Opening up to Sesame Seeds

Sesame seeds (Sesamum indicum) are the best-known members of the Pedaliaceae family.

Sesame seeds likely originated in Africa. They were used to make oil and wine by 3000 BC in the Middle East. Shortly thereafter, the Chinese were using the oil for fuel and the resulting soot for making ink.

Sesame seeds were a highly prized oil crop of Babylon and Assyria at least 4,000 years ago. During that same time period, paintings in ancient Egyptian tombs show bakers sprinkling sesame seeds into dough.

Europeans were introduced to sesame seeds in the 1st century AD, when they were imported from India. The Roman cookbook De re coquinaria (“On the Subject of Cooking”) – Apicius, from the 4th–5th century AD mentions sesame seeds. Ancient Romans ground them together with cumin seeds to make a spread for bread, among other uses.

Sesame seeds were introduced to America by enslaved West Africans. During the 17th and 18th centuries, slave traders considered them good luck and added them into many dishes which are still used in Southern U.S. cuisine.

Upon ripening, sesame capsules split, releasing the seed (hence the phrase, “open sesame”). Because of this tendency to shatter, sesame has been grown primarily on small plots that are harvested by hand. A shatter-resistant mutant was discovered in 1943, and although researchers have made significant progress in sesame breeding, domestic production has been limited because of the lack of cultivars that can be harvested mechanically. By 1987, the sesame acreage in the U.S. was less than 2,500 acres, about half of which were in Texas. The U.S. imports most of the sesame seeds it uses, primarily from South America. Today, the largest commercial producers of sesame seeds include India, China and Mexico.

Sesame seeds can:

  1. Provide relief for rheumatoid arthritis. The copper in sesame seeds can reduce some of the pain and swelling of rheumatoid arthritis, because it is important in a number of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant enzymes.
  2. Build strong bodies. In addition, copper plays an important role in the activity of lysyl oxidase, an enzyme needed for the cross-linking of collagen and elastin—the ground substances that provide structure, strength and elasticity in blood vessels, bones, and joints. Manganese in sesame seeds activates enzymes for using several key nutrients, helps synthesize fatty acids and cholesterol, and facilitates protein and carbohydrate metabolism and formation of bone. The calcium in sesame seeds helps prevent the bone loss that can occur as a result of menopause or certain conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. Zinc helps prevent osteoporosis of the hip and spine. The iron in sesame seeds is an integral component of hemoglobin, which transports oxygen from your lungs to all body cells, and is also part of key enzyme systems for energy production and metabolism. Hemoglobin synthesis also relies on the copper in sesame seeds; without it, your red blood cells cannot properly use iron.
  3. Fight free radicals. Manganese in sesame seeds is a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase, which disarms free radicals produced within the mitochondria (the energy production factories within your cells). Sesamin in sesame seeds can protect your liver from oxidative damage.
  4. Help prevent cancer. The calcium in sesame seeds helps protect colon cells from cancer-causing chemicals. Phytosterols in sesame seeds can decrease your risk of certain cancers. Sesame seeds have the highest total phytosterol content (400-413 mg per 100 grams) of any seeds tested, followed by pistachios and sunflower seeds (270-289 mg/100 g), pumpkin seeds (265 mg/100 g), and English walnuts and Brazil nuts (113 mg/100grams and 95 mg/100 grams).
  5. Prevent migraines. The calcium in sesame seeds helps prevent migraine headaches. The magnesium in sesame seeds prevents the trigeminal blood vessel spasm that triggers migraines.
  6. Reduce asthma symptoms. The magnesium in sesame seeds prevents airway spasms.
  7. Lower blood pressure and cholesterol. The magnesium in sesame seeds reduces high blood pressure. In addition, sesame seeds contain two unique substances: sesamin and sesamolin. Both of these substances belong to a group of special beneficial fibers called lignans, which lower cholesterol, prevent high blood pressure, and increase vitamin E supplies. Phytosterols are compounds found in plants that have a chemical structure very similar to cholesterol, and may reduce blood levels of cholesterol and enhance your immune response. Sesame seeds are rich in the amino acid, arginine. An enzyme called nitric oxide synthase (NOS)—found in many of your body’s cell types—can use arginine to help produce nitric oxide (NO), which is a muscle relaxant. When NO causes the smooth muscles around your blood vessels to relax, the space inside your blood vessels can expand, allowing blood to flow more freely and creating a drop in blood pressure. In the same way, NO can improve erectile function in men.
  8. Keep you slim. The arginine in sesame seeds can form polyarginine peptides, which can block activity of an enzyme called tissue-nonspecific alkaline phosphatase, or TNAP. When TNAP activity is shut down, your fat cells (adipocytes) tend to create less fat.
  9. Improve your mood. Copper in sesame seeds plays a role in the conversion of dopamine to norepinephrine, which affects your body’s biological response to stress, and is also involved in pain, cognition, mood, and emotions. Calcium triggers the release of neurotransmitters every time a neuron fires, and disturbances in calcium levels can produce anxiety, depression, irritability, impaired memory, and slow thinking. Magnesium in sesame seeds is essential for the biochemical reactions in your brain that boost your energy levels, and is good for fighting depression. Iron is vital for a stable mood—its highest concentrations in your brain are located in areas related to mood and memory. The abundant proteincalciumcoppermagnesium, and zinc in sesame seeds can improve your capacity to convert alpha linoleic acid (ALA),  the omega-3 essential fatty acid in sesame seeds, into eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA and DHA are great for boosting your mood, and low levels of of DHA  have been associated with increased risk of suicide.

Nutrients in 1 Ounce of Whole Sesame Seeds

Nutrient

Amount

Daily Value

copper

1.1 mg

57%

manganese

0.7 mg

34%

calcium

273 mg

27%

magnesium

98.3 mg

25%

iron

4.1 mg

23%

fat

13.9 g

21%

phosphorus

176 mg

18%

thiamine

0.2 mg

15%

zinc

2.2 mg

14%

fiber

3.3 g

13%

protein

5 g

10%

Calories

160

8%

folate

27.2 µg

7%

niacin

1.3 mg

6%

potassium

131 mg

4%

carbohydrates

6.6 g

2%

selenium

1.6 mg

2%

vitamin E

0.1 mg

0.3%

sodium

3.1 mg

0.13%

cholesterol

0 mg

0%

You can purchase sesame seeds in packages as well as from bulk bins. Make sure that the bins containing the sesame seeds are covered and that the store has a good product turnover to ensure maximal freshness. Smell those in bulk bins to ensure that they smell fresh, and make sure there is no evidence of moisture.

Store whole sesame seeds in an airtight container in a cool, dry, dark place. The small white sesame seeds without their hulls are more prone to rancidity, so store them in the refrigerator or freezer.

Here are some ideas for using sesame seeds:

  • Sprinkle grated ginger, sesame seeds and nori strips on top of rice.
  • Make the traditional macrobiotic seasoning, gomasio, by grinding together one part sea salt with twelve parts dry roasted sesame seeds.
  • Stir-fry tender stalks of asparagus with sesame seeds, and season with garlicginger, and pepper.
  • Sprinkle sesame seeds and lemon juice on steamed broccoli.
  •  Sesame seeds are a great addition to sautéed cabbage; you can also add rice vinegar and ginger.
  • Add sesame seeds into the dough or batter for bread, muffins, or cookies.
  • Use them in Braised Bok Choy.
  • Blend sesame seeds into tahini (sesame butter).
  • Combine sesame seeds with rice vinegar, soy sauce, and crushed garlic and use as a dressing for salads, vegetables, and noodles.
  • Make my No-Harm Parm.

This blog uses the latest nutritional data available from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), and the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration), as well as nutritional data provided by food growers and manufacturers about their products. We believe the information on this blog to be accurate. However, we are not responsible for typographical or other errors. Nutrition information for recipes is calculated by Living Cookbook based on the ingredients in each recipe based on statistical averages. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients, and other factors.

This blog is not a substitute for the services of a trained health professional. Although we provide nutritional information, the information on this blog is for informational purposes only. No information offered by or through this blog shall be construed as or understood to be medical advice or care. None of the information on this blog should be used to diagnose or treat any health problem or disease. Consult with a health care provider before taking any product or using any information on this blog. Please discuss any concerns with your health care provider.

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