While the geographic origin of sesame oil is still debated by archeologists, there is no doubt that it is a core ingredient in many Asian recipes. From stir-fry to chicken wings to fried rice, the nutty tang of sesame oil is a base flavor in many dishes.
Sesame oil is extracted from pressed sesame seeds. Untoasted sesame seeds produce light colored oil, and are typically used for frying. Toasted sesame seeds make a darker, more potent oil that is unsuitable for frying. It is typically used in small quantities for sauces or dressings.
The rich flavor of sesame oil is reason enough to try it, but its high concentration of nutritional value is especially appealing to health conscious consumers. Sesame seeds are rich in Vitamin E, an anti-oxidant that helps lower cholesterol. They also contain a high amount of polyunsaturated fats – the favorable fats – that help maintain healthy blood pressure. In considering heath benefits, the scrupulous foodie might question how well this oil’s nutritional value keeps under high heat. After all, it appears frequently in Stir-fry dishes. Fortunately, sesame oil has a high smoking point (350°F) and is least likely to turn rancid apon opening. Thus, its rich nutrients can withstand the heat of stir-fry as well as the test of time.
Sesame oil’s cultural significance extends beyond use in everyday Chinese cuisine. It is a common ingredient in meals consumed by new mothers in the course of their Post Partum Confinement. This is a period typically lasting 30 days during which the mother is eats particular meals meant to speed up the healing of the womb, increase lactation and promote healthy blood circulation.
Nutritional value aside, it is important to note that sesame oil has a very high caloric content, and should therefore be consumed in moderation.