The Health Benefits of Sesame Seeds

Sesame seedsIn Asian cuisine, sesame seeds and sesame oil are very important condiments.  In fact, today, Japan and China are the two largest importers of sesame products.  The nutty, slightly sweet seed is not only savored for its flavor but is a very good source of minerals that include copper, manganese,  magnesium, calciumiron, phosphorus, vitamin B1, selenium, and zinc.  Of all these minerals, the major benefit for Asians is calcium.

Did you know that for most Asians, the mineral that we commonly lack is calcium?   According to the U.S. Department of Health, ninety-five percent of Asians are lactose intolerant.   I myself am lactose intolerant and so are my kids who are half Asian.  One of our sons didn’t know he was lactose intolerant until he went on an exchange to France.  You see in our house, I only buy lactose free milk, so that’s all they drank.   However, while in France, every morning they had cereal and milk, a typical breakfast.  But, every day he had a funny tummy and couldn’t figure out why.   Then it dawned on him that he was drinking regular milk.  The light bulb went on and he figured he must be lactose intolerant, just like me.  Poor thing. 

The funny thing about being lactose intolerant is that I can eat cheese and yoghurt with no problem.   Ice-cream though, is a hit or miss.  It’s not easy to figure this thing out.

Because of this, many Asians avoid dairy and consume a lot of soy milk.  But we do need more calcium, so I find the easiest and most delicious solution is to include sesame seeds in our diet.  I love sesame seeds and find it so easy to add it in salads, stir-frys and I even just sprinkle it on rice.    

Here are a few tips for shopping and consuming sesame seeds.

Whole sesame seeds:

Whole seeds can come in various forms such as raw, hulled, unhulled, and roasted.  To really enjoy the nutty flavor of the seed, I like to buy the roasted seeds.  I used to buy sesame seeds in very small quantities because they go rancid quite quickly, and I hated having to throw away half the bottle.  But, I finally figured out a way to avoid this.   

Store sesame seeds in the freezer and they stay fresh! I am now able to buy a big bag of seeds.   I just take a portion and fill a small bottle, keeping it in the pantry, and replenishing it as necessary. 

And an important point to remember about sesame seeds is that for your body to absorb its wonderful minerals, they say it’s best to consume them crushed rather than whole. 

Sesame paste:

In the Asian market you will find a variety of pastes.  Some are a creamy beige color that uses white sesame seeds, some are gray in color because they crush black sesame seeds and then there is the blended white and black paste that has an ochre color.  Chinese sesame paste is usually very dense.  The separation between the solid paste and the oil is visible at the top of the glass jar.  On the other hand Japanese paste must be whipped because it has a very smooth texture similar to smooth peanut butter.

When I lived in Kuwait, tahini, which is the Middle Eastern sesame paste was readily available.  Tahini is most commonly used in hummus.  I don’t know why but Asian sesame paste and tahini taste different.  I think, but don’t know for a fact, that the Asian version uses roasted seeds while tahini uses hulled unroasted seeds.  It just tastes that way.  Although they are both sesame pastes, they are not interchangeable for recipes.  For Asian recipes, stick to Asian paste and for Middle Eastern recipes, stick to tahini. 

Here are two favorite sesame recipes:

1.   Japanese Goma ae,  which are boiled vegetables blended with sesame seeds.  Please try Green Beans with Black Sesame Seeds

2.      Middle Eastern Hummus.  This recipe pretty idiot proof if you have a food processor. Fresh always tastes better than packaged!  Please try Easy Hummus. 

To stronger and healthier bones! 

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