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The history of sesame - from oil to snack

Sesame has gone down in history as one of first oil plants known to humankind, grown for at least 3,000 years. In the past, it was used mainly for oil production, but over the centuries it has gained new culinary uses.

Nowadays, it serves not only as an addition to meals and bakery products, but it is also considered valuable on its own, as an necessary supplement to daily diet, which contains fibre, protein, unsaturated fatty acids, zinc, phosphorus, iron, magnesium, B group vitamins, and antioxidants. It can be eaten on its own or as a convenient snack. How did sesame end up on our shelves in the form of sesame snaps or halva, and why do we need these barely visible, tiny seeds so much?

How did sesame appear in Poland?

Does sesame (saasim or simsim in Arabian) come from India? Not completely… It is assumed that naturally it originates from Africa, especially its northern part. One of the best crops of this plant are located there till now, for example in Nigeria. Sesame took a significant place in the culture of ancient Egypt many thousand years ago. At that time, it was most likely transported also to Asia, where it was accepted well, both in the context of crops and Indian culture and cuisine. It can be presumed that sesame is called Indian thanks to this travel around the world. However, it should be stressed that seeds cultivated in Africa are sweeter than their counterpart known e.g. in India and often are characterised by much higher quality. This is not necessarily related to cultivated plant variety, but rather with climatic conditions for growth.

Sesame was mainly cultivated for oil although it also fulfilled other roles. Various sources inform us that, for example, Chinese used soot acquired from roasting sesame to make ink. Sesame in its pure form was also used in ancient Greek armies as a valuable and energetic field ration for soldiers while in Rome seeds constituted as a base for preparing a hummus-like spread with cumin. Moreover, early Assyrians believed that gods drank wine with sesame just before they created the world.
What is the history of sesame in Poland? It has appeared in our country in Sarmatic times many years before chocolate so loved today. Reportedly it travelled for thousands of kilometres and reach Polish tables thanks to contacts between Sarmatians and Turkish Empire.

How does sesame grow?

Indian sesame is considered to be one of the oldest oil plants that has been domesticated by a man. It is grown on fields and reaches up to approximately 1.5 m in height. Its flowers are white, purple, or pink and one plant can provide around 80 seeds rich in fats. India and China are the main sesame producers. Sesame oil is cold pressed from seeds in order to allow its use in the kitchen. The oil is edible, but has no scent. It is characterised by bright yellow colour. The oil is used to produce margarine, halva, biscuits, and sesame seed candies. It is also used in beauty products as ingredient of soaps, perfumes, or essential oils.

How do we use sesame nowadays?

The sesame’s numerous characteristics ensured that it did not disappear from man’s culture throughout the ages. Moreover, it is known and loved on each continent. However, we usually marginalise its role and see it as a spice or bread additive, but it is worth to consume it more often due to its beneficial characteristics. Currently, we have the perfect opportunity to do so – handy sesame seed candies or candy bars filled with sesame and expanded seeds, which additionally enrich their balanced composition, are available in majority of grocery stores.
Let us not forget about halva, which is also a sesame-based snack – although it is grounded to the form of tahini. Selection of seeds for halva production is very similar, but there is one additional and significant element: the appropriate colour and density of mass created from seeds. Even few darker seeds can have a negative influence on final colour of the product, thus this parameter is exceptionally important during the selection of seeds for tahini. Therefore, if we will crave this snack – we should choose only the hand-made tahini that retains the highest quality and taste.

Advantages of sesame – why is it worth to eat it?

Sesame is not uniform and we differentiate several varieties of it, but most often we consume its white, shelled version. However, regardless of species and type, sesame is very healthy and rich in ingredients beneficial for body function. It is a good source of fibre and is gluten-free. Sesame is 50% fats and moreover, majority of those fats are unsaturated fatty acids, mainly Omega-6 acid. Fibre contained in seeds also reduced the level of bad cholesterol in blood. For that reason, only it is worth to eat one handful of sesame daily!

The seeds themselves possess many nutritional values. They are a valuable source of protein – even 18 g per 100 g of sesame, which is comparable to or even more than chicken eggs. It is also a good source of calcium as the same number of seeds contains around 130 mg of calcium, which is slightly more than 100 ml of milk has!

Sesame also contains plenty of other microelements and nutritional values necessary for proper body function, such as phosphorus, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper, or selenium. Thanks to lecithin, sesame improves memory and concentration while antioxidants – sesamol and sesaminol – prevent cancer and delay the aging process. The same ingredients make these inconspicuous seeds a great solution to infections as they improve body’s immunity. There is a reason why this plant is used in traditional Chinese medicine as remedy for cold, as well as persistent cough thanks to its expectorant properties. In addition, it regulates blood pressure, prevents creation of clots, and has diuretic properties. It also helps with constipation and haemorrhoids and strengthens bones, teeth, hair, and nails. Sesame seeds also have valuable vitamins, i.e. A, E, and B group vitamins. They also contain ingredients such as e.g. tryptophan, which is a compound necessary to synthesis serotonin and melatonin. A handful of sesame daily should help solve problems with falling asleep.

EFA essential fatty acids

High unsaturated
fatty acids content

of fibre


Contains minerals: magnesium, calcium, potassium, iron, and zinc

Sesame seeds under tight control

It is worth to pay particular attention to selection of crops, on which this valuable plant grows. The Unitop Company among others selects African seeds to produce sesame snaps and additionally roasts it before producing the snack – this has a positive influence on its rich taste while the process itself is not a principle among producers. The raw resource must be characterised by purity greater than standard one – one pebble in a several tonnes of seed is all that it takes to reject a delivery. The size of seeds to produce sesame snaps is also significant. Therefore, the Unitop Company chooses only the bigger, fuller seeds to produce its healthier snacks and this makes the sesame snaps exceptionally crunchy gives them a unique taste.