Description and Cultivation
Sesame seed is believed to be one of the oldest seeds to have been used as a condiment, as well as for the home-based production of oil. Sesame oil is a traditional cooking oil with a long history, which is mainly cultivated in India and china but also in Sudan and neighbouring countries and in parts of Central America (e.g. Mexico).
It is derived from the seeds of the sesame plant which is mainly cultivated in tropical and sub-tropical areas with a dry and a rainy season. It requires a lot of water in order to grow and ripen and a dry season during the harvesting. It is an annual plant, growing on average between 50 to 250 cm high and is rich in flowers.
Ideal growing temperatures lie between 27 and 30°C. Harvesting is done by hand, with the plants being cut manually and dried in the field. They are then shaken so that the seeds fall out of the open pods. The harvesting period in the Northern Hemisphere is between October and December and, in the Southern Hemisphere, March. The largest producers in Asia are China and India; in Africa it is Sudan followed by Nigeria while, in Central America, it is Mexico and Guatemala.
Sesame seed is used mainly for human consumption on bread, bread sticks, cookies, health snacks (such as sesame bars), in prepared breakfasts (as an additive to cereal mixes) or on breakfast crackers.
Sesame oil has an unsaponifiable fraction with a unique composition. Sesamolin and sesamin may be found in concentrations up to 1 – 1.5 %. They are reported to give a high oxidation stability, especially at elevated temperatures. Concentrates of these or straight sesame oil have been used as an additive to increase the oxidation stability in frying oils.
Sesame oil is also mainly used for human consumption but a small percentage is used in the soap, cosmetic and skin care industries. The market for sesame oil is mainly located in Asia and the Middle East where the use of domestically produced sesame oil has been a tradition for centuries.
Oriental sesame oil has a dark colour and characteristic, nutty odour, which is developed by roasting the seeds before extracting the oil.