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Sesame seed

Other Names: Ajonjolí or sésamo (Spanish); benne (Wolof); gergelim (Brazilian Portuguese); gingelly (Hindi); kae (Korean); sesam (Turkish); sésame (French); sesamo (Italian); sésamo (Portuguese); shumshum (Hebrew); simsim (Arabic); sousami (Greek); ufuta (Swahili); vanglo (German); wijen (Indonesian). Black sesame: hak chi mah (Chinese); kuro-goma (Japanese). White sesame: chi mah (Chinese); muki-goma (Japanese).

General Description: Sesame seeds (Sesamum indicum) are small, thin, tear-shaped black or tan seeds with a pleasing nutty flavor that’s intensified by toasting. Black and tan sesame seeds are similar in flavor, while white sesame seeds are more delicate. Used as a seasoning and for their oil, they are about 50 percent oil by weight. Popular the world over, sesame probably originated in Africa and is now grown mostly in India, China, Mexico, and the Sudan.

In India, the seeds are sprinkled on baked goods and added to rice dishes, sauces, and stuffings. In China, they coat small deep-fried tidbits and sweets and are toasted and ground to make the potent Chinese sesame paste zhi ma jiang_. In Japan, where sesame is used extensively, the seeds are always lightly toasted. They are mixed with salt as a condiment (gomasio_), ground and made into sesame tofu (goma-dofu), and mixed with dressings and dipping sauces.

In the Middle East, sesame seeds are ground and compressed with sweet syrup and honey to make halva, or ground into tahini, a paste used in making hummus and baba ghanouj. Sesame seeds are sprinkled on simit, ring-shaped Turkish breads sold by street vendors. The seeds were introduced to America by West African slaves, who called them benne, still their name in the American South.

Cold-pressed sesame oil is gently heated to preserve natural aromas; hot-pressed sesame oil yields greater quantities of less flavorful oil and is the preferred frying oil in southwest India and Burma. Asian sesame oil extracted from toasted seeds is called “fragrant oil” in China; it’s a common flavoring in Korea, Japan, and the Chinese province of Sichuan, where it’s seasoned with crushed dried chiles. Japanese tempura is made by deep-frying battered vegetables in a mixture of one part toasted sesame oil and ten parts soy oil.

Purchase and Avoid: Look for white sesame seeds, sesame oil, and cold-pressed sesame oil in supermarkets and natural foods stores. Asian toasted sesame oil, roasted sesame paste, natural sesame seeds, and black sesame seeds can be found in Asian markets and spice shops. Tahini can be found in Middle Eastern groceries and natural foods stores.

Storage: Store sesame seeds in the refrigerator since their high oil content can lead to rancidity. Store toasted sesame oil, roasted sesame paste, and tahini in the refrigerator once opened.

Serving Suggestions: Sprinkle white sesame seeds on breads, crackers, and cookies before baking. Lightly toast white or tan sesame seeds in a dry skillet, shaking so the seeds toast evenly, and sprinkle on salads, stir-fries, and sautés.

Food Affinities: Almond, beef, bok choy, broccoli, butter, caramel, cheese, chicken, cilantro, corn, duck, honey, lamb, lemon, miso, olive oil, orange, rice, scallion, shrimp, tofu, watercress.

from Quirk Books: