Sesame seeds are a spice that comes from a small annual plant, Sesamum indicum. Native to sub-Saharan Africa, Indonesia, and Asia, the sesame plant is a member of the Pedaliaceae family. The plant grows 2 to 9 feet tall and has yellow, white, or purple tubular flowers an inch or two long.
The seed pods contain many creamy, flattened, teardrop-shaped white seeds. Some varieties of sesame produce black seeds. When the seed pods are fully ripe, they are snapped open to spread their seeds. This is the origin of the magic phrase, "Open sesame!".
Cultivated since ancient times, archaeological finds of charred sesame seeds date back thousands of years before the present era. In China, Organic Raw Black Sesame Oil was burned to make the best soot for ink blocks around 5,000 years ago. The Romans used it as a condiment by grinding sesame seeds with cumin to make a bread spread.
Sesame is grown for its seeds which have approximately 50% oil content. Polyunsaturated oils are in the highest concentration, but monounsaturated and saturated fats are also present. The oil is considered stable since it does not turn rancid quickly due to oxidation, but it is still recommended to store the seeds in a refrigerator to preserve them for longer.
The seeds and oil are rich in minerals such as iron, manganese, magnesium, copper, and calcium. They are also rich in thiamine (vitamin B1) and tocopherol (vitamin E), which are responsible for the antioxidant properties of sesame.
Sesame seeds are widely used in bakery products, especially in sandwich rolls, on top of bagels, and in candy. Other foods that use sesame seeds include pieces of bread, muffins, cakes, cookies, cupcakes, dressings, sauces, chutneys, and vegetable dishes. The seeds are often roasted in a dry skillet first to bring out the nutty flavor.