Sesame oil (also known as gingelly oil and til oil) is an organic oil derived from sesames, noted to have the distinctive aroma and taste of its parent seed. It is often used in Southeast Asian cuisine as a flavor enhancer, e.g. adding it to instant noodles.
Asian sesame oil derives its dark colour and flavour from toasted hulled sesame seeds. It is commonly used in Chinese and Korean cuisine, usually added at the end of cooking as a flavour highlight and not used as a cooking medium (as is, for example, peanut oil). There are many variations in the colour of sesame oil: cold-pressed sesame oil is almost colourless, while Indian sesame oil (gingelly or til oil) is golden and Chinese sesame oil is commonly a dark brown colour.
Cold pressed sesame oil has less flavour than the Chinese, since it is produced directly from raw, rather than toasted seeds.
Sesame oil is traded in any of the forms described above: Refined sesame oil is very common in Europe and the USA; most margarine is made therefrom. Cold-pressed sesame oil is available in Western health shops. In most Asian countries, different kinds of hot-pressed sesame oil are preferred.
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.
Prior to 600 BC, the Assyrians used sesame oil as a food, salve, and medication, primarily by the rich, as the difficulty of obtaining it made it expensive. Hindus use til oil in votive lamps, and consider the oil sacred. According to Hindu belief, lighting lamp filled with til oil in front of Lord Hanuman removes obstacles and difficulties in life.
The extraction of sesame oil from the sesame seed is not a completely automated process. In the fairy tale Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves the sesame fruit serves as a symbol for wealth. When the fruit capsule opens, it releases a real treasure - the sesame seeds. However, a great deal of manual work is necessary before this point is reached. That is why sesame is hardly ever cultivated in western industrialised agricultural areas.
The sesame seeds are protected by a capsule, which does not burst open until the seeds are completely ripe. The ripening time tends to vary. For this reason, the farmers cut plants by hand and place them together in upright position to carry on ripening for a few days. The seeds are only shaken out onto a cloth after all the capsules have opened.
The discovery of an indehiscent (nonshattering) mutant by Langham in 1943 began the work towards development of a high yielding, shatter-resistant variety. Although researchers have made significant progress in sesame breeding, harvest losses due to shattering continue to limit domestic US production.
Economics of Production and Markets Currently sesame is being imported in the US at a price of 43 cents/lb. This relatively high price reflects a world-wide shortage. Though the market for sesame seed is strong, domestic US production awaits the development of high-yielding nonshattering varieties. It is advisable to establish a market before planting.
Sesame oil's popularity in Asia (particularly in South Indian state of Tamil Nadu) can be likened to olive oil's popularity in the mediterranean. Its main uses are
1. Cooking. Sesame oil carries a premium relative to other cooking oils and is considered more stable than most vegetable oils due to antioxidants in the oil. Sesame oil is least prone, among cooking oils, to turn rancid. This is because it has a very high boiling point. In effect, sesame oil retains its natural structure and doesn't break down even when heated to a very high temperature. Also it has a good reputation for being safe to the heart just like Olive oil and Sun Flower oil. Because of this, it is ideally suited for deep frying.
2. Body Massage. Sesame oil is reputed for its ability to penetrate the skin easily, nourishing and detoxifying even the deepest tissue layers. Sesame oil is immensely popular in India where its used in oil massage. It is ideal oil for people in the hot tropics to cool down. It is recommended to apply the oil on the parts of the body which generate most heat, like navel, head, eyebrows, foot tips etc. and let the body soak the oil for an hour or so and then bathe in warm water which will help to open the pores further. Caution oil massage should not be attempted when ill or suffering from cold. It may worsen the symptoms before giving relief, if any.
3. Hair Oil. Applying Sesame oil for the hair is believed to result in darker hair.
Research into the health effects of sesame oil is beginning to emerge.
High percentage of polyunsaturated fatty acids.
"Sesame oil is unique in that, it has the highest concentrations of omega-6 fatty acids. At the same time, the oil contains two natural-occurring preservatives, sesamol and sesamin. As a result, sesame oil is the only oil which has a high percentage of polyunsaturates and also keeps at room temperature. (Olive oil also keeps at room temperature, but it is predominately composed of the omega-9 monounsaturated oil.)"
The presence of high levels of Polyunsaturated fatty acids might help in controlling blood pressure. It can be used in cooking in place of other edible oils and may help reduce high blood pressure and lower the amount of medication needed to control hypertension.
"The effect of the oil on blood pressure may be due to polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), and the compound sesamin a lignan present in sesame oil. Both compounds have been shown to reduce blood pressure in hypertensive rats. Sesame lignans also inhibit the synthesis and absorption of cholesterol in these rats."
Vitamins and Minerals Sesame oil is a good source of Vitamin E. Vitamin E is an anti-oxidant which means it helps lower cholesterol. Sesame oil also contains magnesium, copper, calcium, iron and vitamin B6.
Oil Pulling Sesame oil is one of the few oils recommended for use in oil pulling. (sunflower oil is the other oil recommended).
Reducing Stress and Tension Various constituents present in the sesame oil have anti-oxidant and anti-depressant properties, which help to fight senile changes and bring about a sense of well being.
"People with high Stress and Tension can be prone to anxiety, nerve and bone disorders, poor circulation, lowered immunity and bowel problems such as wind, constipation and irritable bowel. They tend towards excess dryness both externally and internally. Used regularly, sesame oil is wonderful for reducing stress and tension, nourishing the nervous system and preventing nervous disorders, relieving fatigue and insomnia, and promoting strength and vitality. Those patients who use sesame oil daily have reported feeling stronger, more resilient to stress, with increased energy and better resistance to infection. Its rejuvenating properties certainly do revitalize those feeling tired and run down, while its warming effects enhance the circulation. Its relaxing properties ease pain and muscle spasm, such as sciatica, dysmenorrhoea, colic, backache and joint pain. The antioxidants explain its reputation for slowing the ageing process and increasing longevity, and certainly regular oiling of the skin restores moisture to the skin, keeping it soft, flexible and young looking. It also lubricates the body internally, particularly the joints and bowels, and eases symptoms of dryness such as irritating coughs, cracking joints and hard stools."
Other uses include as a laxative, as a remedy for toothaches and gum disease and in the treatment of blurred vision, dizziness, and headaches.
Other Research findings support Sesame oil's use in the treatment of dry nose, reduction of cholestrol levels (due to presence of Lignans which are phytoestrogens), anti-bacterial effects, and even slowing down certain types of cancer. (again because of the anti-oxidant properties of the Lignans)
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