The sesame plant grows in tropical and subtropical parts of the world, including Asia, Africa, and South America. People cultivate it for its edible seeds, which are a popular addition to many dishes all over the world.
The sesame plant, Sesamum indicum, produces seeds that contain protein, fiber, and healthy fats. Sesame seeds also provide calcium, B vitamins, vitamin E, and antioxidants.
People can eat sesame seeds as they are, add them as an ingredient to meals, or use sesame seed oil in cooking.
Tahini, which people use to make hummus and other foods, is a paste made from sesame seeds.
In this article, we look at the potential health benefits and risks of sesame seeds and explain how people can include them in their diet.
Protein helps the bone, muscle, and tissue in the body stay healthy. It plays a key role in growth.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommend a daily intake of 1,000 mg of calcium for people aged 19 years and older. Females over the age of 51 years and males over the age of 71 years require 1,200 mg, while individuals aged 14–18 years require 1,300 mg daily.
Calcium is an essential mineral to support the health and function of:
- blood vessels
- cell signaling
Sesame seeds are a good source of B vitamins, with 100 g containing:
The body cannot store most B vitamins, so people need to get B vitamins regularly from the diet.
B vitamins are essential because they turn the nutrients from food into energy that the body can use. B vitamins also support cell growth and red blood cell production.
Sesame seed oil contains vitamin E.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps protect the body from free radical damage to cells. This damage can happen as the body transforms food into energy or comes into contact with cigarette smoke, pollution, or UV light.
Vitamin E also helps support the immune system and allows cells to communicate with each other.
In addition, it promotes vascular health by widening blood vessels and preventing blood clots from developing.
A 2016 review found that sesame seeds and sesame seed oil had a positive effect on oxidative stress and the potential to increase antioxidants in the body.
Sesame seeds contain phenolics, such as lignans, which have high antioxidant properties. By reducing oxidative stress, phenolics may help prevent cardiovascular disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease.
The lignans in sesame seeds have other benefits alongside their antioxidant properties. A 2019 study suggested that phytoestrogens, which include lignans, may help reduce the risk of osteoporosis, menopausal symptoms, and breast cancer.
A 2016 paper reports that other compounds in sesame seeds may provide health benefits. The authors highlight sesamol, which has antioxidant and anti-aging properties, and sesamolin, which has anti-inflammatory, antihypertensive, and anti-cancer effects. They also mention sesamin, which has all of these properties.
Black sesame seeds have a slightly stronger taste than white sesame seeds, which have a lighter flavor.
Black and white sesame seeds may also have slightly different nutritional properties. A 2016 study found that black sesame seeds may have higher antioxidant activity than white sesame seeds.
People can use sesame seeds in a variety of ways. For instance, they can sprinkle the seeds on top of salads, stir-fries, or soups.
Toasting sesame seeds makes them crunchier and can enhance their flavor. People can toast sesame seeds by spreading them on a baking tray and placing them in the oven for 5–10 minutes at 350°F. Stirring through the seeds occasionally will help ensure that they toast evenly.
People can also bake or buy bread, crackers, and cereal bars containing sesame seeds.
People can also use tahini as an ingredient in dips and sauces or stir it through dishes to add nutrition and flavor.
People may wish to try the following recipes, which include sesame seeds:
It is important to store sesame seeds and sesame oil in a dry, cool place, such as a kitchen cupboard, to keep the products from going rancid.
Alternatively, people can store sesame seeds in the fridge to keep them fresh and make them last longer.
According to a report from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, sesame allergy is the ninth most common food allergy in the United States.
However, sesame is currently not on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) list of major food allergens, which means that manufacturers do not have to list it as an allergen on product labels.
As a result, people may come into contact with sesame without realizing it. Nonfood products that may contain sesame include supplements, medications, and cosmetics.
If people think that they may have a sesame allergy, they should visit a doctor or allergist for a skin prick test, which shows how antibodies react to potential allergens.
A sesame allergy can cause a severe allergic reaction, which can be life threatening. A person will need immediate medical attention if they have symptoms of a severe allergic reaction, which can include:
People once thought that sesame seeds could cause symptoms in people with diverticulitis, which is a gastrointestinal infection.
However, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, sesame seeds do not irritate the gut for most people with diverticulitis.
Anyone who thinks that sesame is triggering symptoms can try limiting or removing sesame products or speak with their doctor for advice.
Sesame seeds are nutritious and may offer many health benefits. They are a good source of protein, fiber, and healthy fats. They also provide vitamins and minerals, including calcium, vitamin E, and B vitamins.
Due to their antioxidant properties, sesame seeds may help reduce oxidative stress, potentially contributing to the prevention of health issues, including cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases.
Raw or toasted sesame seeds are easy to sprinkle onto dishes, or people can use sesame seed oil or tahini in a variety of recipes.
People with a sesame allergy will need to take care to avoid any products containing sesame in any form, including sesame seeds, sesame oil, and tahini.