Where Do Sesame Seeds Come From: The Origins and History of Sesame Seeds

Have you ever asked yourself the question: where do sesame seeds come from? These tiny, blonde seeds are essential in traditional dishes, such as hummus, tahini and halva. Sesame seeds are both full of flavour and rich in history. In this article, we'll delve into the origins of these ancient seeds. From their centuries-old cultivation during Biblical times to their beloved status in cuisines worldwide, sesame seeds have woven into the fabric of many cultures. It's time to get to know these little seeds, their many health benefits and how best to enjoy them with a few fancy recipes.

Where Do Sesame Seeds Come From?

Sesame seeds are derived from the Sesamum Indicum plant, which is native to the Sunda Islands in Indonesia. This ancient oilseed plant is the oldest known cultivated plant, with a history spanning over 4,000 years. Originally grown in Indonesia, sesame seeds soon found their way to Asia and parts of Africa, including Egypt. Thereafter, sesame seeds spread to other parts of the world, including Europe and eventually North America.

Historical Uses of Sesame Seeds

Historically, sesame seeds were used for more than just cooking. In ancient Egypt, they were believed to have magical powers and were used in rituals and food offerings. They symbolised prosperity and fertility in Greece and often featured at weddings to celebrate the newlyweds. In traditional Chinese medicine, sesame seeds were used to treat various ailments due to their high nutrient content.

Botanical Characteristics of Sesame Seeds

The sesame seed comes from the sesame plant, part of the Pedaliaceae family. The sesame plant is an annual plant renowned for its heat and drought resistance, growing up to 5 feet in height (about 1.5 metres). The leaves of the sesame plant are opposite and usually have a shape ranging from lanceolate (long and broadest at the base) to ovate (egg-shaped). Its tubular flowers range from blue to white and yellow, depending on the variety.

After pollination, the flowers produce small pods filled with tiny seeds, typically about 3 or 4 mm long. Each pod's worth of seeds may vary in colour from cream-white to charcoal-black. When the pods mature, they split open to reveal the tiny, nutrient-dense sesame seeds we're familiar with today.

Black and White sesame seeds in different bowls.

What's the Difference Between Black and White Sesame Seeds?

Now that we know where sesame seeds come from let’s check out the differences between black and white varieties. Besides their colour, what are the differences between black and white sesame seeds?

Both types are rich in healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. However, there are some notable differences in flavour, health benefits and culinary uses.

Black Sesame Seeds

Black sesame seeds have a stronger, more robust, nutty flavour compared to white sesame seeds, which are milder in taste. This makes black sesame seeds ideal for dishes that need a potent, nutty crunch. Black sesame seeds are traditionally used in Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines, particularly in desserts, due to their unique flavour.

In terms of appearance, black sesame seeds can add a striking visual contrast to dishes, especially when sprinkled over light-coloured foods like rice or bread. It also turns out that black sesame seeds are loaded with potent antioxidants, which confer various health benefits.

Black sesame seeds have been shown to have anti-inflammatory and cholesterol-lowering properties. They're a valuable source of iron, manganese, phosphorus, zinc, vitamin E and selenium. Importantly, they're loaded with plant polyphenols and lignans, which can help improve heart health, hormone health and bone health.

White Sesame Seeds

White sesame seeds, on the other hand, have a more subtle taste that doesn't overpower the other ingredients in a dish. This makes them highly versatile and widely used in different meals, from baking and cooking to garnishing.

White sesame seeds are also used to make tahini, a sesame seed paste with a sweet yet savoury and nutty flavour. White sesame seeds can also provide a textural contrast without altering the visual aesthetics of darker-hued dishes. Like the black variety, white sesame seeds offer a wealth of health benefits. They are associated with improvements in heart health and brain health and can reduce inflammation.

Ultimately, the choice between black and white sesame seeds often comes down to your personal preference and how you intend to use them in a recipe.

Aroma and Flavor Profile of Sesame Seeds

Sesame seeds possess a distinct 'umami' flavour profile that brings something special to everyday dishes. When raw, they have a subtle, mild nuttiness. However, sesame seeds really come into their own when they are toasted. Toasting sesame seeds deepens their flavour, releasing a beautiful, rich nuttiness that is both sweet and slightly smoky. It also brings a wonderful, inviting aroma - nutty, warm, and slightly earthy. This complex flavour profile makes them a versatile ingredient, fitting seamlessly into a diverse range of dishes across multiple cuisines.

How to Properly Store Sesame Seeds

To preserve their nutrient content it is essential to store sesame seeds correctly. The best way to do this is to keep them in an airtight container in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. This will help prevent the oils in the seeds from going rancid and ensure they stay fresh for longer. When stored correctly, sesame seeds can last for up to 6 months.

Sesame seeds spilled over a black background.

Enjoy The Versatility and Unique Flavour of Sesame Seeds

Sesame seeds are a versatile and delicious addition to any dish, offering numerous health benefits. From their origins in Africa and India to their culinary and medicinal uses throughout history, sesame seeds have played an essential role in many cultures. So next time you sprinkle some sesame seeds on your salad or bake with them, remember the rich history behind these little blonde seeds. Hopefully, you'll be inspired to find more ways to incorporate them into your diet. Store them properly to maintain their freshness and reap their health-giving properties.

Healthy Recipes Using Sesame Seeds

There are so many ways to enjoy sesame seeds as part of your healthy, everyday diet. Here are a few easy recipes to get you inspired!


Baked Falafel with Sesame Seeds


  • 2 cups of canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 large onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp of fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp of fresh coriander, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp of cumin
  • 1/2 tsp of coriander
  • 1/2 tsp of salt
  • 1/4 tsp of black pepper
  • 2 tbsp of flour (you can use any kind - whole wheat, gluten-free, etc.)
  • 2 tbsp of sesame seeds
  • 2 tbsp of olive oil


  1. Preheat your oven to 190°C and line a baking tray with baking paper.
  2. In a food processor, combine the chickpeas, onion, garlic, parsley, coriander, cumin, coriander, salt, and pepper. Blend until everything is well combined but still slightly chunky.
  3. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and stir in the flour and sesame seeds. Mix well.
  4. Form the mixture into small balls or patties and place them on the prepared baking tray.
  5. Brush the tops of the falafels with olive oil. This will help them become golden and crispy in the oven.
  6. Bake for 15-20 minutes, then flip each falafel and bake for another 15-20 minutes, or until they're golden brown and crispy on both sides.

Serve these falafels in a pita with fresh veggies and a drizzle of tahini sauce for a delicious Mediterranean meal.

Dark Chocolate Sesame Bars



  1. In a pan, toast the sesame seeds over medium heat until they become golden brown. Make sure to stir continuously to avoid burning them.
  2. In a mixing bowl, combine the toasted sesame seeds, honey (or maple syrup), vanilla extract, and a pinch of salt. Stir until everything is well combined.
  3. Line a baking dish with baking paper and pour the sesame seed mixture into it. Spread it evenly with a spatula and press it down firmly.
  4. Melt the dark chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl in 30-second intervals, stirring after each interval until the chocolate is fully melted and smooth.
  5. Pour the melted chocolate over the sesame seed mixture, spreading it evenly to cover the entire surface.
  6. Refrigerate the dish for at least 2 hours or until the bars are firm.
  7. Once set, cut the bars into squares or rectangles.
  8. Enjoy these Dark Chocolate Sesame Bars as a decadent yet healthy dessert!

Sesame Banana Smoothie


  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1 tablespoon of tahini
  • 1 teaspoon of honey or maple syrup (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon


  1. In a blender, combine ripe bananas, almond milk, tahini, honey or maple syrup (if using), sesame seeds, and cinnamon.
  2. Blend until smooth and creamy.
  3. Serve immediately for a nutritious breakfast or snack on the go.

Sesame-Crusted Salmon with Ginger Soy Glaze


  • 4 salmon fillets
  • 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of honey
  • 1 tablespoon of grated ginger
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tablespoons of sesame seeds
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. In a small bowl, mix together soy sauce, honey, grated ginger, and minced garlic.
  2. Preheat the oven to 190°C.
  3. Season the salmon fillets with salt and pepper on both sides.
  4. Place sesame seeds in a shallow dish and coat salmon fillets on one side.
  5. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add salmon fillets - sesame seed side down.
  6. Cook for 2-3 minutes until seeds are golden brown.
  7. Flip the salmon fillets and pour the soy glaze mixture over them.
  8. Transfer to a lined baking tray and bake for 10-12 minutes until salmon is cooked through.
  9. Serve with your choice of sides and enjoy a delicious, healthy meal.

Tahini and Honey Roasted Carrots


  • 500g of carrots, peeled and halved lengthwise
  • 3 tablespoons of tahini
  • 2 tablespoons of honey
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons of sesame seeds
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Preheat the oven to 190°C.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine tahini, honey, olive oil, salt and pepper. Mix well.
  3. Add carrots to the mixture and toss until evenly coated.
  4. Place carrots on a lined baking tray and sprinkle sesame seeds over them.
  5. Bake for 25-30 minutes until tender.
  6. Serve as a side dish or enjoy on their own as a healthy snack.

Traditional Halva


  • 2 cups of sesame seeds
  • 1 cup of honey
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • A pinch of salt


  1. Start by toasting the sesame seeds. Pour them into a pan over medium heat and stir continuously until they turn a golden brown colour. Be careful not to burn them.
  2. Once toasted, grind the sesame seeds in a food processor until they form a thick, sticky paste. This is your homemade tahini.
  3. In a saucepan, heat the honey over medium-low heat until it reaches a boil. Let it simmer for a few minutes, then remove from heat.
  4. Slowly stir the hot honey into the tahini, along with the vanilla extract and a pinch of salt. Make sure everything is well combined.
  5. Pour the mixture into a square baking dish or a loaf pan lined with parchment paper. Press it down firmly to ensure the mixture is compact.
  6. Let the halva cool at room temperature, then refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or until it becomes firm and sliceable.
  7. Cut the halva into squares and serve. Enjoy this traditional sesame treat!

Article References

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