Sesame Seeds


History of Sesame Seeds | Uses of Sesame Seeds | Health Benefits | Sesame Cultivation | Global Scenario 2012

Sesame (Sesamum indicum L.) is one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world. It was a highly prized oil crop of Babylon and Assyria at least 4,000 years ago. Historians believe the original homeland of the sesame seed is the Indian sub-continent. The ancient cultures inhabiting Anatolia, today called Turkey, were pressing sesame seeds and using sesame oil about 900 BC. Before sesame seeds were appreciated for their ability to add rich nutty flavour or to garnish foods, they were used only for oil or wine.Archeological excavations throughout the Middle East revealed the use of Sesame Oil dating back to 3000 BC, and around the same time, Persia  and  India  were  also  cultivating  this  tiny  treasure  for  its  oil.

Sesame oil was the ideal base for making exotic perfumes, a practice that dates back to the Babylonians circa 2100 to 689 BC. The Babylonians also used the oil for cooking, sesame cakes and medicine. They also made wine from sesame and even perfected a brandy employing sesame seeds. Medicinally, sesame oil played an important role as an antidote to the bite of the spotted lizard. The Chinese used the oil not  only as  a  light source  but  also to  create  soot  from  which they  made  their  superior  stick  ink  over  5,000  years  ago.

Ancient Chinese calligraphic works of art using stick ink made from sesame oil is still in existence in museums. Palace records of  Egypt’s King Nebuchadnezzar, 6th century BC, were carefully kept on clay tablets. One of the entries mentions a purchase of Sesame oil. Records show that the Egyptians prescribed the Sesame as medicine about 1500 BC and used the oil as ceremonial purification.

Historians such as 4th century Theophrastus, mention that sesame seeds were cultivated in Egypt. During that period, Africa too, cultivated the sesame seed in Ethiopia, the Sudan, and what was once Tanganyika. The Europeans encountered the sesame seeds when they were imported from India during the 1st century AD. Even the Venetian traveler, Marco Polo, was taken by the outstanding flavour of Sesame Oil that he tasted in Abyssinia, proclaiming it the best he had ever tasted.

Sesame is grown primarily for its oil-rich seeds, which come in a variety of colors, from cream-white to charcoal-black. The small sesame seed is used whole in cooking for its rich nutty flavor (although such heating damages their healthful poly-unsaturated fats), and also yields sesame oil. Sesame seeds are sometimes added to breads, including bagels and the tops of hamburger buns. Sesame seeds may be baked into crackers, often in the form of sticks.

Sesame seeds can be made into a paste called tahini (used in various ways, including in hummus) and a Middle Eastern confection called halvah. In India, sections of the Middle East, and East Asia, popular treats are made from sesame mixed with honey or syrup and roasted (called pasteli in Greece). Sesame seeds are also sprinkled onto some sushi style foods. Ground and processed, the seeds can also be used in sweet confections. In Greece seeds are used in cakes, while in Togo, Africa seeds are a main soup ingredient. The seeds are also used on bread and then eaten in Sicily. About one-third of the imported crop from Mexico is purchased by McDonalds for their sesame seed buns (The Nut Factory 1999).


Japanese cuisine uses sesame seeds in many ways. One is to make goma-dofu which is made from sesame paste and starch. Whole seeds are found in many salads and baked snacks as well. Chefs in tempura restaurants blend sesame and cottonseed oil for deep-frying. Tan and black sesame seed varieties are roasted and used for making the flavoring gomashio. 

East Asian cuisines, like Chinese cuisine use sesame seeds and oil in some dishes, such as the dim sum dish, sesame seed balls (Traditional Chinese:; Pinyin: mátun).

Sesame flavour (through oil and roasted or raw seeds) is also very popular in Korean cuisine, used to marinate meat and vegetables.

Sesame oil was the preferred cooking oil in India until the advent of groundnut (peanut) oil. Europeans sometimes use it as a substitute for olive oil. Sesame oil is an excellent salad oil and is used by the Japanese for cooking fish (The Nut Factory 1999).

The seeds are rich in manganese, copper, and calcium (90 mg per tablespoon for unhulled seeds, 10 mg for hulled), and contain Vitamin B1 (thiamine) and Vitamin E (tocopherol). They contain powerful antioxidants called lignans, which are also anti-carcinogenic. They also contain phytosterols, which block cholesterol production. Sesame contains one lignan unique to it called sesamin. The nutrients of sesame seeds are better absorbed if they are ground or pulverised before consumption.

The above benefits of sesame seem to have been known from Historical times. Apparently the women of ancient Babylon would eat halva, a mixture of honey and sesame seeds, to prolong their youth and beauty, while Roman soldiers ate sesame seeds and honey to give them strength and energy.

In general, the paler varieties of sesame seem to be more valued in the West and Middle East, while the black varieties are prized in the Far East.

Sesame oil is used for massage and health treatments of the body in the ancient Indian ayurvedic system with the types of massage called abhyanga and shirodhara. Ayurveda views sesame oil as the most viscous of the plant oils and believes it may pacify the health problems associated with Vata aggravation.

Although sesame leaves are edible as a potherb, recipes for Korean cuisine calling for “sesame leaves” are often a mistranslation, and really mean perilla.

Sesame seeds (approximately 50 % oil and 25 % protein ) are used in baking, candy making, and other food industries. Oil from theseed is used in cooking and salad oils and margarine, and contains about 47 % oleic and 39 % linoleic acid. Sesame oil and foods fried in sesame oil have a long shelf life because the manufacture of soaps, paints, perfumes, pharmaceuticals and insecticides. Sesame meal, left after the oil is pressed from the seed, is an excellent high protein ( 34 to 50 % ) feed for poultry and livestock.


health benefits of sesame seedsNot only are sesame seeds a very good source of manganese and copper, but they are also a good source of calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorous, vitamin B1, zinc and dietary fiber. In addition to these important nutrients, sesame seeds contain two unique substances: sesamin and sesamolin. Both of these substances belong to a group of special beneficial fibers called lignans, and have been shown to have a cholesterol-lowering effect in humans, and to prevent high blood pressure and increase vitamin E supplies in animals. Sesamin has also been found to protect the liver from oxidative damage.

Rich in Beneficial Minerals

Sesame seeds are a very good source of copper, and calcium. Just a quarter-cup of sesame seeds supplies 74.0% of the daily value for copper, 31.6% of the DV for magnesium, and 35.1% of the DV for calcium. This rich assortment of minerals translates into the following health benefits:

Copper provides Relief for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Copper is known for its use in reducing some of the pain and swelling of rheumatoid arthritis. Copper’s effectiveness is due to the fact that this trace mineral is important in a number of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant enzyme systems. 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.

Magnesium Supports Vascular and Respiratory HealthStudies have supported magnesium’s usefulness in:

  • Preventing the airway spasm in asthma
  • Lowering high blood pressure, a contributing factor in heart attack, stroke, and diabetic heart disease
  • Preventing the trigeminal blood vessel spasm that triggers migraine attacks
  • Restoring normal sleep patterns in women who are experiencing unpleasant symptoms associated with menopause

Calcium Helps Prevent Colon Cancer, Osteoporosis, Migraine and PMSIn recent studies, calcium has been shown to:

  • Help protect colon cells from cancer-causing chemicals
  • Help prevent the bone loss that can occur as a result of menopause or certain conditions such as rheumatoid arthritisHelp prevent migraine headaches in those who suffer from them
  • Reduce PMS symptoms during the luteal phase (the second half) of the menstrual cycle

There is a little bit of controversy about sesame seeds and calcium, because there is a substantial difference between the calcium content of hulled versus unhulled sesame seeds. When the hulls remain on the seeds, one tablespoon of sesame seeds will contains about 88 milligrams of calcium. When the hulls are removed, this same tablespoon will contain about 37 milligrams (about 60% less). Tahini—a spreadable paste made from ground sesame seeds—is usually made from hulled seeds (seeds with the hulls removed, called kernels), and so it will usually contain this lower amount of calcium.

The term “sesame butter” can sometimes refer to tahini made from sesame seed kernels, or it can also be used to mean a seed paste made from whole sesame seeds—hull included.

Although the seed hulls provide an additional 51 milligrams of calcium per tablespoon of seeds, the calcium found in the hulls appears in large part to be found in the form of calcium oxalate. This form of calcium is different than the form found in the kernels, and it is a less absorbable form of calcium. So even though a person would be likely to get more calcium from sesame seeds or sesame seed butter that contained the hulls, there is a question about how much more calcium would be involved. It would definitely be less than the 51 additional milligrams found in the seed hulls. And there would also, of course, be a question about the place of hull-containing sesame seeds on an oxalate-restricted diet.

NUTRITION: Sesame seeds are 25 % protein and are especially rich in methionine and tryptophan, often lacking in adequate quantities in many plant proteins. One ounce of decorticated or hulled seeds contains 6 grams of protein, gaining a little fiber at 4.8 grams and packing 13.6 grams of total fat.The fat in sesame seeds is 38 % monounsaturated, and 44 % polyunsaturated which equals 82 % unsaturated fatty acids.

Natural sesame seeds ( unhulled ) contains 5 grams of protein per ounce, 3.1 grams fiber, and 14 grams of total fat.When toasted they offer 4.8 grams of protein, 4.0 grams fiber and 13.8 grams of total fat.

There is no cholesterol in sesame seed. One tablespoon contains 1.7 mg.

Sesame oils, whether refined or unrefined, all contain about 14 grams of total fat per tablespoon. Sesame seeds are 44 to 60 % oil. The seeds are prone to rancidity, but the oil is resistant to oxidation, meaning that it is not prone to rancidity because of sesamol, a natural preservative within the oil. Sesame oil is polyunsaturated and high in oleic and linoleic fatty acids that are rich in omega 6.

Natural sesame seeds, those that are unhulled, are high in calcium. One tablespoon provides 87.8 mg while the hulled variety offers only 10.5 mg for that same tablespoon.

Both natural and hulled sesame seeds contain healthy amounts of the B vitamins riboflavin, thiamine, and niacin. With natural seeds scoring 8.7 mcg of folic acid for 1 tablespoon and plenty of vitamin B6, sesame seeds can be counted for excellent nourishment.

One tablespoon of hulled seeds contain 0.62 mg of iron, 27.73 mg of magnesium, 32.53 mg potassium and 0.82 mg of zinc Figures for the natural, unhulled seeds are slightly higher. Sesame seeds also contain healthy amounts of phosphorus. The iron content of Sesame is equal to that of liver.

Nutrient from the Sesame seed are best absorbed in the form of Sesame oil as the whole seeds do not break down readily and release all their nutrients.

Zinc for Bone Health

Another reason for older men to make zinc-rich foods such as sesame seeds a regular part of their healthy way of eating is bone mineral density. Although osteoporosis is often thought to be a disease for which postmenopausal women are at highest risk, it is also a potential problem for older men. Almost 30% of hip fractures occur in men, and 1 in 8 men over age 50 will have an osteoporotic fracture. A study of 396 men ranging in age from 45-92 that was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found a clear correlation between low dietary intake of zinc, low blood levels of the trace mineral, and osteoporosis at the hip and spine.

Sesame Seeds’ Phytosterols Lower Cholesterol Phytosterols are compounds found in plants that have a chemical structure very similar to cholesterol, and when present in the diet in sufficient amounts, are believed to reduce blood levels of cholesterol, enhance the immune response and decrease risk of certain cancers.

Phytosterols beneficial effects are so dramatic that they have been extracted from soybean, corn, and pine tree oil and added to processed foods, such as “butter”-replacement spreads, which are then touted as cholesterol-lowering “foods.” But why settle for an imitation “butter” when Mother Nature’s nuts and seeds are a naturally rich source of phytosterols—and cardio-protective fiber, minerals and healthy fats as well? In a study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, researchers published the amounts of phytosterols present in nuts and seeds commonly eaten in the United States.

Sesame seeds had the highest total phytosterol content (400-413 mg per 100 grams), and English walnuts and Brazil nuts the lowest (113 mg/100grams and 95 mg/100 grams). (100 grams is equivalent to 3.5 ounces.) Of the nuts and seeds typically consumed as snack foods, pistachios and sunflower seeds were richest in phytosterols (270-289 mg/100 g), followed by pumpkin seeds (265 mg/100 g).


Sesame – also known as Sesamum Indicum, (means that it comes from India) likes hot climates and is native to India, Indonesia,Sesame Cultivation Afghanistan and Africa.  The sesame plant is an annual herb of the Pedaliacae family.  Its exact origins are unknown, though some claim it was the East Indies where it its also native.  Now it is found growing in most tropical, subtropical and southern temperate areas of the world.

Today, India and China are the world’s largest producers of sesame, followed by Burma, Sudan, Mexico, Nigeria, Venezuela, Turkey, Uganda and Ethiopia.  World production in 1985 was 2.53 million tons on 16.3 million acres.

Sesame was introduced to the United States in the 1930’s.  Sesame cultivation in USA  has  been limited because of the lack of cultivars that can be harvested mechanically.

Sesame is an erect annual (or occasionally a perennial) crop that grows to a height of 20 to 60 inches, depending on the variety and the growing conditions.  Some varieties are highly branched, while the others are unbranched.  Leaves are variable in shape and size and may be opposite or alternate.  The bellshaped white to pale-rose flowers begin to develop in the leaf axils 6 to 8 weeks after planting and this continues for several weeks.  Multiple flowering is favoured by opposite leaves.

Sesame is normally self pollinated, although cross pollination by insects is common. The fruit is a deeply grooved capsule ( 1 to 3 in in length ) that contains 50 to 100 or more seeds.  The seeds mature 4 to 6 weeks after fertilization.  The growth of sesame is indeterminate: that is, the plant continues to produce leaves, flowers and capsules as long as the weather permits.  Sesame seeds are small and vary in colour.  One thousand seeds weigh about one ounce.  The lighter coloured seeds are considered higher quality.


Commercial varieties of Sesame require 90 to 120 frost free days.  Daytime temperatures of 77ºF and 80ºF are optimal; below 68ºF, growth is reduced, and at 50º F germination and growth is inhibited.

Sesame is very drought-tolerant,  due in part to an extensive root system.  However, it requires adequate moisture for germination and early growth and a minimum rainfall of 20 to 26 inches per season is necessary for reasonable yields.  Moisture levels before planting and flowering have the greatest impact on yield.  Sesame is intolerant of water logging.  Rainfall late in the season prolongs growth and increases shattering losses.  Wind can cause shattering at harvest and is cited as one reason for the failure of commercial sesame production in some countries.

Initiation of flowering is sensitive to photoperiod and varies among varieties.  The oil content of the seed tends to increase with increased photoperiod.  Because protein content and oil content are inversely proportional, seed with an increased oil content has a decreased protein content.


Sesame is adaptable to many soil types, but it thrives best on well-drained, fertile soils of medium texture and neutral pH.  Sesame, which has an extensively branched feeder root system, appears to improve soil structure.  Sesame has a very low salt tolerance and cannot tolerate wet conditions.



The current crop is estimated at about 2,80,000 – 3,00,000 tons. This is about 25 % lower than last year. However, local prices in china for the imported sesame for more than a year have always ruled lower than import prices in dollar terms, implying replacement cost was higher than domestic market price. The main imports into China have been from Ethiopia. It also indicates that China’s import from African continent has steadily risen to almost 90 percent of their import quantity. Farmer’s in China have been slowly shifting from Sesame seed cultivation to other crops over the past 3 years. Consumption in China has crossed annually 1.0 million metric tons.

Imports will continue as usual. Local demand is healthy but drops sharply at higher price levels.



Two types of sesame seeds varieties are available in Ethiopia viz Humera / Gonder and Wollega types.

Humera / Gonder types has white color, good aroma, sweet taste and high oil content.

Wollega type is dull white in color, has high oil conten and is used for crushing.

Ethiopian exports constitute about 60% of the sesame seeds imported by China.

Exports were very good during 2001-12 at 3,31,000 Metric tons against production of about 2,45,000 metric tons. Additional quantity exported was from carry over of 2010-11. Current inventories are extremely low and hence exporters unable to offer current crop.  New crop planting is higher and exports are estimated to be 4,10,000 metric tons for season 2012-13.



Sesame seed crop in Sudan is sown during June-July and harvested in November-December. 

While the whitish sesame seed crop constitutes about 60% of the crop, the reddish sesame seed constitutes about 40% of the crop.

Over the years the export market share of Sudan has been eaten away by India and Ethiopia.

This season the rains have been adequate and crop is considered to be excellent. However, excessive rains if it happens will spoil the scenario.

Following are the area wise sesame seed Crop estimates in Sudan during the coming season with current season data in bracket

  1. Gadaref Area: Whitish 130000 ( 57,000 ) tons
  1. Southern Blue Nile Area: Whitish 55,000 ( 35000 ) tons
  1. Southern white Nile area: Whitish 25,000 ( 18,000 ) tons
  1. South East Kordofan Area: Whitish 35,000 tons ( 20000) and reddish 60000 ( 30000 )  tons
  1. Darfur Area:  Reddish 75000 (45,000) tons

Currently stocks are at low levels. New crop planting is higher. While the total whitish sesame seed crop size is estimated to be around 2,40,000-2,60,000 tons,  the size of reddish sesame seed is estimated to be about 1,35,000 tons. The reddish sesame seed is mainly used locally for crushing.

Demand has far outstripped the supply of sesame seed in most regions of the Sudan. It was mentioned that end of August, 2012 there will be no carryover stocks.

The estimated crop during 2011 was about 1,00,000 tons with consumption figure of 30,000 tons and export of 63,000 tons, the balance is only about 6,000 tons.

Prices of sesame seed will be determined by the international market and non existence of carryover stocks. There are reports of reduction in planting area in China and drought conditions in India.


Mozambique / Tanzania:

Low stock levels currently. Planting expected to increase but no numbers available yet. Sowing time of the crop is sometimes around February.


The contribution of agriculture in Nigerian GDP is about 35.4%. With production of 2.5 million barrels Nigeria is 10th largest producer of crude oil. Government of Nigeria is strongly promoting growth of non oil exports from Nigeria.

With production of about 2,00,000 tons in the last crop, Nigeria is one of the four largest exporter of sesame seeds in the world after India, Ethiopia and Sudan.

Low stock levels currently. Total crop size during 2012-13 is expected to be around 2,00,000-2,20,000 tons.

There are three main types of Nigerian sesame seeds.

  • Mixed sesame seeds: Mixed color, high oil content, low FFA and sweet taste. It is good for crushing and popular in Japan
  • Whitish sesame seeds: There are various varieties greatly improved in recent years.
  • Maiduguri sesame seeds: Small seed and is popular in Turkey.

Nigeria sesame seed production is expected to reach 3,00,000 in next five years.

There is big increase in investment including from private foreign companies for value added processing like sortex/ hulling and trend is likely to continue.

Efforts are made to distribute higher quality seeds to different provinces to increase production and quality.

The major markets for Nigerian sesame seeds are Turkey, Japan, Middle East and Asia.

















For more information, write to SHEFEIL..