Silly Food Fact
Have you ever counted the number of sesame seeds on a hamburger bun? The average number on a Big Mac bun is 180! In fact, McDonald’s purchases one-third of Mexico’s sesame crop each year just for all of their sesame seed buns. Worldwide, sesame seeds are a billion dollar crop, with the country of Myanmar (followed by India and China) as the largest producer. In the U.S., sesame seeds are mainly grown in Oklahoma and Texas.
Why Our Bodies Love It
About 1/3 of the yearly sesame crop is used as food and 2/3 is processed into oil. Sesame seeds may be tiny, but they’re rich in minerals like copper, magnesium, and calcium. They, along with flax seeds, are also a top source of lignans, which may lower the risk of breast, prostate, and colon cancers. Sesame oil is polyunsaturated and helps lower bad cholesterol and triglycerides.
So where exactly do sesame seeds come from? The tiny seeds develop inside a pod, which grows on a 5-foot-tall plant. Due to its vast root system, sesame is very drought-tolerant—it’s called a survivor crop since it grows where other crops fail. The seed pods are a couple inches long, and each pod can contain up to 100 seeds. The pods pop open when the seeds are ripe. Supposedly, this is the origin of the “open sesame” magical phrase from the Arabian Nights.
Watch a sesame seed harvest in Oklahoma:
Care and Picking
Sesame seeds are sold hulled or unhulled. The familiar cream-colored seeds are hulled, whereas the unhulled seeds can be black, brown, or yellow. Store the white, hulled seeds in the refrigerator for maximum freshness. In bulk bins, make sure the seeds smell fresh and there is no moisture; you don’t want rancid seeds. Sesame seeds add a light crunch and delicate flavor to baked goods, salads, and ethnic dishes. A paste made from dried, fried sesame seeds is known as tahini, which is an ingredient of hummus.