Friday, 23 December 2016

ALL ABOUT SESAME

“If you’re not the one cooking, stay out of the way and compliment the chef.” - Michael Strahan

Sesame (Sesamum indicum) is a flowering plant in the genus Sesamum, in the family Pedaliaceae. Numerous wild relatives occur in Africa and a smaller number in India. It is widely naturalised in tropical regions around the world and is cultivated for its edible seeds, which grow in pods or ‘buns’. The world harvested 4.2 million metric tonnes of sesame seeds in 2013, with India and China as the largest producers. Sesame seed is one of the oldest oilseed crops known, domesticated well over 3000 years ago.

Sesame has many species, most being wild and native to sub-Saharan Africa. Sesame indicum, the cultivated type, originated in India and is tolerant to drought-like conditions, growing where other crops fail. Sesame has one of the highest oil contents of any seed. With a rich, nutty flavour, it is a common ingredient in cuisines across the world. Like other nuts and foods, it can trigger allergic reactions in some people.

Sesame seed is considered to be the oldest oilseed crop known to humanity. The genus has many species, and most are wild. Most wild species of the genus Sesamum are native to sub-Saharan Africa. Charred remains of sesame recovered from archaeological excavations have been dated to 3500-3050 BC. The historic origin of sesame was favoured by its ability to grow in areas that do not support the growth of other crops. It is also a robust crop that needs little farming support: It grows in drought conditions, in high heat, with residual moisture in soil after monsoons are gone or even when rains fail or when rains are excessive. It was a crop that could be grown by subsistence farmers at the edge of deserts, where no other crops grow. Sesame has been called a survivor crop!

Sesame is an annual plant growing 50 to 100 cm tall, with opposite leaves 4 to 14 cm long with an entire margin; they are broad lanceolate, to 5 cm broad, at the base of the plant, narrowing to just 1 cm broad on the flowering stem. The flowers are tubular, 3 to 5 cm long, with a four-lobed mouth. The flowers may vary in colour, with some being white, yellow, blue, or purple. Sesame seeds occur in many colours depending on the cultivar. The most traded variety of sesame is off-white coloured. Other common colours are buff, tan, gold, brown, reddish, gray, and black. The colour is the same for the hull and the fruit.

Sesame fruit is a capsule, normally pubescent, rectangular in section, and typically grooved with a short, triangular beak. The length of the fruit capsule varies from 2 to 8 cm, its width varies between 0.5 and 2 cm, and the number of loculi varies from four to 12. The fruit naturally splits open (dehisces) to release the seeds by splitting along the septa from top to bottom or by means of two apical pores, depending on the varietal cultivar. The degree of dehiscence is of importance in breeding for mechanised harvesting, as is the insertion height of the first capsule. Sesame seeds are small. Their size, form, and colours vary with the thousands of varieties now known. Typically, the seeds are about 3 to 4 mm long by 2 mm wide and 1 mm thick. The seeds are ovate, slightly flattened, and somewhat thinner at the eye of the seed (hilum) than at the opposite end. The weight of the seeds is between 20 and 40 mg. The seed coat (testa) may be smooth or ribbed.

In 2013, world production of sesame seeds was 4.2 million tonnes, led by India and mainland China/ The most productive sesame seed farms in the world in 2013 were in Greece, reporting the highest nationwide yield of 0.69 tonnes per hectare. A large yield gap and farm loss differences exist between major sesame seed producers, in part because of knowledge gap, poor crop management practices, and use of technologies.

The world traded over a billion dollars worth of sesame seeds in 2010. The trade volume has been increasing rapidly in the last two decades. Japan is the world’s largest sesame importer. Sesame oil, particularly from roasted seed, is an important component of Japanese cooking and traditionally the principal use of the seed. China is the second-largest importer of sesame, mostly oil-grade. China exports lower-priced food-grade sesame seeds, particularly to Southeast Asia.

For a 100-gram serving, dried whole sesame seeds are rich in calories (573 kcal) and are composed of 5% water, 23% carbohydrates, 12% dietary fiber, 50% fat and 18% protein. The flour that remains after oil extraction from sesame seeds is 35-50% protein and contains carbohydrates. This flour, also called sesame meal, is a high-protein feed for poultry and livestock. Sesame seed is a common ingredient in various cuisines worldwide. It is used whole in cooking for its rich, nutty flavour. Sesame seeds are sometimes added to breads, including bagels and the tops of hamburger buns. Sesame seeds may be baked into crackers, often in the form of sticks. In Sicily and France, the seeds are eaten on bread (ficelle sésame, sesame thread). In Greece, the seeds are also used in cakes.

In the language of flowers, a stem of flowering sesame included in a bouquet, indicates: “You have many hidden talents.”

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