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The white sesame seeds that adorn some hamburger buns are one of three varieties of sesame seed available throughout the world. Sesame seeds also can be light brown or black. The black sesame seed is the source of black sesame oil, a vegetable oil that has a nuttier, richer flavor than the oil of its lighter-colored relatives.
Food historians believe Africans brought sesame seeds to North America and the rest of the world. Growers in China, India and Mexico now produce the majority of the world’s sesame seeds. Oil producers use all three varieties to make sesame seed oil. There are no major nutritional differences between black sesame oil and sesame seed oil from brown or white seeds.
Black sesame oil is a healthy fat because it is polyunsaturated. When one consumes sesame seed oil, it provides essential fatty acids that one’s body cannot produce. Increased intake of polyunsaturated fat contributes to better heart health. This oil also contains no unhealthy saturated fat, which should be limited in one's daily diet.
All fats are high in calories. When one adds black sesame oil to his diet, the sesame oil should replace the diet's unhealthy fats rather than simply adding to them. Substituting sesame oil for less healthy fats allows one to improve nutrition without increasing calorie intake.
Scientific research indicates that substituting sesame oil for saturated fats in cooking can significantly decrease blood pressure levels. The researchers attribute this benefit to the presence of a plant lignan, sesamin, which appears to prevent cholesterol absorption. Blood pressure reductions in human subjects allowed them to decrease daily doses of medications for blood pressure control.
The oil produced by black sesame seeds also is a good source of vitamin E. This antioxidant vitamin helps one’s body prevent cellular damage caused by aging, certain diseases and environmental pollutants. The consumption of vitamin E also helps one’s body repair damaged cells.
The process of extracting the oil from sesame seeds varies by manufacturer. Cold pressing yields a smaller amount of oil but provides the richest flavor while retaining the maximum amount of nutrients. When producers use solvents to extract black sesame oil, the oil’s color will be lighter than that of cold-pressed oil, and the flavor may change.
Black sesame oil is a commonly used ingredient in Asian cooking. Cooks generally use it for sauteing foods instead of frying them. The oil’s low smoke point makes it more likely to burn and develop an undesirable taste than vegetable oils that have a higher smoke point.