Sesame Seeds

Learn about the rich history of sesame and its continued culinary and medicinal uses.

  • Sesame seeds are rich in natural minerals such as copper, calcium, magnesium, and iron.
    Photo by Getty/coramueller
  • “Essential Guide to Growing and Cooking with Herbs,” edited by Katherine K. Schlosser, pulls from the knowledge of some of America’s top herb enthusiasts, using recipes and insight provided by members of The Herb Society of America.
    Cover courtesy of Louisiana State Press

Essential Guide to Growing and Cooking with Herbs (Louisiana State University Press, 2009) edited by Katherine K. Schlosser is a compilation of herb profiles, recipes, uses, and histories by The Herb Society of America. Including plant origins, growing suggestions, succinct descriptions, and hand-drawn representations of the herbs, Schlosser’s collection is an effective aid to any herb enthusiast hoping to make the most out of their garden. Schlosser is a long-time member of The Herb Society of America and the editor of Wild Flower, a journal produced by the North Carolina Native Plant Society. This excerpt encompasses the plant profile for sesame seeds.

Sesamum orientale
Family: Pedaliaceae
Origin: southeast Asia
Hardiness: annual
Light/Soil: full sun/moist soil

A sun-loving annual, Sesamum orientale requires three to four months with temperatures above freezing to produce seeds. Growing to about five feet tall, with narrow four-inch leaves close to the stem, sesame is an easy plant to grow in the garden, tolerating dry conditions and performing well in slightly sandy soil. In cooler climates, start the seeds indoors about six weeks before you move them to the garden in order to allow the plants time to produce seeds. When mature, the upright seed pods, which grow in the axils of the leaves, are a delight to children and adults alike when they pop open, releasing their long-treasured seeds.

Sesame is one of the first seasonings mentioned in recorded history, appearing twice in a twelfth-century BCE Assyrian creation myth. According to this myth, the gods drank sesame wine the night before they created the earth. Indeed, the myth credits a god with filling the earth’s storerooms with “sesame, emmer, abundant grain.” (Emmer, Triticum dicoccoides, is an ancient cereal grain.)

For literally thousands of years, sesame has been an important economic crop. Its tiny seeds have from 45 to 63 percent oil and are 25 percent protein. The oil has a continuing history of use in culinary, medicinal, beauty, and industrial applications. Prized primarily for their sweet, nutty flavor, which is intensified by light toasting, sesame seeds are used in breads, cakes and cookies, vegetables, curry dishes, and confections. Tahini, a paste made from ground sesame seeds, is a major ingredient of hummus. Pressed, the seeds release a warm-flavored oil that is the basis of many dressings, marinades, and sauces.

Sesame seeds are straw-colored, red, or black. All are nutritious, flavorful, and store well because they contain a natural antioxidant called sesamol. This is a fun plant to grow in the home garden, but unless you plant a field of sesame, don’t expect a large crop of seeds to harvest for year-round use. Just enjoy the plants, using what seeds you manage to save as a bonus

More From Essential Growing and Cooking with Herbs:

Reprinted with permission from Essential Guide to Growing and Cooking with Herbs, edited by Katherine K. Schlosser and published by Louisiana State University Press, 2009.



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