The World's Healthiest Foods
Sesame seeds

The tiny, flat oval sesame seeds provide a nutty taste and a delicate, almost invisible crunch to many Asian dishes as well as being the main ingredients of tahini and the wonderful Middle Eastern sweet call halvah. They are available throughout the year.

Sesame seeds may be the oldest condiment known to man dating back to as early as 1600 BC. They are highly valued for their oil which is exceptionally resistant to rancidity. “Open sesame,” the famous phrase from the Arabian Nights, reflects the distinguishing feature of the sesame seed pod, which bursts open when it reaches maturity. The scientific name for sesame seeds is Sesamun indicum.

 


Health Benefits

Not only are sesame seeds a very good source of manganese and copper, 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 antiinflammatory 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 Health

Studies 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 PMS

In 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 arthritis
  • Help prevent migraine headaches in those who suffer from them
  • Reduce PMS symptoms during the luteal phase (the second half) of the menstrual cycle


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 September 2004 issue of 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. (October 18, 2004)

Description

Sesame seeds are tiny, flat oval seeds with a nutty taste and a delicate, almost invisible crunch. They come in a host of different colors, depending upon the variety, including white, yellow, black and red.

Sesame seeds are highly valued for their high content of sesame oil, an oil that is very resistant to rancidity. Sesame seeds are the main ingredients in both tahini and the Middle Eastern sweet treat, halvah.

“Open sesame,” the famous phrase from the Arabian tales, reflects the distinguishing feature of the sesame seed pod, which bursts open when it reaches maturity. The scientific name for sesame seeds is Sesamun indicum.

History

While sesame seeds have been grown in tropical regions throughout the world since prehistoric times, traditional myths hold that their origins go back even further. According to Assyrian legend, when the gods met to create the world, they drank wine made from sesame seeds.

These seeds were thought to have first originated in India and were mentioned in early Hindu legends. In these legends, tales are told in which sesame seeds represent a symbol of immortality. From India, sesame seeds were introduced throughout the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Sesame seeds were one of the first crops processed for oil as well as one of the earliest condiments. The addition of sesame seeds to baked goods can be traced back to ancient Egyptian times from an ancient tomb painting that depicts a baker adding the seeds to bread dough.

Sesame seeds were brought to the United States from Africa during the late 17th century. Currently, the largest commercial producers of sesame seeds include India, China and Mexico.

How to Select and Store

Sesame seeds are generally available in prepackaged containers as well as bulk bins. Just as with any other food that you can purchase in the bulk section, make sure that the bins containing the sesame seeds are covered and that the store has a good product turnover to ensure maximal freshness.

Whether purchasing sesame seeds in bulk or in a packaged container, make sure there is no evidence of moisture. Additionally, since they have a high oil content and can become rancid, smell those in bulk bins to ensure that they smell fresh.

Unhulled sesame seeds can be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry, dark place. Once the seeds are hulled, they are more prone to rancidity, so they should then be stored in the refrigerator or freezer.

How to Enjoy

A Few Quick Serving Ideas:

Add sesame seeds into the batter the next time you make homemade bread, muffins or cookies.

Use the traditional macrobiotic seasoning, gomasio, to enliven your food. You can either purchase gomasio at a health food store or make your own by using a mortar and pestle. Simply mix together one part dry roasted sea salt with twelve parts dry roasted sesame seeds.

Sesame seeds add a great touch to steamed broccoli that has been sprinkled with lemon juice.

Spread tahini (sesame paste) on toasted bread and either drizzle with honey for a sweet treat or combine with miso for a savory snack.

Combine toasted sesame seeds with rice vinegar, tamari and crushed garlic and use as a dressing for salads, vegetables and noodles.

Healthy sauté chicken with sesame seeds, tamari, garlic, ginger and your favorite vegetables for a healthy, but quick, Asian-inspired dinner.

Safety

Sesame seeds are not a commonly allergenic food, are not included in the list of 20 foods that most frequently contain pesticide residues, and are also not known to contain goitrogens, oxalates, or purines.

Nutritional Profile

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good or good source. Next to the nutrient name you will find the following information: the amount of the nutrient that is included in the noted serving of this food; the %Daily Value (DV) that that amount represents (similar to other information presented in the website, this DV is calculated for 25-50 year old healthy woman); the nutrient density rating; and, the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised. For more detailed information on our Food and Recipe Rating System, please click here.

 

Seeds, Sesame
0.25 cup
206.28 calories
Nutrient Amount DV
(%)
Nutrient
Density
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
copper 1.48 mg 74.0 6.5 very good
manganese 0.88 mg 44.0 3.8 very good
tryptophan 0.12 g 37.5 3.3 good
calcium 351.00 mg 35.1 3.1 good
magnesium 126.36 mg 31.6 2.8 good
iron 5.24 mg 29.1 2.5 good
phosphorus 226.44 mg 22.6 2.0 good
vitamin B1 (thiamin) 0.28 mg 18.7 1.6 good
zinc 2.80 mg 18.7 1.6 good
dietary fiber 4.24 g 17.0 1.5 good
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
Rule
excellent DV>=75% OR Density>=7.6 AND DV>=10%
very good DV>=50% OR Density>=3.4 AND DV>=5%
good DV>=25% OR Density>=1.5 AND DV>=2.5%

References

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  • Hirata F, Fujita K, Ishikura Y, et al. Hypocholesterolemic effect of sesame lignan in humans. Atherosclerosis 1996 Apr 26;122(1):135-36.
  • Hyun T, Barrett-Connor E, Milne D. Zinc intakes and plasma concentrations in men with osteoporosis: the Rancho Bernardo Study. Am J Clin Nutr, Sept. 2004:80(3):715-721.
  • Kamal-Eldin A, Pettersson D, Appelqvist LA. Sesamin (a compound from sesame oil) increases tocopherol levels in rats fed ad libitum. Lipids 1995 Jun;30(6):499-505.
  • Kita S, Matsumura Y, Morimoto S, et al. Antihypertensive effect of sesamin. II. Protection against two-kidney, one-clip renal hypertension and cardiovascular hypertrophy. Biol Pharm Bull 1995 Sep;18(9):1283-5.
  • Matsumura Y, Kita S, Morimoto S, et al. Antihypertensive effect of sesamin. I. Protection against deoxycorticosterone acetate-salt-induced hypertension and cardiovascular hypertrophy. Biol Pharm Bull 1995 Jul;18(7):1016-9.
  • Matsumura Y, Kita S, Ohgushi R, Okui T. Effects of sesamin on altered vascular reactivity in aortic rings of deoxycorticosterone acetate-salt-induced hypertensive rat. Biol Pharm Bull 2000 Sep;23(9):1041-5.
  • Nakai M, Harada M, Nakahara K et al. Novel antioxidative metabolites in rat liver with ingested sesamin. J Agric Food Chem 2003 Mar 12;51(6):1666-70.
  • Nonaka M, Yamashita K, Iizuka Y, et al. Effects of dietary sesaminol and sesamin on eicosanoid production and immunoglobulin level in rats given ethanol. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem 1997 May;61(5):836-9.
  • Ogawa H, Sasagawa S, Murakami T, Yoshizumi H. Sesame lignans modulate cholesterol metabolism in the stroke-prone spontaneously hypertensive rat. Clin Exp Pharmacol Physiol 1995 Dec;22 Suppl 1:S310-2.
  • Sirato-Yasumoto S, Katsuta M, Okuyama Y, et al. Effect of sesame seeds rich in sesamin and sesamolin on fatty acid oxidation in rat liver. J Agric Food Chem 2001 May;49(5):2647-51.
  • Thys-Jacobs S, Starkey P, Bernstein D, Tian J. Calcium carbonate and the premenstrual syndrome: effects on premenstrual and menstrual symptoms. Premestrual syndrome study group. Am J Obstet Gynecol 1998;179(2): 444-52.
  • Wood, Rebecca. The Whole Foods Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Prentice-Hall Press; 1988.
  • Yamashita K, Nohara Y, Katayama K, Namiki M. Sesame seed lignans and gamma-tocopherol act synergistically to produce vitamin E activity in rats. J Nutr 1992 Dec;122(12):2440-6.

This page was updated on: 2004-11-20 19:30:45
© 2002 The George Mateljan Foundation