Complete Guide to SESAME – All you Need to Know

Have you heard of sesame seeds? You may have seen them somewhere, for example, on top of hamburger buns.

In this blog you’ll learn what sesame is, its morphological characteristics, what varieties there are, its benefits, where it originated, how is the industry currently, how it is cultivated, and what are some of the by-products made from this food.

What is sesame and what are its characteristics? 

Scientific nameSesamum indicum
Common nameSesame, ajonjoli.
Place of OriginAfrica
HabitatIt grows preferably in warm climates, although it can also grow in temperate zones.
DistributionAfrica, Asia, America and Europe.
FruitSesame seeds

Sesame is a seed that belongs to the Pedaliaceae family, characterized by herbaceous plants, i.e., without woody bark stems. In this section, you’ll learn about this food’s main morphological characteristics.

Morphological characteristics of sesame seeds 

The sesame plant is an annual plant, meaning that its entire life cycle is completed within one year:

  • The stem is quadrangular. It can have ramifications and grows up to 1 to 2.5 meters in height.
  • The leaves detach from the stem and are heart-shaped and green, but can turn red sometimes.
  • The flowers are 2 to 4 cm long, white or purple in color, and are found along the stem.
  • The food is within a capsule, a name given in botany to the nuts found inside this element of the plant; sesame capsules can measure 8 cm long and are 1 cm thick. Now, the seeds are small, flat and oval, and can measure approximately 2 mm wide and 4 mm long. A unique trait of sesame is that once the fruit is ripe, the capsules open on their own, revealing the seeds inside.

What types of sesame are there? 

There is limited information about sesame varieties, probably because those that are planted are generally of unknown origin and are not registered. Yet they can be classified depending on the color of the seeds; beige, black, dark brown, light brown, or golden. They can also grow mixed inside the capsules. Some of the best-known sesame seed varieties are:

Escoba sesame or white broom sesame 

This type of sesame has a life cycle of 120 days or more. The seeds are white or beige and are normally the preferred variety in the global market. However, its cultivation is difficult because the plant is susceptible to pests and diseases.

Golden sesame 

This variety has a life cycle of about 90 days. The stalk can be less than 2 m long and, as the name suggests, the seeds are golden.

Black sesame 

Its life cycle can be approximately 80 days, the plant can measure less than 1.5 m and the seeds are black.

Mbarete sesame 

This type of sesame can measure more than 2 m, the leaves are green and hairy on the surface. As well as the escoba seed, mbarete seeds are white or beige.

Inia sesame 

The sesame inia can also measure more than 2 m. Its leaves are green and the seeds are white with purple tones, in addition, the seeds are brown.

What are the benefits of sesame? 

Nutritional profile of sesame 

To begin with, we are going to show you a nutritional table of sesame seeds taken from the United States Department of Agriculture (2019): so that you can better observe all the nutrients they contain.

Nutritional information about sesame 
Serving: 1 spoon of sesame seeds (9 g) 
Water0,422 grams
Energy51,6 calories
Protein1,59 grams
Total lipids (fats)4,47 grams
Carbohydrates2,11 grams
Fiber1,06 grams
Total sugars0,027 grams
Calcium87,8 milligrams
Iron1,31 milligrams
Magnesium31,6 milligrams
Phosphorus56,6 milligrams
Potassium42,1 milligrams
Sodium0,99 milligrams
Zinc0,698 milligrams
Copper0,367 milligrams
Manganese0,221 milligrams
Selenium3,1 micrograms
Vitamin C0 milligrams
Thiamine0,071 milligrams
Riboflavin0,022 milligrams
Niacin0,407 milligrams
Pantothenic acid0,004 milligrams
Vitamin B60,071 milligrams
Folate8,73 micrograms
Coline2,3 milligrams
Vitamin B120 micrograms
Vitamin A0 micrograms
Retinol0 micrograms
Carotene. beta0,45 micrograms
Carotene, alfa0 micrograms
Cryptoxanthin0 micrograms
Lycopene0 micrograms
Lutein + Zeaxanthin0 micrograms
Vitamin E0,022 milligrams
Vitamin D0 micrograms
Vitamin K0 micrograms
Total saturated fatty acids0,626 grams
Total monounsaturated fatty acids1,69 grams
Total polyunsaturated fatty acids1,96 grams
Cholesterol0 milligrams
Tryptophan0,035 grams
Threonine0,066 grams
Isoleucine0,069 grams
Leucine0,122 grams
Lysine0,051 grams
Methionine0,053 grams
Cystine0,032 grams
Phenylalanine0,085 grams
Tyrosine0,067 grams
Valina0,089 grams
Arginine0,237 grams
Histidine0,047 grams
Alanine0,083 grams
Glutamic acid0,148 grams
Aspartic acid0,356 grams
Glycine0,11 grams
Proline0,073 grams
Serina0,087 grams

Health benefits of sesame seeds 

Check here some of the benefits you can get from sesame, let’s get started!

Antioxidant capacity 

Sesame seeds have a component called lignin that gives this food antioxidant properties. Let me explain, our body generates free radicals but in some cases, they accumulate and cause damage to the body, which can increase the likelihood of chronic diseases. Now, foods containing substances with antioxidant capacity fight against free radicals and protect the body from the damage they can cause.

Regulates blood pressure 

According to the scientific journal Journal of Nutrition & Food Sciences, sesame oil contains high amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids, sesamin, and vitamin E, which can help regulate blood pressure.

Good for the skin 

Ultraviolet rays are one of the causes of skin damage: burns, aging, or even skin cancer. Sesame antioxidants can prevent these damages by acting as a defense mechanism against them.

Rich in calcium and iron 

Sesame seeds are rich in minerals such as calcium, one of the most abundant substances in the human body, which is mainly responsible for maintaining healthy bones and teeth. Similarly, it contains iron, which is of utmost importance in the growth of the body and a deficiency of this mineral can cause anemia.

Traditional medicinal uses 

In Ayurveda, a method of traditional medicine that originated in India, sesame oil is used to treat various ailments, for example:

  • They rub it on the body to release impurities and allow better energy flow.
  • They use it as a mouthwash to treat bacteria in the mouth.
  • They rub it in the nostrils to treat insomnia and anxiety.
  • They apply it in the abdominal region to calm menstrual cramps.
  • It has other uses such as treating headaches, burns, and ear pain, among others.

Where did sesame originate? 

Although its exact place of origin is not certain, it is said that it originated in Africa. Sesame oil was used in religious rituals in ancient Egypt, Japan, and India. In fact, it was also said to have been used in enlightenment methods in China.

Sesame was brought to America by slaves and was used as a condiment to improve the flavor of food. Something curious is that sesame is mentioned in Assyrian mythology, where it says that sesame wine was drunk by the gods before the creation of the world.

Sesame industry in the world 

You may wonder how big is the sesame industry in the world or how it is nowadays. Well, here we’ll show you the production, exportation, and importation of sesame seeds.

The 10 countries that produce the most sesame seeds 

To begin with, let’s show you a table illustrating the 10 countries that produced the most sesame in 2020, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

PositionCountryProduction in tons in 2020Farming area in hectares in 2020
1 °Sudan1’525.1045’173.521
2 °Myanmar / Burma740.0001’500.000
3 °United Republic of Tanzania710.000960.000
4 °India658.0001’520.000
5 °Nigeria490.000621.413
6 °China, mainland447.178276.313
7 °Burkina Faso270.000450.000
8 °Ethiopia260.258369.897
9 °Republic of Chad202.074392.241
10 °South Sudan189.721608.159

Top 10 sesame exporting countries 

Now, you can find out the 10 countries that exported the most sesame in 2020 (FAO, 2020).

  1. Sudan, in addition to being the largest producer, is one of the largest exporters. In 2020, they exported 492,351 tons, in fact, sesame seeds ranked first among the 10 most exported raw materials and 6th among the most produced in this country.
  2. India exported 276,265 tons.
  3. Nigeria exported 261,235 tons. In this country, sesame seeds also occupy the first place of the 10 most exported raw materials.
  4. Ethiopia exported 228,089 tons. Sesame seed is the second most exported raw material in this country.
  5. The United Republic of Tanzania had an export of 167,091 tons, likewise, for the Tanzanians, sesame seeds are the 4th most exported raw material.
  6. Myanmar exported 138,913 tons. In this country, sesame seeds are the 8th most exported raw material.
  7. In the Republic of Mozambique, sesame seeds are the third most exported product. In 2020, they exported 100,304 tons.
  8. Brazil exported 72,000 tons and is the only American country in the top 10.
  9. Burkina Faso exported 60,770 tons. Here, sesame seeds ranked 7th in the top 10 most-produced raw materials and 5th in the most exported.
  10. And finally, Mali exported 58,212 tons, as well as many of the countries I mentioned before, sesame ranks 2nd in the top 10 most exported raw materials.  

Top 10 sesame-importing countries 

Last but not least, let’s take a look at a comparative table with the 10 countries that imported the most sesame in 2019 and 2020 (FAO).

PositionCountries 2019Imports in tons (2019)Countries 202Imports in tons (2020)
1 °China, mainland1’203.982China, mainland 1’016.068
2 °Japan303.133Turkey223.162
3 °Turkey287.752Japan204.864
4 °India196.264India149.097
5 °Republic of Korea144.956Korea77.662
6 °Saudi Arabia119.509Israel68.747
7 °Israel108.569Saudi Arabia49.612
8 °Germany91.273United Arab Emirates46.397
9 °Taiwan81.009Taiwan43.230
10 °Netherlands73.956Iran40.277

How is sesame cultivated? 

These are the main characteristics to keep in mind when growing sesame.


Sesame seeds are grown in tropical and subtropical regions; in order for the seed to germinate, it needs high temperatures of approximately 26 to 30 °C (79 to 86 °F). This is mainly because temperatures below 18 °C or above 40 °C impede the germination of the crop.

Altitude, soil and rainfall 

The altitude for sesame cultivation must not exceed 1600 meters above sea level. The rainfall required to grow sesame seeds is between 300 to 400 mm, and planting during rainy seasons is also recommended. The soil is another factor of great importance. Loose soils of loamy-sandy types are preferred for cultivation.

Sesame harvesting 

Sesame is usually propagated by seed. It is harvested when the capsules of the plant turn yellow; collection begins at this time because if a long time passes, the capsules containing the seeds begin to split.

There are two methods: manual and traditional. The first involves cutting the plants at ground level and placing them vertically, grouped in a triangle so that the capsules dry out and the seeds do not fall out. The second method is mechanized, which, as its name indicates, uses machines to cut the plants before the capsules are ripe.


At this stage, the seeds are stored in polypropylene bags, and if they are to be stored, they should be kept at a humidity of 4 to 6%. It should be noted that sesame seeds can be stored for up to 1 year, but keeping a humidity of 55 to 65% and a temperature of 15 to 27 °C is recommended.

Sesame seeds By-products

Sesame seeds have various uses, for example, sesame seeds or oil are used in Asian cuisine and are of utmost importance for the preparation of their meals. That’s why we would like to show you some of the products that are made from sesame seeds.

Industrial products 

Sesame is usually commercialized in products that have raw sesame seeds, but it is also included in several products, for example:

  • Cookies with sesame
  • Bakery products
  • Flour
  • Sesame oil
  • Arepas
  • Noodles, among others.


Sesame is a food that may not be so popular in some places, but in others, it is highly appreciated for meal preparation. We hope this article has given you more information about this food and that you have been encouraged to include it in your daily diet so that you can take advantage of all its benefits.