals may be hypersensitive to seeds, including sesame seeds, and should therefore consume it cautiously. Sesame seed allergies may produce reactions, including hives, dermatitis and itching. Sometimes, the disease manifestation may be severe and can lead to serious physical symptoms, such as vomiting, stomach pain, swelling of lips and throat, leading to breathing difficulty, chest congestion and death. It should also be noted that sesame oil is seen as a mild laxative and should be used appropriately.

The Goods is a monthly column about food myths and facts by faculty members in the University of North Florida’s Nutrition and Dietetics Flagship Program, where Claudia Sealey-Potts is an associate professor. Have a question about sesame seeds? Contact Sealey-Potts at c.sealey-potts@unf.edu