Sesamum indicum (Sesame)
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Believed to have been domesticated in India but by 600
BC it was being cultivated in the Middle East and came to be an important
constituent in Middle Eastern foods (e.g. tahini and halvah). The seeds are
eaten. They have a high oil content (40-60%) and are used to produce sesame oil.
Sesame is cultivated on a small scale in southern Africa and also grows wild (naturalised).
Sesame is believed to have originated from domestication
of the wild, weedy Sesamum orientale var. malabaricum in India. It
is not known when domestication took place but the first evidence of sesame
cultivation in India dates back to between 2250 and 1750 BC. It was later
introduced to the Near East, the earliest record dating 900 - 600 BC. It was
widely cultivated in the Graeco-Roman world, and was regarded as one of the main
summer crops along with the millets (Zohary & Hopf 1993). In southern Africa,
sesame is grown on a small scale in rural areas (van Wyk & Gericke 2000).
- Sesame oil is extracted from the seeds (seeds contain
40-60% oil by weight) and has the advantage of keeping fresh for a
long period without going rancid. Darker oil is derived from toasted sesame
seeds and has a more intense flavour; hence it is more desirable for use in
cooking. The oil is high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and low
in saturated fats. It is mainly used in Middle Eastern, Asian and Indian
cuisine, where it is used to improve flavour and aroma. As it burns quite
easily, it is not favoured for use in frying.
- Hummus, a Middle Eastern paste or dip, consists of
puréed chickpeas with sesame oil, garlic and lemon.
- Seeds are edible and often used in snack bars or
sprinkled on buns or other baked goods. They are an excellent source of
thiamin, riboflavin, phosphorus and iron and a good source of potassium.
- Halvah (also spelt halva), is a confection of Middle
Eastern origin and consists mainly of sesame seeds, honey and almonds.
- Ground sesame seeds are used to make a butter-like
paste termed tahini in the Middle East.
Anon. 2002. Encyclopedia of Foods. A Guide
to Healthy Nutrition. Academic Press, San Diego, California.
van Wyk, B.-E. & Gericke, N. 2000. People's
Plants. A Guide to Useful Plants of Southern Africa. Briza Publications,
Zohary, D. & Hopf, M. 1993. Domestication
of plants in the old World - The origin and spread of cultivated plants in
West Asia, Europe, and the Nile Valley. Clarendon Press, Oxford.