Sesame is a tall annual herbaceous plant of tropical and subtropical areas of the Old World, cultivated for its oil-rich seeds.
Probably originating in Asia or East Africa, sesame is now found in most of the tropical, subtropical, and southern temperate areas of the world.
Sesame seeds are believed to be one of the first condiments as well as one of the first plants to be used for edible oil.
Archaelogical remnants suggest Sesame was first domesticated in the Indian subcontinent dating to 5500 years ago.
Records from Babylon and Assyria, dating about 4000 years ago, mention sesame.
Assyrian myth claims that the gods drank sesame wine the night before they created the earth.
Egyptians called it sesemt, and it is included in the list of medicinal drugs in the scrolls of the Ebers Papyrus dated to be over 3600 years old.
Archeological reports from Turkey indicate that sesame was grown and pressed to extract oil at least 2750 years ago in the empire of Urartu.
The Romans ground sesame seeds with cumin to make a pasty spread for bread.
The Europeans encountered the sesame seeds when they were imported from India during the first century AD.
In the seventeenth century, the sesame seed was brought to the United States from Africa.
Sesame is a robust crop that needs little farming support — it grows in drought conditions, in high heat, with residual moisture in soil after monsoons are gone or even when rains fail or when rains are excessive. It was a crop that could be grown by subsistence farmers at the edge of deserts, where no other crops grow. Sesame has been called a survivor crop.
Depending on conditions, varieties grow from about 0.5 to 2.5 m (2 to 9 feet) tall; some have branches, others do not. Flowers appear in the leaf axils. The hulled seeds are about 3 mm (0.1 inch) long and have a flattened pear shape. The seed capsules open when dry, allowing the seed to scatter.
Considerable hand labour is needed in harvesting to prevent loss of the seeds. With the development of a nonscattering variety of the plant in the mid-20th century, mechanized harvesting of the crop was made possible.
Sesame seeds occur in many colors depending on the cultivar. The most traded variety of sesame is creamy or pearly white in color. Other common colors are buff, tan, gold, brown, reddish, gray, and black. The colour is the same for the hull and the fruit.
There are only 573 calories in 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of sesame seeds.
Sesame seeds are an excellent source of copper, a very good source of manganese, and a good source of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, zinc, molybdenum, Vitamin A, several B vitamins, selenium and dietary fiber.
The health benefits of sesame seeds include their ability to prevent cancer, improve heart health, lower blood pressure, improve bone health, reduces inflammation, improve hair and skin health, treat male infertility, improve oral health and prevent diabetes.
Sesame seed is a common ingredient in various cuisines. It is used whole in cooking for its rich, nutty flavour. Sesame seeds are sometimes added to breads, including bagels and the tops of hamburger buns.
Fast-food restaurants use buns with tops sprinkled with sesame seeds. About 75% of Mexico‘s sesame crop is purchased by McDonald’s for use in their sesame seed buns worldwide.
Sesame seeds may be baked into crackers, often in the form of sticks.
In Asia, sesame seeds are sprinkled onto some sushi-style foods.
In Japan, whole seeds are found in many salads and baked snacks, and tan and black sesame seed varieties are roasted.
In Caribbean and European cuisine, sugar and white sesame seeds are combined into a bar resembling peanut brittle and sold in stores and street corners.
Japan is the world’s largest sesame importer. Sesame oil, particularly from roasted seed, is an important component of Japanese cooking and traditionally the principal use of the seed. China is the second-largest importer of sesame, mostly oil-grade.
In myths, the opening of the capsule releases the treasure of sesame seeds, as applied in the story of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” when the phrase “Open Sesame” magically opens a sealed cave. Upon ripening, sesame seeds split, releasing a pop and possibly indicating the origin of this phrase.