What Is Sesame Oil?


Sesame oil is a cooking oil that is produced from sesame seeds. The oil is a traditional ingredient in many types of Asian and Indian cooking, where it has been used for centuries. In the United States, sesame oil was once only carried in specialty Asian grocers, but is now widely found in many large grocers. This increase in availability is due to sesame oil becoming increasingly popular for its medicinal benefits and nutritional value in addition to its uses in ethnic dishes.


  • Sesame oil dates back to 600 B.C. when it was a commodity in Assyria as a luxury cooking oil. The Assyrians also used the oil for medicinal purposes and for salve, and because of its high price, it was seen as a status symbol. Because of this, Assyrian legends told that when the Earth was formed, the oil of the sesame served as the wine of the gods. Evidence of sesame oil use is also found in ancient India, where it was considered sacred and utilized in Hindu rituals. Sesame seeds and oil did not arrive in the United States until the late seventeenth century. In the modern day, sesame oil is produced in India, China and Mexico.


  • Sesame oil is produced by pressing ripe sesame seeds. Much of the work to extract the oil cannot be done mechanically, meaning that workers must be employed for the process. The oil ranges in color from pale gold to a deep amber brown. The darker varieties are obtained from seeds that have been toasted before they are pressed. The lighter varieties have very little flavor while the darker varieties have a strong nutty taste.


  • The golden variety of sesame oil is sometimes referred to as gingelly or til oil and is typically used in Indian cooking. The very pale variety is sometimes referred to as cold-pressed and is used as an agent for frying rather than taste. This type is most common to Burma, where it is known as hnan zi. The dark variety is found in Chinese, Korean, and Japanese cooking and is added to impart its nutty flavor. The Chinese refer to sesame oil as ma yau, and the Japanese and Koreans call it goma abura and chan keh room, respectively.


  • Sesame oil contains many nutritional benefits and is believed to serve a variety of medicinal purposes. One cup of sesame oil contains a little over 3 grams of vitamin E and 29 micrograms of Vitamin K, which accounts for 15 percent and 37 percent of a person's daily needs based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Sesame oil contains mono and polysaturated fats, which lower cholesterol, and the Inter-American Society of Hypertension reports that it can also lower blood pressure. In India, sesame oil has been used to treat hepatitis, diabetes and migraines for many years. A study done at Maharishi International College in Iowa showed that sesame oil is an effective treatment for gingivitis, and Naturalholistichealth.com claims that sesame oil can be used to treat psoriasis, dandruff, head lice and yeast infections. The site also credits sesame oil as a possible sunscreen and report that it can be used to heal minor abrasions and cuts.


  • The American Heart Association recommends that no more than 10 percent of a person's diet come from polyunsaturated fats, meaning that though sesame oil has many health benefits, it should only be used in moderation. Sesame oil can also loosen stools, so it should be avoided by people who have problems with chronic diarrhea. Long term usage of sesame oil for medicinal purposes has not been fully studied, so it should be approached with some caution. Additionally, people with allergies to nuts may also develop a reaction to sesame oil and should try to avoid it.

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  • Photo Credit Image by Erik Araujo.
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