The sesame plant’s nutritional qualities have inspired some to dub its oil the “Queen of Oilseeds”. Sesame oil is made from raw, pressed sesame seeds and has culinary, medicinal, and cosmetic uses.
There are several different processing methods used to produce the oil, but the seeds are typically crushed and then pressed. The sesame plant has been cultivated for thousands of years, and was originally favored over other crops because of its ability to withstand dry weather and drought.
The seeds were one of the first plants used to produce oil, which was also considered one of the earliest condiments ever used.
There is a huge body of research that shows that a diet rich in unsaturated fats is good for heart health. Sesame oil comprises 82% unsaturated fatty acids. It is rich in omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that is essential to your diet and plays an important role in heart disease prevention.
One study in 48 people found that consuming four tablespoons of sesame oil daily for one month led to significant reductions in total and LDL cholesterol along with decreases in triglyceride levels, body weight and belly fat, all of which are risk factors for heart disease.
A large review of 15 studies showed that swapping out saturated fats for polyunsaturated fatty acids could help slash the risk of developing heart problems by 17 percent.
Sesame oil may support healthy blood sugar regulation, which is especially important for people with diabetes. Sesame oil may even play a role in long-term blood sugar regulation. One study published in Journal of the American College of Nutrition showed that taking white sesame oil for 90 days was effective at reducing fasting blood sugar and enhancing long-term blood sugar control in people with type 2 diabetes.
Sesame oil contains sesamol and sesaminol, two powerful antioxidants. Sesame oil’ antioxidants may have good effects when used topically. One study in rats showed it may reduce cell damage by inhibiting compounds like xanthine oxidase and nitric oxide, which produce free radicals.
One animal model published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Disease Research showed that administering sesame oil to rats for 30 days helped increase antioxidant activity, which could help prevent oxidative damage to cells caused by free radicals. The oil’s ability to speed the healing of wounds and burns can likely be attributed to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Sesame oil is often found in skin serums and natural beauty products. A 2015 study in the Global Journal of Health Science showed that taking a supplement containing sesame and vitamin E was able to improve hair luster and strength in just eight weeks.
Another review confirmed that the oil could help block ultraviolet radiation to protect the skin, and may be even more effective than other ingredients like coconut oil, peanut oil and olive oil.
Sesame oil has long been used in traditional medicine to help soothe inflammation and treat inflammatory conditions like arthritis. Recent research on the anti-inflammatory properties of sesame showed that consuming 40 grams of sesame seed daily was effective at reducing several markers of inflammation in people with osteoarthritis.
Traditional Taiwanese medicine has long employed sesame oil for its anti-inflammatory properties, using it to treat joint inflammation, toothaches, and scrapes. One study published in Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine found that applying the oil topically was able to reduce pain severity and decrease the need for pain medications in people with trauma to the lower or upper extremities.
Like other types of vegetable oils, sesame oil is high in calories and fat, with about 119 calories and 13.5 grams of fat per tablespoon. Although it does contain a small amount of saturated fat, the majority of the fats found in the oil are nearly equal parts mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
It does contain a small amount of omega-3 fatty acids, but is mostly made up of omega-6 fatty acids, with over 5,550 milligrams in just one tablespoon. We do need this type of fat in moderation, most of us get way too much omega-6 fatty acids and not enough omega-3s in our diet. An imbalance in omega-3, 6 and 9 fatty acid ratio can contribute to inflammation and the development of chronic disease, which is why it’s essential to moderate your consumption of foods high in omega-6 fatty acids.
Sesame oil also contains a small amount of other nutrients, including vitamin E and vitamin K.
You can combine sesame oil with other healthy oils like coconut oil to make a homemade hair or skin mask. One of the most common sesame oil side effects when applied to the skin is irritation and itching, which be a sign of an allergic reaction. Be sure to do a spot test before applying topically to prevent any adverse effects.
How to Buy
Toasted sesame oil can usually be found in the Asian section of major supermarkets. It is often sold individually in glass (DON’T buy it in plastic!) but it can sometimes be found in larger containers, especially at bulk food stores. For more options, visit an Asian market, where you can typically find a few brands along with light sesame oil. Look for an oil that’s 100 percent sesame (not blended) and, for toasted sesame, a darker color usually equals a stronger flavor. If you do buy it in a plastic container, switch it immediately when you get home to glass container.
Refined sesame oil is the most processed form and has a very mild, neutral taste that works well in cooking and frying.
Unrefined sesame oil, on the other hand, is less processed and has a lighter color and more nutty taste. Because the unrefined sesame oil smoke point is a bit lower, it should be used for cooking methods like sautéing and stir-frying rather than deep-frying or roasting.
Toasted sesame oil is also available, which is made from seeds that have been toasted before extracting the oil. This gives it a strong and intense nutty flavor that can add depth to any dish. Because this variety has the lowest smoke point, it should be used as a flavor enhancer for dressings, marinades and sauces, and is not a suitable substitute for sesame oil or other oils in recipes that require cooking.
How to Store
Sesame oil has a long shelf life and can be stored in its container, with the lid screwed on tight, in a cool, dark place. Light sesame oil is best stored at room temperature and will last for up to a year. Toasted sesame has a slightly shorter shelf life but will still last for many months under ideal conditions. It can also be stored in the fridge, extending its life even longer. The oil will be slightly thicker when cold but still easily pourable.
How to Cook
Light sesame oil can be used much like olive or avocado oil. It has a similar neutral flavor and can withstand high heat for frying or roasting. Use it to stir-fry and sauté, or use or anywhere that calls for a neutral-tasting oil. Toasted sesame oil is best used in low-heat cooking methods or added at the end or after cooking.
Dark sesame oil can be used for low- or medium-heat cooking (not deep-frying) but tends to lose some of its flavor if cooked for too long or over high heat. That said, its smoke point is relatively high at 450 F. It’s frequently drizzled on dishes like soups and stir-fries after cooking. It can be used in salad dressings, marinades, and sauces.
Here are easy dishes in which you can add sesame oil into your diet:
- sesame noodles
- sauces or dips