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Open Sesame

A close-up on the legendary seed

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Open Sesame

The tiny sesame seed is a nutritional giant. Try our sesame seed recipes.

Sesame is versatile: shape-shifting from a humble seed to the spreadable butter called tahini; ground into the macrobiotic seasoning gomasio; sprouted; or added to halva, the delicious Middle Eastern dessert.

Mentioned throughout ancient Hindu myths and legends, sesame seeds symbolize immortality. Perhaps the ancients were not amiss in revering this tiny seed for its life-promoting properties, considering its many health benefits.

Small in size; big in nutrients

Sesame seeds, Sesamun indicum, contain numerous antioxidants, including the important nutrients sesamin and sesamolin, both of which belong to a group called lignans. Believed to prevent high blood pressure in animals, lignans have a cholesterol-lowering effect in humans. They also protect the liver against damage.

Sesame seeds contain phytosterols, plant compounds similar in structure and function to cholesterol. When sufficient amounts are regularly included in the diet, phytosterols are believed to improve cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Just one-quarter cup of sesame seeds provides nearly 75 percent of the daily requirement for copper, a trace mineral known for its anti-inflammatory benefits for conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. Copper also promotes strength and elasticity in tissues throughout
the body.

Sesame seeds contain calcium, manganese, tryptophan, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, zinc, vitamin B1, and dietary fibre. Just 1 Tbsp (15 mL) of unhulled sesame seeds provides
88 mg of calcium. They are also rich in vitamin E, known to strengthen the heart and nervous system.

To ensure you are buying the freshest seeds, shop at a grocer that has a high turnover. Sesame seeds are usually available in bulk or in sealed packages. In either case, ensure there is no moisture in the bin or the package you select.

Sesame seeds are valued for their resistance to rancidity; even so, store them in an airtight container in a cool, dark place, as you would other seeds.

Next time you prepare a meal, do as the ancients did and add some of this small yet powerful seed. It’s a perfect addition to salad dressings, or sprinkle it in your next bread recipe or use it as decoration on a carrot cake. Wherever you add it, enjoy the many gifts of this humble seed and the secrets that reside within it.

Make your own sesame sprouts

All you need are unhulled sesame seeds, cheesecloth, a fine mesh colander, a wide-mouth glass jar, and a lightweight cloth.

  1. Place cheesecloth in colander and fill with seeds. Rinse seeds thoroughly with water and place in jar. Cover seeds with water and soak for six to eight hours.
  2. Drain and rinse seeds. Return them to jar and cover top of jar with lightweight cloth and set in a cool, light place. Repeat every four hours for at least 24 hours or until sprouts have grown to desired length.
  3. Rinse seeds and enjoy.

They’re best eaten fresh but can be stored in the fridge for up to two days. Approximately 2/3 cup of seeds (160 mL) will yield 1 cup (250 mL) of sprouts.

Recipes

Hull of a difference

It is important to note the nutritional difference between hulled and unhulled sesame seeds. Tahini, the sesame spread, is usually made from seeds that have had their hulls removed. When hulled, the remaining seed, also called the kernel, contains roughly 60 percent less calcium.

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