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Sesame Seeds

 

Information about Sesame Seeds plus Sesame Seed Recipes Collection

 

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October

2003

 

 

Sesame seeds, also called benne seeds, come from the plant Sesamum indicum   which belongs to the family pedaliaceae (unicorn plant family).  They are used  whole in cooking or processed into Sesame Oil which is one of the most fragrant and flavourful oils you can get.

 

 

 

Origin and History of Sesame seeds

 

Whilst mostly grown in India and the Far East nowadays, it is thought to have originated in Africa. Evidence of the use of sesame seeds for oil and wine dates back to 3000 BC  as archeological excavations throughout the Middle East have revealed, and the Chinese were using the oil for fuel and for making ink (by way of the soot) as far back as 5000 years ago.

 

Cooking wise, paintings in ancient Egyptian  tombs dating back 4,000 years show bakers  sprinkling sesame seeds into dough, but it wasnít until the 1st  Century AD that Europeans came across it,  at which time they were imported from India. They are mentioned by Apicius,  a cookery book  writer during the Roman era, and the ancient Romans used to grind them together with Cumin seeds to make a spread for bread amongst other things.

 

They were introduced to America by West African slaves (they called then Benne) and during the 17th and 18th centuries slave traders  running slave ships to the Southern States and the Caribbean  considered them good luck and added them into many dishes which are still used in Southern US cuisine.

 

Cultivation and Processing Sesame Seeds

 

The sesame plant is an  annual which can grow to over 6 feet although most varieties range from 2-3 ft. It prefers a hot climate, is drought resistant but canít tolerate frost. The flowers range from white to lavender-pink, similar in appearance to foxglove. Once mature,  pods form which contain the sesame seedsÖ.over 100 per pod!  

 

During the natural maturing process, the fragile pods actually burst, scattering the seeds and although some hybrid varieties have been developed which are more robust enabling them to be harvested by machine, most harvesting is still done by hand before the pods fully ripen.  The plant stalks are cut and  then shaken over a cloth to catch the seeds.

 

The seeds come in a variety of colours depending on the variety, including browns, red, black, yellow and  ivory and once harvested some are hulled and some are just cleaned. The darker seeds are said to have the most flavour.

 

 

For the sake of completeness, we must make mention of Sesame Oil which is obtained from the seeds by a cold pressing process. It has a distinctive nutty flavour is a must in oriental cooking and excellent in dressings. However, beware, it has quite a strong flavour and should be used sparingly until you are used to its strength. It has the added benefit of being low in cholesterol.

 

Buying and Storing Sesame Seeds

 

Sesame seeds have a high oil content and can quickly become rancid to it's best to buy them in small amounts and use them relatively quickly. Seeds should be kept in an airtight container in a cool, dry place and will last  up to three months however, if refrigerated, they will last up to six months or up to one year if frozen.

 

Sesame Seed in cooking

 

Sesame seeds have a slightly sweet nutty flavour which is enhanced by toasting.  To toast sesame seeds, spread seeds on a baking sheet and toast in an oven which has been preheated to 180C, 350F, Gas mark 4 for 15-20 minutes, turning several times during the period. You can also toast them in a dry frying pan which will only take a few minutes. Shake the pan to toss the seeds from time to time.

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They are a good source of protein and calcium and are used in many cuisines worldwide in both sweet and savoury dishes including Chinese,  Japanese, Middle Eastern, South American,  African and West Asian cooking. Oh,  and not forgetting anywhere that sells hamburgers. Itís almost impossible to get a hamburger bun without sesame seeds sprinkled on top.

 

They  go particularly  well with chicken and other meats,  sprinkled over bread rolls, biscuits and pastries as a garnish before baking and toasted sprinkled over salads, vegetables and  stir-fries.

Happy Cooking!

CLICK HERE FOR LOTS OF RECIPES USING SESAME SEEDS

 

 

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