A food that has been around for civilisations. A food that found its way into ancient medicine. A food that was a valuable trade commodity. And, a food that can be the star ingredient or an invisible component. Most of us wouldn't attribute any of that to sesame - the tiny seeds seem almost inconsequential, but they pack flavours that work in subtle ways and boast of a history that goes back centuries.
Sesame is one of the oldest oilseeds known to us - it can be traced right back to the Indus Valley Civilisation. The Cambridge World History of Food (Volume 1), says, "The oldest remains of sesame seeds were found at the Indus Valley civilization site of Harappa, in Pakistan, where excavators uncovered "a quantity of lumped and burnt Sesamum" specimens."
Its health benefits are many - the website, The World's Healthiest Food has an informative breakup here - and sesame has been part of several ancient medicinal systems, including Ayurveda, oriental medicine and European medicine.
Considering its history and its vast range of health benefits, it's hardly a surprise that sesame is used extensively in cuisines across the world. In the Middle East, sesame is the core ingredient in tahini, and far-eastern cuisine uses it as a seasoning. Closer home, we make a variety of sweets from sesame (popular examples include til ladoos and til chikkis) and in the West, it is used as a confectionary (How Did Hamburger Buns Get Their Seeds?).
Sesame's appearance belies its rich history and deep links to our culture. But, it is one of those foods that surprise you and make you see them in new light once you discover the story behind them. Vikram Doctor brings you that story in this episode of The Real Food Podcast.
Listen to other episodes of The Real Food Podcast here.
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