Sesame (Sesamum orientale)

Sesame is one of the world’s oldest crops and is grown for its seeds which are consumed whole, as a paste or oil.


Sesame seeds have a nutty, earthy taste that is increased when ground or roasted.


Sesame seeds have a faint earthy smell but are not particularly aromatic.


Sesame is used in a wide variety of cuisines from Middle Eastern to Japanese and Indian to Chinese. Whole seeds are commonly spread over bread, added to dough and used to garnish stir fries, salads and meat dishes. Sesame paste and oil are common ingredients in Oriental cooking and are used to make Middle Eastern tahini and hummus. Sesame loves eggplant, zucchini, fish, green vegetables, honey, lemon, noodles, rice and sugar and marries perfectly with cardamom, chilli, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, ginger, garlic, oregano and thyme.


Sesame plants are grown from seed and reach to 1.8m at maturity. The plant has oblong, hairy leaves; pink, white or yellow trumpet flowers and 4 seed capsules. The plants are harvested before the seed pods are ripe by cutting the stems and hanging the plants upside down over mats. The pods burst open and seeds are caught on the mats below. Depending on the variety, the seeds are red, black, brown or yellow however when husked they are a creamy colour. Most sesame seeds sold are husked however black sesame seeds are also available.


Sesame seeds are the oldest oilseed crop known to humanity and is thought to have originated in Africa or India. It was farmed by the Chinese 5000 years ago where the oil was used for cooking and to make soot for their ink blocks. Slaves took sesame seeds from Africa to America in the belief it would bring them luck. Sesame is now grown in India, China, Burma, Mexico, Pakistan, Turkey, Uganda, Sudan and Nigeria.


Sesame has been said to improve memory and concentration and contains a powerful antioxidant called, sesamol. It is used in laxatives and as the oil is highly stable, is used in lubricants, soap, cosmetics and ointments.

Facts about Sesame

The phrase “open sesame” from the movie ‘Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves’ is thought to have nothing to do with the plant or seed, but comes from the phrase “open, says me.” This phrase is also thought to have been behind the naming of the popular TV show, Sesame Street, as it suggests excitement and adventure.

Sesame seeds can replace nuts in any recipe.

Commonly Questions

How do I toast sesame seeds?

Add sesame seeds to a dry, heated pan. Stir or shake seeds regularly so they roast evenly. When they start to brown or jump in the pan, remove from the heat and allow to cool before serving.