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A practical guide for nutritional and traditional health care.

Sesame Seed

Sesame (botanical name Sesamum indicum) is a blossoming plant belonging to the genus Sesamum. Several wild species related to this plant are found in Africa, while some are also found in India. This plant has been naturalized extensively in tropical regions across the globe. Sesame is usually cultivated for its seeds, which are edible and grow inside pods.

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In fact, it is believed that sesame seed is the first oilseed crop known to man. It was cultivated more than 3,000 years back. The sesame plant is known to be extremely tolerant to drought and has been described as a 'survivor crop'. This plant possesses the aptitude to grow in places where majority of the crops fail. Moreover, sesame seeds are among the most oil containing seeds found anywhere. They are loaded with a nutty essence and their oil forms an universal element in cuisines all over the world.

Nevertheless, similar to other different foods and nuts, sesame too has the potential to set off allergic reactions in various individuals.

While India tops the list of sesame seed exporters, Japan is the leading importer of these seeds.

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Sesame is an annually growing plant that reaches a height of anything between 50 cm and 100 cm (1.6 feet to 3.3 feet), bearing leaves that grow opposite to each other. The leaves of sesame plant are about 4 cm to 14 cm (1.6 inches to 5.5 inches) in length having a margin all around. These leaves are broad, about 5 cm or 2 inches, and lance-shaped and those found at the bottom of the flowering plants are comparatively narrow measuring about 1 cm or 0.4 inch in width.

Sesame plants bear yellow flowers that are tubular in shape and about 3 cm (1.2 inches) to 5 cm (2 inches) in length having a four-lobed mouth. The color of the flowers may differ and some plant may bear while, purple or blue blossoms.

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The fruits of sesame are akin to capsules, oblong-shaped in section and characteristically furrowed having a small triangular beak. The fruit capsule varies in length between 2 cm and 8 cm, while its breadth may be anything between 0.5 cm and 2.0 cm. Each fruit capsule may contain as many as 4 to 12 loculi (small cavities). When mature, the fruit breaks open on its own (dehisces) to let go the seeds by coming apart the length of the septa right from the top to the base of the fruit or through two apical pores, conditional of the variety of the cultivar. When cultivating the plant for mechanized harvesting the extent of dehiscence as well as the first capsule's insertion height is of importance.

The seeds of sesame are of small size. In fact, the size, shape and colors of sesame seeds differ depending on the several thousand varieties of the species that have been identified thus far. Usually, the length of sesame seeds varies between 3 mm and 4 mm, while they are 2 mm in width and 1 mm thick. These seeds have an ovate shape somewhat compressed and rather slighter at the hilum (the seed's eye) compared to the other end. Each seed weighs anything between 20 mg and 40 mg. The testa or seed coat may either be smooth or ridged.

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Sesame seeds may have different colors subject to the cultivar grown. However, the type of sesame that is most used commercially has an off-white hue. Sesame seeds are also available in other colors, including brown, buff, black, reddish, tan, gray and gold.

At times, sesame seeds are marketed decorticated (without their seed coat). This variety of sesame seed can be often found on the top of buns sold in the developed nations.

Health benefits of sesame seeds

Sesame seeds are delectable and crispy and generally considered to be a healthy food. A hundred grams of sesame seeds supplies us with 573 calories. While most of sesame seeds' calorie content is attributed to the fats enclosed by them, these seeds also enclose many remarkable nutriments, including antioxidants, minerals and vitamins, which are highly beneficial for our health. In fact, these nutrients are necessary for our well being.

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Sesame seeds are particularly loaded with oleic acid, a mono-unsaturated fatty acid. The maximum fatty acid content of oleic acid is 50 per cent and it facilitates in lowering low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as 'bad cholesterol', while augmenting the level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), also called 'good cholesterol, in the bloodstream. Several scientific studies have hinted that taking a Mediterranean diet, which contains high amounts of mono-unsaturated fatty acids, aids in preventing coronary artery diseases as well as stroke by promoting a hale and healthy lipid profile.

Sesame seeds are also considered to be an excellent resource of nutritional protein along with subtle amino acids, which are necessary for promoting growth, particularly in children. Only 100 grams of sesame seeds supply us with 18 grams of protein, which is about 32 per cent of our recommended daily allowance (RDA).

In addition to the above-mentioned nutrients, these seeds also enclose several compounds that are beneficial for our health. These compounds include sesaminol, sesamol (3 and 4-methylene-diocyphenol), guajacol (2-methoxyphenol), furyl-methanthiol, furaneol, phenylethanthiol, decadienal and vinylguacol. It may be noted here that basically sesaminol and sesamol are phenolic antioxidants. Jointly, these substances facilitate in preventing the formation of as well as elimination of detrimental free radicals in our body.

Sesame is one of the edible seeds that contain a high level of superior quality minerals and vitamins. They are also an excellent resource of B-complex vitamins like folic acid, niacin (vitamin B3), pyridoxine (vitamin B6), thiamine (vitamin B1) and riboflavin (vitamin B2).

About 100 grams of sesame seeds encloses folic acid in measures of 97 µg, which is approximately 23 per cent of recommended daily ingestion of the nutrient. It is worth mentioning here that folic acid is necessary for synthesis of the DNA. If expectant mothers are given folic acid during their peri-conception period, it may perhaps put off defect in the neural tube of the infant.

Sesame seeds contain niacin, a different B-vitamin, in great quantity. Consumption of only 100 grams of sesame seeds provide us with approximately 4.5 mg or about 28 per cent of the daily recommended intake of niacin, which aids in diminishing the levels of LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream. Moreover, niacin also augments the activity of GABA in the brain helping us to lessen neurosis and anxiety.

Sesame seeds are exceptionally rich resources of several essential minerals, especially iron, calcium, copper, manganese, magnesium, zinc, and selenium. It may be noted here that many of these minerals play vital roles in the production of red blood cells (erythrocytes), bone mineralization, synthesis of enzymes, production of hormones, in addition to regulating the activities of the cardiac as well as skeletal muscles.

Consumption of only some sesame seeds supplies us with adequate levels of the daily recommended intake of minerals, phenolic antioxidants, vitamins as well as proteins.

How to select and store

Generally, sesame seeds are sold in pre-packaged containers and also bulk bins. As in the case when you buy any other food from the bulk section of the stores, ensure that the bins that contain the sesame seeds are wrapped and also that the turnover of products in the store is good to make sure that the seeds are as fresh as possible.

Irrespective of your purchasing amount - either packed containers or in bulk - ensure that no moisture is present with the product. Moreover, as the oil content of sesame seeds is exceptionally high and they are prone to decompose easily, you need to smell the seeds sold in bulk bin to make sure that they have a fresh scent.

Sesame seeds that are sold with the seed coat intact should be stored in a sealed container and kept in a cool and dry place away from light. However, when the seed coat is removed (hulled), they become more prone to become rancid and, hence, they need to be stored in a freezer or in refrigerator.

Processing and cooking

It is important to bear in mind the manner in which processing and/ or cooking any food alters it dietary value. For instance, the level of calcium in sesame seeds decreases by roughly 60 per cent when they are hulled (the seed coat is removed). The type of calcium present in the sesame hulls is actually calcium oxalate - a form of calcium that is not easily absorbed by our body.

While it is certain that removal of the hull lowers calcium content of sesame seeds, the real damage of unhulling the seeds is questionable. Mashing sesame seeds, like for preparing sesame butter or tahini, the nutriments contained by them are digested further easily. However, unhulled seeds do not assimilate as easily during digestion.

Roasting or toasting the sesame seeds changes their nutritional worth. Several studies have demonstrated that the level of calcium present in the seeds is somewhat more when they are heated. For instance, consuming one ounce of whole seeds provide as much as 27 per cent of our daily requirements of calcium intake, while they provide about 28 per cent of our daily recommended intake of calcium when toasted. Similarly, consuming one ounce of hulled raw seeds will provide just two per cent of our daily calcium requirements. However, the figure increases two-fold when the same seeds are roasted.

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  • One cup sesame butter,
  • 1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds and/or coconut flakes.
  • 1/2 to 1 cup honey,
  • 1/4 cup chopped or ground almonds,
  • Powdered milk (enough to thicken the candy),
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons powdered calcium,
  • 1/4 cup ground apricots,

Mix sesame butter and honey together. Add the rest of the ingredients. Adjust flavours. Add the powdered milk to thicken it. Form into balls. Coat in toasted coconut flakes or sesame seeds.

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