One of the first oil seeds known to humankind, sesame seeds have been widely employed in culinary as well as in traditional medicines for their nutritive, preventive, and curative properties. Sesame is a primary source of phytonutrients such as omega-6 fatty acids, flavonoid phenolic anti-oxidants, vitamins, and dietary fiber with potential anti-cancer as well as health promoting properties.
Sesame plant is a tall annual herb in the Pedaliaceae family, which grows extensively in Asia, particularly in Burma, China, and India. It is also one of the chief commercial crops in Nigeria, Sudan, and Ethiopia. Scientific name: Sesamum indicum.
|White sesame in a bowl.||Brown and black sesame seeds.|
Sesame plant requires well-drained sandy soil and tropical environment to flourish. It grows about 5 feet in height and bears plenty of pink-white foxglove-like flowers. The pods appear soon containing white, brown, or black seeds depending upon the cultivar type, arranged in vertical rows inside thin sacs. Each pod (2-5 cm in length) is a long rectangular box like a capsule with deep grooves on its sides. Each pod (1 to 2 inches in length) may contain up to 100 or more seeds.
Sesame seeds are small, almost oblate in shape. Toasted sesame features pleasant, nutty flavor.
Flavorful, crunchy sesame seeds are widely considered as healthy foods. 100 grams of seeds carry 573 calories. Although much of its calorie comes from fats, sesame contains several essential health-benefiting nutrients, minerals, antioxidants, and vitamins.
The seeds are especially rich in mono-unsaturated fatty acid, oleic acid, which comprises of up to 50% of fatty acids in them. Oleic acid helps lower LDL or "bad cholesterol" and increases HDL or "good cholesterol" in the blood. Research studies suggest that Mediterranean diet which is rich in mono-unsaturated fats may help prevent coronary artery disease, and stroke by favoring healthy serum lipid profile.
The seeds are also valuable sources of dietary protein with fine quality amino acids that are essential for growth, especially in children. Just 100 g of seeds provide about 18 g of protein (32% of daily recommended values).
Sesame seeds contain many health benefiting compounds such as sesamol (3, 4-methylene-dioxyphenol), sesaminol, furyl-methanthiol, guaiacol (2-methoxyphenol), phenyl ethanthiol and furaneol, vinyl guacol, and decadienal. Sesamol and sesaminol are phenolic anti-oxidants. Together, these compounds help stave off harmful free radicals from the human body.
Sesame is among the seeds rich in quality vitamins, and minerals. They are an excellent sources of B-complex vitamins such as niacin, folic acid, thiamin (vitamin B1), pyridoxine (vitamin B6), and riboflavin.
100 g of sesame contains 97 µg of folic acid, about 25% of recommended daily intake. Folic acid is essential for DNA synthesis. When given to expectant mothers during their peri-conception period, it may prevent neural tube defects in the newborns.
Niacin is another B-complex vitamin found abundantly in sesame. About 4.5 mg or 28% of daily required levels of niacin provided from just 100 grams of seeds. Niacin helps reduce LDL-cholesterol concentrations in the blood. Also, it enhances GABA activity inside the brain, which in turn helps reduce anxiety and neurosis.
The seeds are incredibly rich sources of many essential minerals. Calcium, iron, manganese, zinc, magnesium, selenium, and copper especially concentrated in sesame seeds. Many of these minerals have a vital role in bone mineralization, red blood cell production, enzyme synthesis, hormone production, as well as regulation of cardiac and skeletal muscle activities.
Just a handful of sesame a day provides enough recommended levels of phenolic anti-oxidants, minerals, vitamins, and protein.