Sesame oil, known as goma abura (胡麻油) in Japanese, is a key ingredient in many dishes across the globe and certainly an Asian grocery staple. Historians are not sure when or where sesame and sesame oil cultivation originated, but sesame (Sesamum indicum) is considered the earliest known crop to be grown for oil. Sesame cultivation likely began around 3000 B.C. in India or Africa, regions that have the tropical climate that the sesame plant likes and the dry weather that it tolerates. Sesame seeds and sesame oil have enjoyed widespread popularity in cuisines throughout the world, especially in Asia and the Middle East.
Sesame oil comes in two main forms: light and toasted. Light sesame oil is made from raw sesame seeds, while toasted sesame oil is made from roasted sesame seeds. Light sesame oil can be used for deep frying, but toasted sesame oil burns too easily. Toasted sesame oil is darker and stronger in flavor. Although both types of sesame oil are used in traditional cuisines across Asia and the Middle East, most Asian cuisine leans toward the amber-colored and more aromatic toasted sesame oil.
Health Benefits of Sesame
Sesame seeds and sesame oil have health benefits that contribute to its worldwide use. Sesame seeds are a good source of protein, fiber, B-Vitamins, manganese, calcium, and phosphorus. Sesame oil doesn’t contain protein or all of the vitamins that sesame seeds do. However, sesame oil does retain the good fats found in sesame seeds, such as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which help reduce inflammation and blood pressure. They also contain antioxidants such as vitamin E, which protect against cancer, heart problems, and immune issues. Toasted sesame seeds not only have a richer and nuttier flavor than raw sesame seeds, but they also improve nutrient absorption.
How to Cook with Sesame Oil
Sesame oil and sesame seeds are used in a variety of ways in cooking. The most common uses of sesame oil are in sauces, marinades, and seasoning. Because sesame oil can be expensive and has a strong flavor, it’s rarely used as a cooking or frying oil.
You can buy high quality sesame oil or sesame seeds at a local Asian grocery store, or you can order groceries online if they are not easily available. It is recommended that you purchase pure toasted sesame oil, such as this popular brand, Kadoya Pure Sesame Oil. For a sesame oil substitute, options include nut oils (peanut, walnut, macadamia), vegetable oils (olive, avocado oil, grapeseed), or perilla oil.
Sesame oil can be mixed with rice vinegar to make a simple salad dressing. Or you can buy a creamy and versatile premade dressing, such as the well-known Kewpie Roasted Sesame Dressing, that always brings a distinctive Japanese flavor to salad and many other dishes.
Many notable dishes across Asia and the Middle East have sesame oil as a key ingredient. Tahini, hummus, Pad Thai, Korean bulgogi, Sichuan mapo tofu, and some Japanese ramen use sesame oil. Hiyashi chuka is a cold Japanese ramen dish eaten on hot summer days. It has a vinaigrette that uses sesame oil and soy sauce. For those who want to warm up in a hurry, try this spicy sesame instant ramen, which has a sesame miso broth and a kick of karasa (hot flavor).
How to Enjoy Sesame Seeds
Roasted white sesame seeds can be used in a variety of snacks and desserts, such as Chinese sesame cookies, Greek sesame honey candy (pasteli), or Lebanese bread rings (sesame kaak). A more savory umami option is baked sesame rice crackers, which have a nice balance of sesame and soy sauce flavors in a perfectly crunchy cracker.
By themselves, plain sesame seeds add nice texture and nutritional value to foods. Toasted sesame seeds added to sautéed spinach take it to a whole new level. Tofu coated in sesame seeds is an added layer of pizzazz. Another simple way to enjoy sesame seeds is in furikake, an addictive seasoning mixture that is sprinkled over rice. This furikake rice seasoning has the perfect ratio of sesame seeds to seaweed and bonito flakes. It can be bought at a Japanese grocery near you or it can be ordered online.
The easiest way to get sesame products is to order groceries online at Bokksu Market! It's a new online Asian grocery store from Bokksu and it has tons of Japanese grocery items, Japanese beauty items, kitchenware, and so much more.