Sesame, also known as ‘Til’, is a powerhouse of nutrition. Sesame originates in India itself and has been endorsed for its health benefits since the ancient times. Today, sesame has become an indispensable part of the Indian kitchen, especially in South India, and is used as a remedy for ailments ranging from diabetes to blood pressure and more.
Here we’ll discuss how the sesame seeds are extracted, their types, various health benefits, as well as their use in Indian culture and cooking.
How are Sesame Seeds Harvested?
Sesame originates from a cultivated plant referred to by its scientific name, Sesamum Indicum. The pods that grow from the plant contain the sesame seeds. As the pods become darker in colour, the seeds become mature, Then, the pods open and the seeds emerge. The seeds are then extracted by taking them out of the pod skin. These seeds are originally yellow in colour, and they are polished to get white sesame seeds.
Common Varieties of Sesame:
Generally, there are two common types of sesame seeds – white sesame seeds and black sesame seeds. Although both are different in colour, their properties are the same.
Apart from these, there is another variety of sesame used in South India and Maharashtra, known as ‘karale’ sesame, coming from a plant known as Niger (scientific name: ‘Guizotia Abyssinica’). The seeds of these plants are called Niger seeds or blackseeds. They are also sometimes locally referred to as Ramtil. These are believed to have originated in Africa and are used to make dry chutney with dried coconut and curry leaves.
The Various Health Benefits of Sesame:
Sesame seeds are also considered to be equally as good as peanuts in its benefits. They are a great source of essential nutrients and minerals such as manganese, copper, calcium, as well as Vitamins B1 and E. They also contain magnesium, iron, phosphorus, and zinc.
In addition to these, another speciality of the sesame seed is that it contains the chemicals ‘sesamin’ and ‘sesamolin’, which are helpful in controlling blood cholesterol levels, according to a study by World Health Food.
Plants contain a bioactive compound called phytosterols, whose molecular structure is quite similar to cholesterol molecules. When present sufficiently in the diet, it can bring down cholesterol levels in the blood, thereby boosting the body’s immunity, as well as reduce the risk of certain types of cancers. According to a report from the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, sesame seeds contain the highest amount of phytosterol content compared to other oilseeds, making it highly beneficial to include in your diet.
The sesamin present in the sesame seeds also helps maintain good liver health. The copper in sesame helps bring down arthritic joint pain and helps in reducing degradation of collagen and elastin fibres, which are important for maintaining the elasticity, structure, and strength of joints, bones, and blood vessels.
Furthermore, the magnesium present in sesame aids in thwarting respiratory diseases like Asthma as well as cardiovascular diseases. Sesamin also contains antioxidants that helps prevents health issues like high blood pressure, diabetes, and cancer. The calcium and zinc that are present in sesame are also good for bones as well as teeth.
Why should Sesame Seeds be hulled before using?
Given the high nutritional value of sesame seeds, it’s natural to think about using them in regular diet. However, like everything else, it should be used in moderation. It should be remembered that sesame seeds should not be used with their hull (or husk) on. The hull of sesame seed contains oxalates which can interfere with the body’s absorption of calcium. That is why you should remove the hull before using the seeds. The sesame seeds that are available in the market already have their hull peeled and removed.
Note on Allergies: Another important thing about sesame that you need to consider is that just like some people have a peanut allergy, they might also be allergic to sesame. In case any issues arise, you need to stop using sesame seeds and consult your doctor immediately.
Uses of Sesame in Cooking:
Sesame is used in cooking in many ways in India as well as abroad. Sesame has been considered important in our culture since a long time. Sesame has been used for Havan rituals since the ancient period. Rice is mixed with sesame to create a dish called ‘Tilodan.’ Kheer is made by mixing milk and rice with sesame powder and jaggery. The mixture of sesame and jaggery is known as ‘Palaal.’ Sushruta Acharya, the ancient Indian physician, also mentioned ‘Kambalika’ – an Ayurvedic food made with curd, urad dal, sesame powder, and oil.
Laddus can be made by combining sesame with jaggery or sugar. Cake-like items have been baked using sesame and honey since a long time. When Alexander the Great came to India, he took these items to Iraq and then to Greece. Sesame and Honey Cakes are made in Greece today.
Sesame in Indian Culture:
Sesame also is a significant part of Ayurveda. From powder and paste to oil, sesame is used in various forms as treatment for various ailments and improving body immunity and strength.
Sesame, originating from India, was one of the nine grains that were considered very sacred in the Vedic period. It is also used in religious ceremonies, such as in poojas conducted at funerals, weddings, and in some temples. ‘Tilgul ghya god bola’ (lit. Eat sesame-jaggery and speak sweetly) is a common phrase used during Sankranti, where people distribute tilgul to spread their love with others.
Sesame is an important part of the Indian culture and sesame seeds can be a great source of health, energy, and warmth, especially during winters. They’re versatile and can be consumed in many ways. Making sesame a regular part of your diet is a great way to stay fit, alleviate pain, and keep various ailments away from your body.