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Sesame seeds: An ancient food with therapeutic uses

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sesame seeds

Story at-a-glance -

  • Sesame seeds (Sesamum indicum) are some of the oldest plants cultivated, with a history dating back thousands of years
  • Sesame seeds are rich in fiber, an important dietary component that helps bulk up stools and promote regular elimination
  • Sesame oil is a liquid derived from sesame seeds through various manufacturing processes, such as pressing

Sesame seeds are popular for culinary preparations, but they can have a host of benefits as well. Discover interesting facts about these seeds, as well as their many uses.

What are sesame seeds?

Sesame seeds (Sesamum indicum) are some of the oldest plants cultivated, with a history dating back thousands of years in various cultures.1 Hindus viewed sesame seeds as a symbol of immortality, while Egyptians and Persians used them as flour. Today, they’re used for cooking or as a condiment, with China, India and Japan being the most prominent users of sesame as an oil.2

Sesame seeds may have health benefits

Sesame seeds are mainly harvested for their oil, but both the seeds and oil may be useful in various therapeutic applications. Research has found that sesame may help:

  • Manage pain better — A study showed that patients affected with knee osteoarthritis who took sesame seeds for two months experienced fewer symptoms.3
  • Boost wound recovery — The oil in sesame seeds may help speed up skin healing upon topical application.4
  • Increase antioxidant levels — Intake of sesame seeds may help boost the amount of enzymatic and nonenzymatic antioxidants running through your system, which may help combat oxidative stress caused by diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, according to the Journal of Medicinal Food.5
  • Manage hypertension — Research published in Nutrition Journal noted that black sesame (a variety of sesame seed) exhibited antihypertensive effects.6

Sesame seeds are crucial for industrial purposes as well. It’s used for preparing perfumes, cologne and cosmetic products. It’s even added to paints and lubricants, as well as a key ingredient to biodiesel.7

The various culinary uses of sesame seeds

Sesame seeds are mostly associated with Asian cuisine, such as Japanese and Chinese. Popular foods and dishes with which they’re used include:

  • Chicken — Sesame seeds can serve as tasty coatings for chicken cuts if you’re looking to create meals with an Asian flair.8
  • Tahini — Essentially a sesame seed paste, this dish is a core ingredient in making hummus, but can also stand on its own as a dip or as a flavoring for other dishes.9
  • Gomasio — Made of sesame seeds and a very small amount of salt, it is usually used as a condiment to give dishes a nutty flavor.10
  • Salads — You can sprinkle sesame seeds on top of salads to add more flavor.11

While popular in cooking, take note that sesame seeds contain high levels of omega-6 fatty acid, which may disrupt your omega 3-to-6 ratio. A quarter cup alone has 7.69 grams, while its omega-3 content is only a measly 0.14 grams.12 If you wish to use sesame seeds, only do so in very moderate amounts.

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How to grow and store sesame seeds in your own home

Growing sesame seeds is generally an easy and low-maintenance affair, but requires patience on your part before you can fully reap the rewards. An article from the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) at the University of Florida notes that sesame seeds can take as much as five months before they sprout.13

Gardening Know How recommends planting sesame seeds indoors “four to six weeks before the last expected frost.”14 However, you may plant sesame seeds directly into the ground after a frost if you live in the Southern states. Place the seeds in rows in the ground during late spring and make sure to space them 2 to 3 feet apart, because they can grow 3 to 6 feet tall.15

After planting the seeds, keep the soil moist to ensure successful germination. Exposure to the sun must be at its maximum as well.16 Harvest the seeds when the top of the stalks dry out, and lay them flat on the ground for drying. However, be careful when collecting the seedpods as they can easily crack.17,18

Before using sesame seeds, reduce their lectin content first

While sesame seeds may potentially benefit your health, one caveat about them is their lectin content, such as phytic acid.19 Lectins are carbohydrate-bonding proteins that hamper nutrient absorption, ultimately affecting your health by damaging your intestines if your digestive enzymes are not optimized.20

To help reduce the lectins in sesame seeds and other seeds for safe consumption, they must be sprouted or soaked overnight. Again, remember to use them in moderation because of their high omega-6 content. Excess omega-6 fatty acid consumption has been linked to “low-grade inflammation, oxidative stress, endothelial dysfunction and atherosclerosis.”21

Cooking with sesame: Easy sesame seed chicken recipe

Sesame is known for its prominent nutty flavor that lends itself wonderfully to soups, salads and meats. If you haven’t cooked with sesame seeds before, try this chicken recipe adapted from Gimme Delicious Food that’s bursting with delectability. It’s an easy dish to prepare, and is guaranteed to be a regular in your menu in the years to come:22

Healthier 20-Minute Sesame Chicken

Chicken Ingredients

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless pasture-raised chicken breasts (cut into 1/2-inch strips)
  • 2 tablespoons almond flour
  • 1 pinch each of salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • Small bunch of spring onions (scallions), chopped

Sauce Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons organic soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons raw honey
  • 1 teaspoon homemade sriracha sauce (add more for a spicier flavor)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds, soaked overnight
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil (optional)

Procedure

  1. In a large bowl, combine the chicken, cornstarch and the pinch of salt and pepper.
  2. Heat a large pan to high heat for at least two minutes. Add the coconut oil and chicken to the pan. Stir-fry the chicken for five to six minutes or until it is golden brown.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the soy sauce, honey, sriracha, ginger, garlic, sesame seeds and coconut oil. Add the mixture of the chicken and allow the sauce to simmer for three to four minutes or until thick and sticky.
  4. Remove the chicken from the pan, then sprinkle with chopped spring onions.

Recommended uses for sesame seed oil

Sesame oil is a liquid derived from black or white sesame seeds through cold-pressing and filtering.23 While the oil may be beneficial, it should be consumed in moderation because it is high in omega-6 fats.

So, this may leave you wondering: If you should limit sesame oil in your foods, are there any other ways to get its benefits? The answer is yes — research suggests sesame oil may be useful in topical applications, for example as a:

  • Sunscreen — Sesame oil can be applied on the skin as a natural sunblock. One study notes that it can help repel 30% of harmful UV rays.24 However, it is easily removed once you get in the water, so you may need to reapply again afterward.
  • Scalp conditioner — Massaging the oil into your scalp may help keep it healthy, as well as keep your hair strong and shiny. One study found that sesame oil, as well as pumpkin seed oil, may be effective remedies for alopecia areata.25

Remember to use sesame seeds and oil in moderation

Sesame seeds may offer potential health benefits, but make sure to consume just the right amounts to maintain your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio. Use them in moderation when cooking to give your dishes an Asian flavor without the potential negative effects. As for sesame oil, using it topically may be a better approach.