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Sesame Seed

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Sesamum indicum

This is the oldest recorded spice

The oldest written use of sesame seeds comes from an Assyrian myth which claims that the gods drank sesame wine the night before they created the earth. The Assyrians were using it in 3000 BC.

The seeds come from the pods of a medium sized plant with either white or pink flowers. The color of the flower determines the color of the seed. Seeds are white (or gray ivory), or black. The brown variety is simply the white variety without the hull removed. We can thank the early African slaves for introducing it into our cuisine. Their name for the seeds was benne (behn nee) seeds. This is why they are more popular in southern dishes. With its warm nutty taste, this is a great old spice.

Sesame seeds are harvested by hand. “Open sesame,” the famous phrase from the Arabian Nights, reflects the distinguishing feature of the sesame seed pod, which bursts open at the slightest touch when it reaches maturity.

Sesame seeds are the main ingredients in tahini (sesame seed paste) and the wonderful Middle Eastern sweet halvah. Most of my contemporaries can still recite McDonalds, “two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun”. When a spice is used in a fast food commercial, it has certainly made it into the main stream of our cuisine. It is also much loved in Scandinavia, where it is almost a staple. Sesame seeds are found in such diverse cultures as; Japan, Greece, Togo, Pakistan, and of course Africa.

Sesame Seeds are used to add texture and flavor to breads, rolls, crackers, and salad dressings. Sesame seed oil is still the main source of fat used in cooking in the Near and Far East.

Some sesame is grown in the United States in areas like Texas and other Southwestern states. But, we still import more seeds than we grow. There is no good substitute for sesame seeds.

Recipe

Sesame Seed Grilled Tuna
Sesame Seed Chinese Salad