Sesame Seeds: An Ancient Food With a Powerful Flavor and Potential Therapeutic Uses


Story at-a-glance:

  • Sesame seeds (Sesamum indicum) are one of the oldest plants cultivated, with a history dating back to around 4,000 years ago, that can be seen in various cultures
  • 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 (Sesamum indicum) are one of the oldest plants cultivated, with a history dating back to around 4,000 years ago, that can be seen in various cultures. For Hindus, they are a symbol of immortality, while Egyptians and Persians use them as flour. Today, they’re used for cooking or as a condiment, with China, India and Japan being the most prominent users.1

Sesame Seeds May Have Health Benefits as Well

Sesame seeds contain antioxidant properties that may benefit your health. They possess a unique mixture of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that may help:2

Promote healthy digestion: Sesame seeds are rich in fiber, an important dietary component that helps bulk up stools and promote regular elimination. As a result, fiber may help lower your risk of common stomach problems such as constipation and diarrhea.

Protect against radiation: Sesamol, a unique compound found in sesame seeds, may help protect your DNA against the harmful effects of radiation exposure. This may be beneficial for those who are currently receiving radiation treatments for cancer to prevent further cellular mutation.

Boost metabolic function: Sesame seeds are rich in protein, a nutrient essential for various biological processes to keep your body running smoothly, such as cellular growth, mobility, energy and strength.

Manage diabetes: Research has found that sesame seeds contain magnesium, a mineral helpful for the management of diabetes symptoms by helping regulate insulin and glucose levels.

Fight free radicals: Sesame seeds contain phytate, an antioxidant that may help reduce free radicals throughout your body, which are connected to various forms of cancer.

The Various Applications of Sesame Seeds in Cooking

Sesame seeds can be useful for various culinary preparations. They are mostly associated with Asian cuisine, such as Japanese and Chinese. Popular methods of using them include:

Chicken: Sesame seeds can serve as tasty coatings for chicken cuts if you’re looking to create meals with an Asian flair.3

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.4

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.5

Salads: Sprinkle sesame seeds on top of a salad to add a vibrant taste to the vegetables.6

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 already has 7.69 grams, while its omega-3 content is only a measly 0.14 grams.7 If you wish to use sesame seeds, only do so in very moderate amounts.

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. That’s because the plants are slow-growing and usually require 90 to 150 days to completely mature before harvesting is allowed.8

To begin planting your own batch of sesame seeds, make sure your garden has full sun exposure and well-draining soil. Sesame plants enjoy a long, hot summer, and can even tolerate a drought once they mature.9 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.10

After pollination, the sesame flowers will be ready for picking once they turn brown and crack open slightly. Start picking from the bottom because the pods in that location are often the most mature and ready for harvesting.11

Carefully pluck the mature seed pods and place them on old newspapers to dry. Once they become fully brittle, cautiously crack them open to release the seeds. You can use a colander to separate the chaff from the seeds. Store the harvest in an airtight container and place in a dark cupboard. Sesame seeds can also be frozen to prolong freshness.12

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. Lectins are carbohydrate-bonding proteins that defend the plant by attaching themselves into organisms such as fungi and insects to keep them away. Unfortunately, consuming lectins may also endanger your health. They act as inflammatory compounds that can stimulate an autoimmune response in your system, and may increase blood viscosity, interfere with gene expression and disrupt endocrine function.

To help reduce the lectins in sesame seeds and other seeds for safe consumption, they must be sprouted or soaked overnight. Lastly, remember to use them in moderation because of their high omega-6 content. Too much of them can create an imbalance between your omega-3 fats, which is what your body needs more of.

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 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:13

Easy Sesame Seed Chicken Recipe

Chicken Ingredients

1 pound of boneless, skinless pasture-raised chicken breasts (cut into 1/2-inch strips)

2 tablespoons of non-GMO cornstarch

1 pinch each of salt & pepper

1 tablespoon of coconut oil

Small bunch of spring onions (scallions), chopped

Sauce Ingredients

3 tablespoons of organic soy sauce

2 tablespoons of raw honey

1 teaspoon of homemade sriracha sauce (add more for a spicier flavor)

1 teaspoon of fresh ginger, grated

1 clove of garlic, minced

2 tablespoons of sesame seeds, soaked overnight

1 tablespoon of coconut oil (optional)


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 sesame seeds through various manufacturing processes, such as pressing.14 It is generally used in cooking or as a flavoring ingredient. Again, however, this is not recommend because it is high in omega-6 fats. So how can you use sesame oil in a beneficial manner? Recent research suggests it may be useful in various topical applications. Some creative ways you can use sesame oil include:

Oil pulling: This method involves gargling an oil in your mouth to take advantage of its antimicrobial properties, helping eliminate pathogenic germs that brushing and flossing can’t get to.

Sunscreen: Sesame oil can be applied on the skin as a natural sunblock. However, it is easily removed once you start swimming, so you may need to reapply again afterward.

Skin moisturizer: Rubbing sesame oil on your skin can help keep it soft and smooth. It may be also poured in bathwater for a body-wide effect.

Scalp conditioner: Massaging the oil into your scalp can help keep it healthy, as well as keep your hair strong and shiny.

Remember to Use Sesame Seeds (and Oil) in Moderation

Sesame seeds can offer potential health benefits, but make sure to consume just the right amounts as to not upset your omega 3 to 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 safer approach.

Sources and References:

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