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Sesame seeds
Sesame seeds

Sesame seeds add a nutty taste and a delicate, almost invisible, crunch to many Asian dishes. They are also the main ingredients in tahini (sesame seed paste) and the wonderful Middle Eastern sweet call halvah. They are available throughout the year.

Sesame seeds may be the oldest condiment known to man. They are highly valued for their oil which is exceptionally resistant to rancidity. "Open sesame"—the famous phrase from the Arabian Nights—reflects the distinguishing feature of the sesame seed pod, which bursts open when it reaches maturity. The scientific name for sesame seeds is Sesamun indicum.

Sesame Seeds, dried
0.25 cup
(36.00 grams)
Calories: 206
GI: very low

NutrientDRI/DV

 copper163%


 calcium35%



 iron29%

 zinc25%




 fiber17%


This chart graphically details the %DV that a serving of Sesame seeds provides for each of the nutrients of which it is a good, very good, or excellent source according to our Food Rating System. Additional information about the amount of these nutrients provided by Sesame seeds can be found in the Food Rating System Chart. A link that takes you to the In-Depth Nutritional Profile for Sesame seeds, featuring information over 80 nutrients, can be found under the Food Rating System Chart.

Health Benefits

Not only are sesame seeds an excellent source of copper and a very good source of manganese, but they are also a good source of calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, vitamin B1, zinc, molybdenum, selenium, and dietary fiber. In addition to these important nutrients, sesame seeds contain two unique substances: sesamin and sesamolin. Both of these substances belong to a group of special beneficial fibers called lignans, and have been shown to have a cholesterol-lowering effect in humans, and to prevent high blood pressure and increase vitamin E supplies in animals. Sesamin has also been found to protect the liver from oxidative damage.

Rich In Beneficial Minerals

Sesame seeds are an excellent source of copper, a very good source of manganese, and a good source of magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, iron, zinc, molybdenum, and selenium. This rich assortment of minerals translates into the following health benefits:

Copper Provides Relief for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Copper is known for its use in reducing some of the pain and swelling of rheumatoid arthritis. Copper's effectiveness is due to the fact that this trace mineral is important in a number of antiinflammatory and antioxidant enzyme systems. In addition, copper plays an important role in the activity of lysyl oxidase, an enzyme needed for the cross-linking of collagen and elastin—the ground substances that provide structure, strength and elasticity in blood vessels, bones and joints.

Magnesium Supports Vascular and Respiratory Health

Studies have supported magnesium's usefulness in:

  • Preventing the airway spasm in asthma
  • Lowering high blood pressure, a contributing factor in heart attack, stroke, and diabetic heart disease
  • Preventing the trigeminal blood vessel spasm that triggers migraine attacks
  • Restoring normal sleep patterns in women who are experiencing unpleasant symptoms associated with menopause

Calcium Helps Prevent Colon Cancer, Osteoporosis, Migraine and PMS

In recent studies, calcium has been shown to:

  • Help protect colon cells from cancer-causing chemicals
  • Help prevent the bone loss that can occur as a result of menopause or certain conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis
  • Help prevent migraine headaches in those who suffer from them
  • Reduce PMS symptoms during the luteal phase (the second half) of the menstrual cycle

There is a little bit of controversy about sesame seeds and calcium, because there is a substantial difference between the calcium content of hulled versus unhulled sesame seeds. When the hulls remain on the seeds, one tablespoon of sesame seeds will contains about 88 milligrams of calcium. When the hulls are removed, this same tablespoon will contain about 37 milligrams (about 60% less). Tahini—a spreadable paste made from ground sesame seeds—is usually made from hulled seeds (seeds with the hulls removed, called kernels), and so it will usually contain this lower amount of calcium.

The term "sesame butter" can sometimes refer to tahini made from sesame seed kernels, or it can also be used to mean a seed paste made from whole sesame seeds—hull included.

Although the seed hulls provide an additional 51 milligrams of calcium per tablespoon of seeds, the calcium found in the hulls appears in large part to be found in the form of calcium oxalate. This form of calcium is different than the form found in the kernels, and it is a less absorbable form of calcium. So even though a person would be likely to get more calcium from sesame seeds or sesame seed butter that contained the hulls, there is a question about how much more calcium would be involved. It would defintely be less than the 51 additional milligrams found in the seed hulls.

Zinc for Bone Health

Another reason for older men to make zinc-rich foods such as sesame seeds a regular part of their healthy way of eating is bone mineral density. Although osteoporosis is often thought to be a disease for which postmenopausal women are at highest risk, it is also a potential problem for older men. Almost 30% of hip fractures occur in men, and 1 in 8 men over age 50 will have an osteoporotic fracture. A study of 396 men ranging in age from 45-92 that was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found a clear correlation between low dietary intake of zinc, low blood levels of the trace mineral, and osteoporosis at the hip and spine.

Sesame Seeds' Phytosterols Lower Cholesterol

Phytosterols are compounds found in plants that have a chemical structure very similar to cholesterol, and when present in the diet in sufficient amounts, are believed to reduce blood levels of cholesterol, enhance the immune response and decrease risk of certain cancers.

Phytosterols beneficial effects are so dramatic that they have been extracted from soybean, corn, and pine tree oil and added to processed foods, such as "butter"-replacement spreads, which are then touted as cholesterol-lowering "foods." But why settle for an imitation "butter" when Mother Nature's nuts and seeds are a naturally rich source of phytosterols—and cardio-protective fiber, minerals and healthy fats as well?

In a study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, researchers published the amounts of phytosterols present in nuts and seeds commonly eaten in the United States.

Sesame seeds had the highest total phytosterol content (400-413 mg per 100 grams), and English walnuts and Brazil nuts the lowest (113 mg/100grams and 95 mg/100 grams). (100 grams is equivalent to 3.5 ounces.) Of the nuts and seeds typically consumed as snack foods, pistachios and sunflower seeds were richest in phytosterols (270-289 mg/100 g), followed by pumpkin seeds (265 mg/100 g).

Description

Sesame seeds are tiny, flat oval seeds with a nutty taste and a delicate, almost invisible crunch. They come in a host of different colors, depending upon the variety, including white, yellow, black and red.

Sesame seeds are highly valued for their high content of sesame oil, an oil that is very resistant to rancidity. Sesame seeds are the main ingredients in both tahini and the Middle Eastern sweet treat, halvah.

Open sesame—the famous phrase from the Arabian Nights—reflects the distinguishing feature of the sesame seed pod, which bursts open when it reaches maturity. The scientific name for sesame seeds is Sesamun indicum.

History

While sesame seeds have been grown in tropical regions throughout the world since prehistoric times, traditional myths hold that their origins go back even further. According to Assyrian legend, when the gods met to create the world, they drank wine made from sesame seeds.

These seeds were thought to have first originated in India and were mentioned in early Hindu legends. In these legends, tales are told in which sesame seeds represent a symbol of immortality. From India, sesame seeds were introduced throughout the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Sesame seeds were one of the first crops processed for oil as well as one of the earliest condiments. The addition of sesame seeds to baked goods can be traced back to ancient Egyptian times from an ancient tomb painting that depicts a baker adding the seeds to bread dough.

Sesame seeds were brought to the United States from Africa during the late 17th century. Currently, the largest commercial producers of sesame seeds include India, China and Mexico.

How to Select and Store

Sesame seeds are generally available in prepackaged containers as well as bulk bins. Just as with any other food that you can purchase in the bulk section, make sure that the bins containing the sesame seeds are covered and that the store has a good product turnover to ensure maximal freshness.

Whether purchasing sesame seeds in bulk or in a packaged container, make sure there is no evidence of moisture. Additionally, since they have a high oil content and can become rancid, smell those in bulk bins to ensure that they smell fresh.

Unhulled sesame seeds can be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry, dark place. Once the seeds are hulled, they are more prone to rancidity, so they should then be stored in the refrigerator or freezer.

How to Enjoy

A Few Quick Serving Ideas
  • Add sesame seeds into the batter the next time you make homemade bread, muffins or cookies.
  • Use the traditional macrobiotic seasoning, gomasio, to enliven your food. You can either purchase gomasio at a health food store or make your own by using a mortar and pestle. Simply mix together one part dry roasted sea salt with twelve parts dry roasted sesame seeds.
  • Sesame seeds add a great touch to steamed broccoli that has been sprinkled with lemon juice.
  • Spread tahini (sesame paste) on toasted bread and either drizzle with honey for a sweet treat or combine with miso for a savory snack.
  • Combine toasted sesame seeds with rice vinegar, soy sauce and crushed garlic and use as a dressing for salads, vegetables and noodles.
  • Healthy sauté chicken with sesame seeds, soy sauce, garlic, ginger and your favorite vegetables for a healthy, but quick, Asian-inspired dinner.

Individual Concerns

Sesame Seeds and Food Allergies

While not among the top eight food allergen groups in the United States, sesame seeds are a food that researchers have found to be associated with an increased prevalence of food allergy. For helpful information about this topic, please see our article, An Overview of Adverse Food Reactions.

Nutritional Profile

Sesame seeds are an excellent source of copper, a very good source of manganese, and a good source of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, zinc, molybdenum, vitamin B1, selenium and dietary fiber.

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

In order to better help you identify foods that feature a high concentration of nutrients for the calories they contain, we created a Food Rating System. This system allows us to highlight the foods that are especially rich in particular nutrients. The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good, or good source (below the chart you will find a table that explains these qualifications). If a nutrient is not listed in the chart, it does not necessarily mean that the food doesn't contain it. It simply means that the nutrient is not provided in a sufficient amount or concentration to meet our rating criteria. (To view this food's in-depth nutritional profile that includes values for dozens of nutrients - not just the ones rated as excellent, very good, or good - please use the link below the chart.) To read this chart accurately, you'll need to glance up in the top left corner where you will find the name of the food and the serving size we used to calculate the food's nutrient composition. This serving size will tell you how much of the food you need to eat to obtain the amount of nutrients found in the chart. Now, returning to the chart itself, you can look next to the nutrient name in order to find the nutrient amount it offers, the percent Daily Value (DV%) that this amount represents, the nutrient density that we calculated for this food and nutrient, and the rating we established in our rating system. For most of our nutrient ratings, we adopted the government standards for food labeling that are found in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's "Reference Values for Nutrition Labeling." Read more background information and details of our rating system.

Sesame Seeds, dried
0.25 cup
36.00 grams
Calories: 206
GI: very low
NutrientAmountDRI/DV
(%)
Nutrient
Density
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
copper1.47 mg16314.3excellent
manganese0.89 mg453.9very good
calcium351.00 mg353.1good
phosphorus226.44 mg322.8good
magnesium126.36 mg322.8good
iron5.24 mg292.5good
zinc2.79 mg252.2good
molybdenum10.62 mcg242.1good
vitamin B10.28 mg232.0good
selenium12.38 mcg232.0good
fiber4.25 g171.5good
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
Rule
excellent DRI/DV>=75% OR
Density>=7.6 AND DRI/DV>=10%
very good DRI/DV>=50% OR
Density>=3.4 AND DRI/DV>=5%
good DRI/DV>=25% OR
Density>=1.5 AND DRI/DV>=2.5%

In-Depth Nutritional Profile

In addition to the nutrients highlighted in our ratings chart, here is an in-depth nutritional profile for Sesame seeds. This profile includes information on a full array of nutrients, including carbohydrates, sugar, soluble and insoluble fiber, sodium, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, amino acids and more.

Sesame Seeds, dried
(Note: "--" indicates data unavailable)
0.25 cup
(36.00 g)
GI: very low
BASIC MACRONUTRIENTS AND CALORIES
nutrientamountDRI/DV
(%)
Protein6.38 g13
Carbohydrates8.44 g4
Fat - total17.88 g--
Dietary Fiber4.25 g17
Calories206.2811
MACRONUTRIENT AND CALORIE DETAIL
nutrientamountDRI/DV
(%)
Carbohydrate:
Starch-- g
Total Sugars0.11 g
Monosaccharides-- g
Fructose-- g
Glucose-- g
Galactose-- g
Disaccharides-- g
Lactose-- g
Maltose-- g
Sucrose-- g
Soluble Fiber0.89 g
Insoluble Fiber3.36 g
Other Carbohydrates4.09 g
Fat:
Monounsaturated Fat6.75 g
Polyunsaturated Fat7.84 g
Saturated Fat2.50 g
Trans Fat0.00 g
Calories from Fat160.93
Calories from Saturated Fat22.54
Calories from Trans Fat0.00
Cholesterol0.00 mg
Water1.69 g
MICRONUTRIENTS
nutrientamountDRI/DV
(%)
Vitamins
Water-Soluble Vitamins
B-Complex Vitamins
Vitamin B10.28 mg23
Vitamin B20.09 mg7
Vitamin B31.63 mg10
Vitamin B3 (Niacin Equivalents)3.68 mg
Vitamin B60.28 mg16
Vitamin B120.00 mcg0
Biotin3.96 mcg13
Choline9.22 mg2
Folate34.92 mcg9
Folate (DFE)34.92 mcg
Folate (food)34.92 mcg
Pantothenic Acid0.02 mg0
Vitamin C0.00 mg0
Fat-Soluble Vitamins
Vitamin A (Retinoids and Carotenoids)
Vitamin A International Units (IU)3.24 IU
Vitamin A mcg Retinol Activity Equivalents (RAE)0.16 mcg (RAE)0
Vitamin A mcg Retinol Equivalents (RE)0.32 mcg (RE)
Retinol mcg Retinol Equivalents (RE)0.00 mcg (RE)
Carotenoid mcg Retinol Equivalents (RE)0.32 mcg (RE)
Alpha-Carotene0.00 mcg
Beta-Carotene1.80 mcg
Beta-Carotene Equivalents1.80 mcg
Cryptoxanthin0.00 mcg
Lutein and Zeaxanthin0.00 mcg
Lycopene0.00 mcg
Vitamin D
Vitamin D International Units (IU)0.00 IU0
Vitamin D mcg0.00 mcg
Vitamin E
Vitamin E mg Alpha-Tocopherol Equivalents (ATE)0.09 mg (ATE)1
Vitamin E International Units (IU)0.13 IU
Vitamin E mg0.09 mg
Vitamin K0.00 mcg0
Minerals
nutrientamountDRI/DV
(%)
Boron-- mcg
Calcium351.00 mg35
Chloride3.60 mg
Chromium-- mcg--
Copper1.47 mg163
Fluoride-- mg--
Iodine-- mcg--
Iron5.24 mg29
Magnesium126.36 mg32
Manganese0.89 mg45
Molybdenum10.62 mcg24
Phosphorus226.44 mg32
Potassium168.48 mg5
Selenium12.38 mcg23
Sodium3.96 mg0
Zinc2.79 mg25
INDIVIDUAL FATTY ACIDS
nutrientamountDRI/DV
(%)
Omega-3 Fatty Acids0.14 g6
Omega-6 Fatty Acids7.69 g
Monounsaturated Fats
14:1 Myristoleic-- g
15:1 Pentadecenoic-- g
16:1 Palmitol0.05 g
17:1 Heptadecenoic-- g
18:1 Oleic6.67 g
20:1 Eicosenoic0.03 g
22:1 Erucic-- g
24:1 Nervonic-- g
Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids
18:2 Linoleic7.69 g
18:2 Conjugated Linoleic (CLA)-- g
18:3 Linolenic0.14 g
18:4 Stearidonic-- g
20:3 Eicosatrienoic-- g
20:4 Arachidonic-- g
20:5 Eicosapentaenoic (EPA)-- g
22:5 Docosapentaenoic (DPA)-- g
22:6 Docosahexaenoic (DHA)-- g
Saturated Fatty Acids
4:0 Butyric-- g
6:0 Caproic-- g
8:0 Caprylic-- g
10:0 Capric-- g
12:0 Lauric-- g
14:0 Myristic0.04 g
15:0 Pentadecanoic-- g
16:0 Palmitic1.60 g
17:0 Margaric-- g
18:0 Stearic0.75 g
20:0 Arachidic-- g
22:0 Behenate-- g
24:0 Lignoceric-- g
INDIVIDUAL AMINO ACIDS
nutrientamountDRI/DV
(%)
Alanine0.29 g
Arginine0.84 g
Aspartic Acid0.52 g
Cysteine0.11 g
Glutamic Acid1.26 g
Glycine0.39 g
Histidine0.17 g
Isoleucine0.24 g
Leucine0.43 g
Lysine0.18 g
Methionine0.19 g
Phenylalanine0.30 g
Proline0.26 g
Serine0.31 g
Threonine0.23 g
Tryptophan0.12 g
Tyrosine0.24 g
Valine0.31 g
OTHER COMPONENTS
nutrientamountDRI/DV
(%)
Ash1.60 g
Organic Acids (Total)-- g
Acetic Acid-- g
Citric Acid-- g
Lactic Acid-- g
Malic Acid-- g
Taurine-- g
Sugar Alcohols (Total)-- g
Glycerol-- g
Inositol-- g
Mannitol-- g
Sorbitol-- g
Xylitol-- g
Artificial Sweeteners (Total)-- mg
Aspartame-- mg
Saccharin-- mg
Alcohol0.00 g
Caffeine0.00 mg

Note:

The nutrient profiles provided in this website are derived from The Food Processor, Version 10.12.0, ESHA Research, Salem, Oregon, USA. Among the 50,000+ food items in the master database and 163 nutritional components per item, specific nutrient values were frequently missing from any particular food item. We chose the designation "--" to represent those nutrients for which no value was included in this version of the database.

References

  • Ensminger AH, Ensminger, ME, Kondale JE, Robson JRK. Foods & Nutriton Encyclopedia. Pegus Press, Clovis, California. 1983.
  • Ensminger AH, Esminger M. K. J. e. al. Food for Health: A Nutrition Encyclopedia. Clovis, California: Pegus Press; 1986. 1986. PMID:15210.
  • Fortin, Francois, Editorial Director. The Visual Foods Encyclopedia. Macmillan, New York. 1996.
  • Hirata F, Fujita K, Ishikura Y, et al. Hypocholesterolemic effect of sesame lignan in humans. Atherosclerosis 1996 Apr 26;122(1):135-36. 1996. PMID:11740.
  • Hyun T, Barrett-Connor E, Milne D. Zinc intakes and plasma concentrations in men with osteoporosis: the Rancho Bernardo Study. Am J Clin Nutr, Sept. 2004:80(3):715-721. 2004. PMID:15321813.
  • Kamal-Eldin A, Pettersson D, Appelqvist LA. Sesamin (a compound from sesame oil) increases tocopherol levels in rats fed ad libitum. Lipids 1995 Jun;30(6):499-505. 1995. PMID:11780.
  • Kita S, Matsumura Y, Morimoto S, et al. Antihypertensive effect of sesamin. II. Protection against two-kidney, one-clip renal hypertension and cardiovascular hypertrophy. Biol Pharm Bull 1995 Sep;18(9):1283-5. 1995. PMID:11760.
  • Matsumura Y, Kita S, Morimoto S, et al. Antihypertensive effect of sesamin. I. Protection against deoxycorticosterone acetate-salt-induced hypertension and cardiovascular hypertrophy. Biol Pharm Bull 1995 Jul;18(7):1016-9. 1995. PMID:11770.
  • Matsumura Y, Kita S, Ohgushi R, Okui T. Effects of sesamin on altered vascular reactivity in aortic rings of deoxycorticosterone acetate-salt-induced hypertensive rat. Biol Pharm Bull 2000 Sep;23(9):1041-5. 2000. PMID:11720.
  • Nakai M, Harada M, Nakahara K et al. Novel antioxidative metabolites in rat liver with ingested sesamin. J Agric Food Chem 2003 Mar 12;51(6):1666-70. 2003.
  • Nonaka M, Yamashita K, Iizuka Y, et al. Effects of dietary sesaminol and sesamin on eicosanoid production and immunoglobulin level in rats given ethanol. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem 1997 May;61(5):836-9. 1997. PMID:11730.
  • Ogawa H, Sasagawa S, Murakami T, Yoshizumi H. Sesame lignans modulate cholesterol metabolism in the stroke-prone spontaneously hypertensive rat. Clin Exp Pharmacol Physiol 1995 Dec;22 Suppl 1:S310-2. 1995. PMID:11750.
  • Phillips KM, Ruggio DM, Ashraf-Khorassani M. Phytosterol composition of nuts and seeds commonly consumed in the United States. J Agric Food Chem. 2005 Nov 30;53(24):9436-45. 2005. PMID:16302759.
  • Sirato-Yasumoto S, Katsuta M, Okuyama Y, et al. Effect of sesame seeds rich in sesamin and sesamolin on fatty acid oxidation in rat liver. J Agric Food Chem 2001 May;49(5):2647-51. 2001. PMID:11710.
  • Thys-Jacobs S, Starkey P, Bernstein D, Tian J. Calcium carbonate and the premenstrual syndrome: effects on premenstrual and menstrual symptoms. Premestrual syndrome study group. Am J Obstet Gynecol 1998;179(2): 444-52. 1998.
  • Wood, Rebecca. The Whole Foods Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Prentice-Hall Press; 1988. 1988. PMID:15220.
  • Yamashita K, Nohara Y, Katayama K, Namiki M. Sesame seed lignans and gamma-tocopherol act synergistically to produce vitamin E activity in rats. J Nutr 1992 Dec;122(12):2440-6. 1992. PMID:11790.

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