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Sesame From A to Z: 26 Interesting Things to Know

Sesame From A to Z: 26 Interesting Things to Know

From Ali Baba to Zinc, some interesting facts and figures about sesame seeds: one of the oldest oilseed crops known, domesticated well over 3000 years ago.

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Ali Baba. The magic formula "Open sesame!" is from the book One Thousand and One Nights, and specifically from the tale of Ali Baba and the 40 thieves". It refers to the actual sesame fruit, because when the fruit is mature many aromatic seeds come out of it. The exotic formula also relates to Sesame Street, the popular American TV edutainment program with the Muppets.

Black&White. The widely used varieties are either black or white. Black sesame has an intense and oily taste, it's more popular in the Far East.

Cantonese. Cantonese cuisine uses a lot of sesame. Of the many sweet soups (tong sui), probably the black sesame one is the one everyone likes best, it's also believed to prevent graying of the hair.

Draught. Its plant can survive a draught and keep growing. It's called a “survivor crop”.

Energy. Sesame is a high value nutrient, 568 kcal for 100 grams. The flour you get after you extract the oil, contains 35-50% of protein, usually used for feeding animals.

Five hundred. Sesame seeds are quite small, from three to four millimeters, two millimeters large, and one millimeter wide. To get 100 grams, you need 500 seeds.

Gluten-free. Sesame doesn't contain gluten, it's perfect for celiacs and those who would like to avoid eating gluten.

Halva. Means sweet in arab and ancient hebrew. The sesame one is made with tahini, sugar and honey. It's very popular in the Middle East and in the Balkans. It's been in use since ancient times: Babylonian women used to eat it to preserve their beauty and youth; Roman soldiers to get energy and keep their strength.

Immortality. In India, sesame seeds are employed in sacred rituals, they are a symbol of immortality. During funerals, Indians offer vases of sesame to help the dead in their passing. Indians also burn sesame oil in votive offerings because they consider it sacred.

Japan. Sesame is a key ingredient in making the uramaki, a variety in which the center is wrapped by an algae nori and the outer part of the rice in sesame seeds. The Gomashio is a very popular dry condiment made with black sesame seeds and salt. Tempura is fried in sesame oil and other vegetable oils.

Koulouri. It's a ring-shaped bread with sesame seeds, it's very Popular in Greece, as well as in Turkey (where it's called Simit), the Balkans and the Middle East. In Slavic countries, such as Russia and Poland, the traditional version is more similar to the bagel: the white flour and semolina are poached before putting them in the oven.

Lipoprotein. “High-density lipoprotein”: it's HDL, the so-called good cholesterol, the one that helps fighting the bad kind. Sesame seeds are a good source.

Mc Donald’s. Fast Food chains use sesame seeds on hamburger buns. The 75% of Mexican sesame production is bought by Mc Donald's only.

Nougat. Sweet nougat - also called "giggiulena" – is a Sicilian Christmas sweet coming from the Arabs. The sesame seeds are fused together with honey and served on orange leaves.

Oil. Sesame oil has a great quantity of oil in it and it's full of anti-oxidants. In certain regions on India and Asia, such as Korea and China, it's very popular in the kitchen, you can almost compare it to Olive oil in the Mediterranean. It's used in medicine and for beauty products thanks to its easy absorption.

Papyrus Ebers. Growing sesame is an ancient tradition. Archeology proves that they were in use 4000 years before Christ. It's mentioned in the Papyrus Ebers, the Egyptian book of medicine written in 1550 BC, using text written in 3600-3400 BC. In Hindu the word oil derives from the sanskrit word sesame.

Quality perception. Color is an important factor in understanding quality and determining price. In certain countries, after the shell has been removed, the seeds go through an electronic color-sorting machine eliminating those that are not the perfect color.

Roll. Black sesame rolls are a popular dim sum dessert - Cantonese style - in Hong Kong and in Chinese communities around the world. They are black sesame leaves rolled together to create a soft and smooth roll.

Sannakji. It's a typical Korean dish, part of the "hoe", the raw fish dishes. The nakji are small octopuses cut when they are still alive and served immediately with seeds of sesame oil. The gourmet don't chew hard on them because they like the sensation they get from the still moving tentacles that attach to the mucus and the throat putting them at serious risk of suffocation.

Tahini. Sesame butter (made with white sesame seeds, toasted, battered and mixed with sesame oil) is extremely popular in North Africa, the Middle East, Turkey and Greece. You can use it in salty and sweet foods. Compared to peanut butter it has more calcium, fibre and less saturated fat.

Urdu. In urdu (the national language of Pakistan and official in India) many proverbs talk about sesame. For example "til dharnay ki jagah na hona" means a very crowded place with not one spot left, not even for a sesame seed, "in tilon mein teil nahee" " means “there is no oil left in this sesame" and it implies someone is being really mean.

Vata. Sesame oil is used in Ayurveda, it's been a popular remedy for thousands of years. It's good for massages, it helps circulation and the nervous system - it helps relieve stress, and is particularly useful in curing the Vata type, the cold and dry body type.

World production. Myanmar has the greatest world production of sesame. In 2010, it produced over 722.900 million tons of seeds, 18.84% of world production, followed by India, China, Ethiopia and Sudan.

XVI Century. Sesame seeds arrived in the States brought by African slaves (in certain African countries they are still in use). The Benne Wafer Cookies, a speciality of the Low Country – near Charleston, South Carolina - are sesame biscuits named after the word sesame in Nigerian "benne".

Yellunde. It's one of the many regional names (Malayaman, Kerala) for sesame balls in India. These are extremely famous desserts and snack in the subcontinent made with seeds, sugar, palm sugar or jaggery.

Zinc. Zinc, magnesium, iron. Phosphorus, selenium, manganese. It's also the prime vegetable source for calcium. Sesame seeds are rich in trace elements, very important for everyone, especially for women going through menopause.

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