Sesame seeds are the edible seeds of the flowering plant Sesamum, which is also known as benne. The sesame plant perhaps originated in East Africa or Asia, as the Chinese used the seeds for at least 5,000 years ago. And since then, they have been burning its oil to make soots for ink sticks. In addition, countless numbers of wild species also occur in Africa and a smaller number in India. Nevertheless, sesame seed is one of the oldest oilseed crops that was cultivated more than 3000 years ago. It’s noted for having one of the highest oil content any seed can have. Thus, it provides a rich, sweet, and nutty flavor that is enhanced by toasting or roasting. However, like any other nuts and seeds, it can trigger allergies to some people.
Sesame Seed Trivia
- 75% of Mexico’s sesame seed production is sold to McDonald’s. They use the seeds on their hamburger buns.
- Sesame oil, which is extracted from sesame seeds, is used in Ayurveda therapy. It claims to help in the circulation of blood and the nervous system when being used for massages.
- African slaves were the ones who introduced sesame seeds in America. Benne wafer cookies, a South Carolina specialty, were named after the Nigerian word for sesame – benne.
- Mythical legends state that Gods drank sesame wine as soon as they finished creating the world. In the culture of Hindu, sesame seeds represent immortality. In fact, the phrase “open sesame” was derived in reference to the opening of sesame pods as soon as it reaches its maturity.
Sesame Seed Buying Guide
Sesame seeds can be easily found in almost any grocery store. But, it can be quite confusing to know which are the best ones to buy. Thus, here are some helpful tips on how to buy them:
- Sesame seeds can be found in the spice or nuts aisle of the grocery stores. You can also buy them in bulk at any Middle Eastern markets and health food stores.
- Since sesame seeds contain a high concentration of oil, they quickly become rancid. Thus, it is best to buy them in small amounts and consume them as soon as you can.
- Sesame seeds can come in either black or white varieties. The black ones provide a stronger scent and a richer flavor that pairs well on bold and heavy dishes. Some also say that black sesame seeds are more bitter than its counterpart. Meanwhile, the white ones provide a more delicate flavor; hence, it can be used on all recipes that call for sesame seeds. When choosing between the two colors though, also consider the appearance on top of its flavors.
- As always, edible seeds from local food vendors and artisans in farmers’ markets are better than the mass-produced ones. Here, you’ll get close to no preservatives and the ingredients are usually organic. Their products are also made in small batches and you might be able to get free samples along the way. Feel free to check some of the local producers here at our Texas Real Food website.
Sesame Seed Production & Farming in Texas
Sesame plant is an annual herb with foxglove-like flowers that produce pods containing the sesame seeds. These pods open as the seeds mature. Then, the hulls are taken out because they contain oxalic acid, which gives the seeds a bitter flavor. The seeds are either marketed as is or they can be pressed to produce sesame oil.
Nevertheless, sesame can tolerate heat and even drought. Thus, it thrives even in the drier regions of Texas. In fact, these plants are commonly grown in South Plains, Wintergarden, Lower Rio Grande Valley, Coastal Bend, and Rolling Plains. In addition, sesame is adaptive to a well-drained and fertile soil yet it is not salt tolerant. Medium-textured soils are preferred rather than heavy clay soils, especially when the irrigation water has high concentrations of salt.
Pesticides, additives, and chemicals:
Fortunately, all of the store-bought sesame seeds are pure, without any additives. However, the plants may have been sprayed with pesticides. The only difference is that organic sesame seeds may contain organic pesticides while the other one may contain non-organic pesticides.
Toasted or not, you can buy sesame seeds in spice jars, plastic bags and canisters, pouches, paper bags, and cartons.
Enjoying Sesame Seeds
Sesame seeds are best enjoyed on top of salads, stir-fries, sandwiches, and soups. Untoasted sesame seeds can also be turned into a tahini paste, which is a major component in many Middle Eastern specialties. Their nutty flavor also works perfectly on both sweet and savory baked goods.
Furthermore, toasting sesame seeds intensifies their nutlike flavor. There are two places where you can do this: on the stovetop and in the oven. On the stovetop, simply pour an even layer of seeds in a dry skillet and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and the seeds are golden brown in color (roughly 3-5 minutes). Or, you can pour an even layer of seeds in a sheet tray lined with parchment paper and toast them in the oven at 350ºF, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and the seeds are golden brown in color (roughly 8-15 minutes). Toasted sesame seeds can also be turned into a paste, which can be a good substitute for peanut butter.
Sesame seeds should be kept in an airtight container. Although it’s not necessary to store them in the refrigerator, they should be at least stored in a dark, dry, and cool place away from sunlight and away from hot and humid zones like stoves, grills, or ovens, where it could last for up to 3 months. But, if you want to prolong its shelf life, we highly suggest you store them either in the refrigerator, where it could last up to 6 months; or in the freezer, where it could last up to 1 year. Meanwhile, sesame oil is more stable than the seeds. Storing it into the pantry with the same characteristics listed above, it could last for a few years without turning rancid.
Let’s get cooking!
With our love for pork roasts, there is no wonder that all the ingredients listed below aren’t in your pantry at the moment. So, let’s put that sesame seeds in use, and let’s get cooking! Below is a recipe for Sesame Pork Roast that you and your family will surely love! Enjoy!
Yield: 8 servings
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp ginger, grated
- 2 tbsp sesame oil
- 4 cups soy sauce
- 3 lbs pork tenderloin
- 4 tbsp dark brown sugar
- ½ cup honey
- ½ cup sesame seeds
- Combine the first four ingredients in a large bowl. Add the tenderloin and coat all sides. Massage the meat for 3-5 minutes to tenderize. Cover the bowl and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.
- Preheat the oven to 375ºF.
- Mix sugar and honey in a bowl. In a separate wide plate, pour the sesame seeds.
- Remove the tenderloin from its marinade (Save the marinade!) and pat dry using a paper towel. Roll the meat in honey mixture, then in sesame seeds. Finally rest the meat in a shallow pan or wire rack and roast in the oven for 20-30 minutes, rotating halfway, or until the internal temperature reaches 160ºF.
- Transfer the meat into a serving plate and rest for 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, boil the marinade for 2 minutes. Transfer it into a small dipping plate and serve it on the side of the meat.