Sesame oil, or Til Ka Tel in Hindi is said to be one of the earliest seed oils to be extracted by humans. In excavations of Harappa in the Indus Valley Civilisation, a mass of charred sesame seeds was recovered which proved its usage in about 2000 BC.
Rig Veda and Atharva Veda also mention sesame. Rig Veda mentions its use in sweet offering. Later, in ancient times, the Arthashastra of Kautilya mentions the guild of oil pressers.
From India, the cultivation of sesame seeds and its oil extraction are believed to have spread to China, Africa and Mesopotamia.
Sesame crop does well even in dry areas and even where soils are poor. Its seeds can be crushed relatively easily as compared to other seed oils and there is not much clogging up or wear and tear of the machines.
Of all oils, it is also the most stable which means that it does not turn rancid as fast as many other oils do. This is because of the presence of two naturally occurring preservatives- sesamol and sesamin. This property makes it ideal for storing pickles for a long duration.
Sesame oil is used in all parts of India with no regional predominance in usage. It is used in cooking as well as in religious ceremonies, rituals and even during funeral rites.
Composition of Sesame Oil
Sesame oil is almost completely made up of fatty acids and vitamins. Among the fatty acids, the ones which are not considered good for heart (saturated ones) are only 14% whereas the unsaturated ones, which are good for heart health, constitute the 81.4%.
What makes the sesame oil even better for health is that there is a fine balance of almost 1:1 between monounsaturated fats (MUFA) and polyunsaturated fats (PUFA), as can be seen in table below:
|Total Fat Composition|
|Saturated (palmitic: 9%, stearic: 5%)||14.20%|
|Monounsaturated (oleic acid)||39.70%|
|Polyunsaturated (linoleic acid)||41.70%|
Types of Sesame Oil
Generally, sesame oil is of two types…
1/2. Light oil
When fresh sesame seeds are crushed for oil, the hue of oil is light golden in colour and the oil is called Light Oil. But, when the seeds are roasted or toasted, the colour of oil turns dark brown and the oil so obtained is called Dark Oil. The light oil has less flavour or aroma but it is the dark oil which has a more pronounced flavour.
2/2. Dark Oil.
The dark colour oil is used for medium or low temperature cooking whereas light colour oil is used for high temperature cooking. This dark brown variety is quite popular in East Asian countries such as China, Japan and Korea.
Potential Benefits of Sesame Oil
Sesame oil has many benefits when consumed or when applied to the body. It has been used in cooking from times immemorial and is still used widely, though it is facing competition from a number of other edible oils. Some of the main benefits of both light and dark sesame oils for our health are given below…
1/13. Relief from Swelling and Pain
Sesame oil is anti-inflammatory in nature. Sesame oil is rich in sesamol, which is an antioxidant and reduces the damage to cells caused by free radicals. The problem of inflammation and pain arises when too many free radicals get accumulated in the body.
In the famous case of Mr Mark Katsnelson who had Crohn’s disease (in which the lining of the digestive tract gets inflamed), he was successfully treated with consumption of sesame oil by Dr Sampath Parthasarathy.
2/13. Sesame oil is healthy for the heart.
Sesame oil contains 82% unsaturated fatty acids and within that, omega 6 takes up a major share. This omega 6 is said to be effective in prevention of heart diseases. This also has a bearing on cholesterol levels wherein the bad cholesterol level is reduced.
3/13. May controls blood sugar level
The rich combination of related proteins and magnesium in Sesame ’Til’ is known to be useful in controlling sugar levels in the body over a long time period. A study conducted on adults having Type 2 diabetes by giving sesame oil for 90 days showed reduction in blood sugar levels.
4/13. Controls blood pressure
In a study conducted on 195 men and 133 women who had high blood pressure and were taking medicine for it, were made to switch to sesame oil as the only cooking oil for two months. Interestingly, the blood pressure dropped to normal levels by the end of this period. Experts attributed this lowering of BP to the presence of PUFAs, Vitamin E and sesamin in oil.
5/13. Wound and burn healing property
The oils also heals the body of the wounds when applied topically. In studies conducted on rats, topical treatment with sesame oil and ozonated sesame oil both showed good progress in healing wounds. This might be attributable to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Sesame oil, when used with honey and olive oil, is used for treating burns. This helps in preventing infection in wounds and repair in damaged tissues.
6/13. Protection from harmful Sun UV rays
Ultra violet rays are harmful for skin. You can protect yourself from the harmful effects of UV rays by using sesame oil because it has antioxidants. It accords about 30% protection from UV rays as against 20% by some other oils.
7/13. Good for skin health
Sesame oil, when applied to skin, moisturises the skin, improves its texture and appearance. Vitamins A and E help in reducing wrinkles on skin. Zinc present in oil helps in reducing inflammation and bacterial growth of wounds present on skin.
Applying the oil on skin removes toxins from skin and helps people having one or more skin issues, such as eczema. It helps in clearing pimples and protects against UV rays.
8/13. Good For Hair Health
Sesame oil is rich in vitamins, minerals, and proteins which are important for cells of your hair. It is good for massaging the scalp, removes dandruff and gives lustre to hair. It has anti-bacterial properties and prevents hair loss due to stress.
9/13. Works well in respiratory problems
Sesame oil is rich in magnesium and other minerals which are believed to help in asthma. It works by relaxing the bronchial muscles and expanding the airways. This eases breathing to a good extent.
10/13. Good for bones health
Magnesium, along with calcium, is considered good for bones. And, sesame oil has both these minerals in it. Therefore, it is believed to be good for the health of the bones.
11/13. Helps maintain good oral health
The antibacterial and antioxidant properties of sesame oil helps in maintaining a good oral hygiene. It combats bacteria in the mouth when you swish sesame oil. It also helps in case of bad breath and deposition of plaque on teeth.
12/13. Keeps away stress and depression
Sesame oil has a relaxing effect when consumed or applied on the head. The oil has an amino acid called tyrosine. This affects the serotonin activity. This, in turn, affects the mood of people. By maintaining a good balance of serotonin, it helps you keep stress at bay.
13/13. May improve bowel movement and digestion
One of the benefits of consuming sesame oil is that it eases off the bowel movement and prevents constipation. This further leads to improvement of digestion. So, it helps in keeping good health of the digestive system.
Culinary uses of Sesame Oil
Sesame oil is used in cooking mostly in countries of Asia, including Indian subcontinents and Middle East.
Since one type of sesame ‘light’ oil is almost tasteless and colourless, it is ideal for baking purposes. The other ‘dark’ one which has a nutty flavour and is aromatic is used as a flavouring agent. It is used for dressing salads and keeping pickles for a long duration.
In South India, particularly in states of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, this is used in making gravies and curries and in preparing spicy foods because it is believed to neutralise the element of heat in food. It is also customary to add sesame oil to prepare margarine.
What is Virgin Sesame Oil?
Sesame oil is called ‘virgin’ when it is extracted using the mechanical methods and with minimum use of heat (low temperatures). It should be noted that both unroasted and roasted seeds could be crushed using mechanical means and called as ‘virgin’.
When sesame oil is extracted using cold press method and there is no use of heat or any chemical, then oil retains all its important nutrients and compounds which are good for health. This oil which is not yet refined or processed in any way and is extracted using cold-press is called Cold-pressed Virgin Sesame Oil.
Sesame Oil Adulteration
Sesame oil is adulterated with cheaper vegetable oils to garner more profits. It is generally adulterated with corn and rapeseed oils. The methods of detection for this adulteration is based on advanced lab tests. It is done by using ATR-FTIR (Fourier transform mid-infrared spectroscopy). This technique can also be used to check adulterations with sunflower oil, soybean oil or colza oil which are difficult to detect with other tests.
Although it is difficult to detect it at home, it can still be smelt, checked for colour tone and put in refrigerator to check whether it solidifies in different layers.
Methods used in extraction of Sesame Oil
1/2. Solvent Extraction Method
The most commonly used extraction process for sesame oil in present times is that of solvent extraction. Extraction efficiency is almost 98-99% using the most preferred n-hexane solvent. This solvent is later removed from the oil during the process of refining.
The whole process moves through the steps of sieving, washing, drying, roasting, crushing, solvent extraction, filtration and distillation.
2/2. Cold-pressing extraction method
Cold-pressing technique is another method which is used for extraction of oil. In this method, the oil is pressed in mills under less temperature. The benefit of low temperature is that there is no loss of nutritional content in it which can happen due to heating.