Sesame seeds can seem like a bland culinary addition to a bagel, but there are some very interesting facts about sesame seeds, which include their many health benefits. Sesame seeds are possibly the oldest condiment known to man, so their use goes well beyond the sesame seed bagel. Personally, I like sesame seeds for their slightly nutty flavor and think they make a salad look even more appealing. Beyond their nutty flavor and visual appeal, I never gave sesame seeds much thought. However, I have discovered that there are actually some noteworthy facts about sesame seeds.
1. Excellent Source of Nutrients
One of my favorite facts about sesame seeds is that they are an abundant source of minerals. A quarter cup of sesame seeds provides 73.5% copper, 44.5% manganese, and 35.1% calcium of RDA (recommended daily allowance), and good quantities of phosphorous, zinc, and selenium. The impressive amount of copper in sesame seeds is important for people who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis. Copper has been shown to decrease the pain and swelling from RA, and it is important for the enzyme lysyl oxidase that is needed for cross-linking of collagen and elastin. It is pretty impressive that the tiny sesame seed has such large quantities of important nutrients like copper. Certainly, I now feel good about my habit of liberally sprinkling sesame seeds on my salads.
2. Special Fibers
You know that fiber is good for you, but did you know that sesame seeds have two special fibers called sesamin and sesamolin? These fibers are part of a group of fibers called lignans, and they have several important health benefits. Sesamin and sesamolin can lower cholesterol, prevent high blood pressure, and protect the liver from oxidative damage. These fibers can even increase the Vitamin E that is present in animals! For fiber, I would say all of this is pretty remarkable.
Phytosterols are compounds in plants with a chemical structure that is similar to cholesterol. This may not sound like a good thing, but it actually is. Phytosterols lower blood cholesterol levels, increase immune responses, and decrease the risk for certain cancers. In fact, they are so good for you that they are extracted from soybean, corn, and pine tree oil and added to butter spreads for their cholesterol lowering ability. However, rather than eating phytosterol enhanced butter, it is probably better to eat sesame seeds and sesame seed butter, because sesame seeds have the highest amount of phytosterols with about 400 milligrams per 100 grams!
Sesame seeds are just one of many foods that contain oxalates. The oxalates in sesame seeds are present in the hulls. Interestingly, much of the calcium that is found in the hull of sesame seeds is bound to oxalates, which decreases calcium absorption. However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat sesame seeds for their calcium. They still have enough calcium that you will certainly get a benefit. Aside from binding to calcium, oxalates are also responsible for kidney stones. If you are prone to kidney stones or have kidney disease you will want to stick to hulled sesame seeds, which are oxalate free.
Allergies to sesame seeds have risen in the last 10 years. When I first read this it seemed odd to me that sesame allergies have increased, but allergists have explained this fact with three very good reasons. First, the use of sesame in food and cosmetic products has increased dramatically. People are exposed to sesame products much more than in the past, which increases the risk of developing an allergy. The second reason given by allergists is cross-reactivity. People who are allergic to other nuts may react to some of the proteins in sesame seeds, which are the same as other nuts that cause allergies. The third explanation is processing contamination. Sesame seeds are often processed in plants where other nuts are present, which is unfortunate for people who aren’t actually allergic to sesame seeds and are only reacting to dust from other nuts.
6. History and Legends
Sesame seeds actually have a long standing history in human culture. They have been growing in tropical regions since prehistoric times, probably originating in India. Since they have been around so long, they have found their way into mythical legends. In the Assyrian creation story, the gods drank wine made from sesame seeds when they finished creating the world. In the Hindu culture, sesame seeds represent immortality. Sesame seeds were even featured in Arabian Nights with the phrase “open sesame”, which was a reference to the sesame pod bursting open when it reaches maturity.
7. Culinary Uses
Obviously, none of these facts would be interesting if sesame seeds did not have any culinary uses. Sesame seeds have long been used to make sesame oil, in part because the oil is very resistant to rancidity. They are also used to make tahini, which is essentially sesame seed butter. Tahini is a very delicious condiment that is used in hummus. Sesame seeds also find their way onto baked goods. Although most people see white sesame used in baking, there are also yellow, black, and red sesame seeds.
Did you know there were so many facts you could learn about the tiny sesame seed? I did not have any idea that they had such a long standing history and were so healthy. Now that I know more about sesame seeds, I am going to try to use them in more ways. Maybe I can even get my hands on red sesame seeds, which would be a colorful addition to salads. What is your favorite way to eat sesame seeds?