Chef Notes: Sesame Oil

Chef Notes: Sesame Oil

I don’t know about you but I could easily form an unhealthy addiction to Chinese take-out. Chinese food is bursting with flavor and tends to tweak more than one set of taste buds at a time. It’s part of the culture to balance sweet, sour, salt, bitter, and spice. Unfortunately, the Western versions of Asian cuisines are often loaded with MSG and high fructose sweeteners not to mention most are deep fried and full of fatty meats. I’ve gotten pretty good at recreating a few Asian dishes at home and one ingredient that I rely on is sesame oil.

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Sesame oil is derived from sesame seeds. Harvesting is a delicate process. Extraction can be done a few different ways, much like olive oil, from cold pressing to chemical extraction. After extraction it can be further refined in order to remove cloudiness and make it as clear as possible. However, the more refined, the fewer nutritional benefits. There are several different varieties of sesame oil. If you prefer a very mild flavor look for oil that is pale yellow. The golden brown colored will have a stronger, slightly toasted flavor. The dark brown has a pronounced roasted, nutty flavor. It’s a good idea to try small amounts of the oils first. You can always add more if you want to further enhance the flavor. If used in excess, the flavor can be overwhelming. While sesame oil is fairly stable, it does benefit from refrigeration and protection from excessive light minimizes nutrient loss and staves off rancidity.

Light sesame oil has a higher smoke point than the dark and is suitable for deep/pan frying. It is typically used in Indian cuisine. The dark sesame oil is preferred for quick stir fried dishes or as a finishing oil/flavoring component. The smoke point is reduced by the roasting and therefore will not work for deep or pan frying. Dark sesame oil is common in Asian food. The dark is what you will find in my refrigerator.

I did a little research and was surprised at the nutritional benefits of sesame oil, not to mention the possible medical advantages. Sesame oil is an awesome source of vitamin E, an antioxidant, it also contains magnesium, copper, calcium, iron, zinc, and vitamin B6. Copper relieves arthritis. Magnesium is good for vascular and respiratory health. Calcium helps prevent colon cancer, osteoporosis, migraines, and PMS. Zinc is also good for bone health. While not FDA approved it may also help reduce blood pressure, prevent the absorption of cholesterol, relieve anxiety, prevent nerve and bone disorders, improve poor circulation, strengthen lowered immunity and promote digestion. It’s also touted as relieving lethargy, fatigue, and insomnia, increasing strength and vitality, enhancing blood circulation. Claims exist that it has relaxing properties that ease pain and muscle spasms associated with sciatica, dysmenorrhoea, colic, backache, and joint pain.

Some suggested uses for sesame oil include:

Substitute part of the oil in vinaigrettes or savory homemade breads

flavor sauces for barbecued seafood and meats

Sauté oil

Stir fry oil

Stir into Asian or Indian inspired soups, pastas and rice dishes

Flavoring for Mexican mole

Use in marinades

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