Sesame oil is fragrant and tasty, but it's not just liquid fat that you pour over salad. While it is fat -- it doesn't have any carbohydrates floating around in it -- the type of fat and the vitamin content in sesame oil might have a beneficial effect on your health. This is still under investigation, though, so speak with a doctor before assuming sesame oil will solve any health conditions.
Sesame oil is the extracted oil of the sesame seed, those small, pale seeds you find on hamburger buns. Purdue University says they are about 50 percent oil. The plant is grown worldwide, including in the United States, and it has been used for food and oil for at least 4,000 years. The seed pods that form after flowering eventually burst open, so harvesting has to be done in that small window of time when the seeds are ripe but still in an intact pod. Sesame seeds are unusable after the pod bursts.
Sesame seeds flavor cookies, candy, bread, salads, tahini, sauces and innumerable meat dishes. The oil comes in two varieties, dark and light; light sesame oil is from the Middle East and is made from untoasted seeds, while dark sesame oil from toasted seeds is a part of Asian cuisine. The oil, especially dark sesame oil, is used in salads, sauces and stir-fried dishes. Some recipes call for a few drops to be added to a dish as a flavoring. Like other fats, sesame oil has 9 calories per gram.
Sesame oil is known for its vitamin E content, which has been under investigation for effects on heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, cataracts and macular degeneration. Unfortunately, research hasn't revealed anything of significance other than the fact that vitamin E needs more investigation. Vitamin E has been researched as a possible cancer prevention therapy, but further results showed the conclusions to be premature. For example, a 2002 study in "Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention" and a 2005 study in "The Journal of the American Medical Association" found that there was no significant benefit from taking vitamin E as a cancer-prevention strategy.
Sesame oil is a combination of mono- and polyunsaturated fats, but because the polyunsaturated fats are slightly higher, the oil is usually considered polyunsaturated. Clemson Cooperative Extension notes that both of these fats are thought to lower total cholesterol, and monounsaturated fats might raise HDL, or good cholesterol. Polyunsaturated fats might actually lower HDL, so if your cholesterol levels are a concern, speak with your doctor to find out if you need to cut back on sesame oil.
Sesame oil might help lower blood pressure, if results from a 2006 study are correct. Researchers in India instructed subjects who had high blood pressure to use only sesame oil in food -- no other oils allowed. After 45 days, the subjects' blood pressure readings had dropped to normal levels. The readings rose back up to their former high numbers once the sesame oil was stopped. The researchers didn't specify which components in the oil might have been responsible, but they did note the high levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids, vitamin E and antioxidants. The study was published in the "Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine."
- UT Gardens: Plant of the Month: Sesame
- Purdue University: Sesame
- JAMA: Vitamin E in the Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease and Cancer
- Whole Health MD: Vitamin E
- Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention: A Prospective Study on Supplemental Vitamin E Intake and Risk of Colon Cancer in Women and Men
- Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine: Effect of Sesame Oil on Diuretics or ß-blockers in the Modulation of Blood Pressure, Anthropometry, Lipid Profile, and Redox Status
- What’s Cooking America: Types of Cooking Fats and Oils
- Clemson Cooperative Extension: Fat in Your Diet