The cultivation of sesame oil,commonly known as til ka tel or gingelly oil,is believed to have started in China. Now,native to India,Burma and Mexico,sesame oil owes its unique properties to its balanced fatty acid profile,its powerful antioxidants and high vitamin E and phyto-estrogen (lignan) content. It also renders itself easily to cold pressing,which allows maximum retention of its goodness.
What makes it so special is its fatty acid profile. It is it is low in saturated fats (14.6 per cent) and equally rich in mono-unsaturated fatty acids (41.5 per cent) and polyunsaturated acids (43.8 per cent)the good kind of fats that lower bad cholesterol and may even increase good cholesterol.
Sesames anti-ageing effect and its role in the prevention of cancer and heart disease is due to its high content of vitamin E (40 milligrams per 100 gm),which also protects the oil from rancidity,thus contributing to a long shelf-life.
Cold-pressed sesame oil is almost colourless,the Indian gingelly or til oil is golden and the Chinese one is dark brown. Sesame oil has a high smoke point and is suitable for frying while heavy (dark) sesame oil (from roasted sesame seeds) has a low smoke point and is unsuitable for frying. It is used for seasoning in East Asian cuisine.
The Japanese prepare a mix of table salt and crushed sesame seeds called gomasia,which is an excellent salt substitute that can help lower blood pressure. Even refined sesame oil is fine oil because of its high level of stable antioxidants (lignans such as sesamol and sesaminol). These antioxidants give the oil a longer shelf life and improve its flavour and taste. Interestingly,roasted sesame oil resists rancidity due to antioxidants formed during roasting.
Evidence suggests that sesaminol and sesamin offer anti-inflammatory benefits and immuno-boosting effects. Sesame oil is also known to help painful menstruation,fight depression,fatigue and insomnia and ease muscle spasms and joint pains. It influences blood glucose,glycosylated hemoglobin and antioxidant levels. Sesame lignans have also been helpful in decomposing alcohol in the liver and improving liver functions with alcohol.
Studies show that cooking with this oil helps reduce blood pressure and lower the amount of medication needed to control hypertension. Researchers have attributed reduction in blood pressure to the presence of PUFAs,vitamin E,and sesamin. Sesamin,in combination with vitamin E,also lowers serum cholesterol concentration.
Sesame oil is not popular in the north,but it is as good as olive oil and must be cold-pressed and introduced as a cooking medium. Better still,add sesame seeds to your spice rack and use it liberally in just about everything you cook.
Wherever possible,choose organic sesame oil as pesticides are usually fat-soluble and concentrate in oilseeds. So,look for cold-pressed organic sesame oil,next time you go grocery shopping.