Sesame shows up in the cuisines of so many different cultures: the seeds top your ramen, the oil flavours your dressing, and tahini is essential that turns chickpeas into hummus. The tiny seeds known for a nutty flavour & assorted texture grow across India, China, Mexico, and Sudan and appear in dozens of distinctive dishes, from snacks to desserts. But they often get overlooked for the subtle crunch and rich, toasty flavour they deliver, with many home cooks still unsure of what to do with them beyond observing how nicely they garnish a bread or bun.
No secret ingredient to date has offered the opportunities of the sesame seed. It is a globetrotter, appearing on hamburger buns in California and bagels in New York. From halvah in North Africa to oil in India. In dim sum in China; on sushi in Japan.
From a gastronomic perspective, sesame also comes in a variety of preparations. First, raw and white. Then white and toasted. Black sesame seeds are the mysterious brunette to the more common blond. Sesame paste, known as tahini, is found in jars in raw and toasted varieties. And sesame oil, too, comes in raw and toasted iterations. And while raw sesame products are regarded for their nutritional properties, the toasted variations recall sensory nuttiness and exotic fragrance for which the seeds have become world-famous. Here’s a rundown on the many forms that sesame seeds take across the worldwide cuisines:
1.) Tahini: The same process by which the peanut turns into peanut butter, by extracting the oils within and mashing to a paste, is what turns sesame seeds into tahini. The spread is incredibly versatile and nutritious – it’s a good source of calcium, iron and dietary fiber. In North Africa, Greece, Israel and the surrounding area, tahini is a staple food & an essential part of the daily meals. It is eaten on its own, used as a garnish and condiment, and added to foods such as hummus and baba ghanoush.
2.) Halvah: is one of the most popular sweet confections made in the Middle East, Central and South Asia. It is a traditional sweet made with honey, flour, butter, and sesame seeds or semolina, pressed into loaf form or cut into squares. Halvah comes with a variety of colourings and flavourings. Its texture is characteristically gritty and crisp.
This sesame candy is often sprinkled with cinnamon or served warm or cold with whipped cream. Nowadays, halva is a much-appreciated dessert in almost half of Europe. Nevertheless, the Middle East still offers the widest variety of halva. But this sweet is more and more in demand in other countries, notably the UK and the US, because of the great beneficial properties.
3.) Pasteli: Pasteli, the sweet and moreish sesame seed and honey bars dotted with roasted nuts, is incredible in taste & so easy to make at home. It is usually made by mixing the seeds in a thick jaggery syrup and either rolling the mixture into balls or making candy bars. Pasteli is a great snack. It goes excellently with Mediterranean style rose and lemon-flavored tea. You can eat them whenever you need an energy boost, like when experiencing a post-lunch afternoon slump.
4.) Jerusalem Bagels – is an elongated bread covered in sesame seeds. It is not boiled before baking like the other Bagels, but this version has a unique twist with the addition of a baking soda solution brushed all over the tops before baking until golden. If it’s topped with sesame seeds, it turns to be amazingly good. It’s like an earthy, nutty cherry on top of your bread, bagel or pastry. These nutty kernels lend a zingy crunch to these massive, golden-brown bread.
5.) Hummus: is one of those beloved dips and spread of the middle eastern demography. It is typically made by blending chickpeas, tahini (ground sesame seeds), olive oil, lemon juice and garlic in a food processor. Not only is hummus delicious, but it is also versatile, packed with nutrients and has been linked to much impressive health and nutritional benefits. Moreover, hummus is naturally free of common food allergens and irritants, such as gluten, nuts and dairy, which means most people can enjoy it.
6.) Asian Cuisines: With a nutty crunch and sweet flavour, sesame seeds are a popular ingredient used extensively in Asian cooking. They come in distinct colours – black, white and brown, and are also used in extracting sesame oil. Much like other cooking oils, sesame oil lends well to the flavours of the dishes being prepared. In the kitchen, the seeds can be used in numerous ways to prepare a range of delicacies – from traditional sweet treats of the country and sumptuous snacks to lip-smacking accompaniments and atop fresh garden salads. Apart from their distinct flavour, these seeds also come packed with a bevy of health benefiting properties.
A combination of essential vitamins and minerals makes them a perfect addition to your everyday meals. Roast them, roll your favourite snacks in them, cook with them or simply have them raw; the choice is all yours.
Sesame seed is ubiquitous culinary confetti, nutty and fragrant and substantial. With its sweet & savoury applications, in a way, it is comfort food, to the whole world.