Food & Drink

Where Do Sesame Seeds Come From, Anyway?

Open... sesame!
01/07/2015 07:00am ET | Updated January 7, 2015

"What the f*ck is a sesame? It's a street...it's a way to open sh*t!" Mitch Hedberg famously said. Hedberg was on to something. We see sesame seeds everywhere: On hamburger buns and bagels, in za'atar, if you're up on your Middle Eastern condiments, and on the sesame chicken you order from your neighborhood American Chinese restaurant. But does anyone know what sesame seeds really area and where they come from? And, as Hedberg rightly asked, "how's a sesame seed stick to a bun? That's f*ckin' magical! There's got to be some sesame seed glue out there! Either that, or they're adhesive on one side." Not ones to rely on magic, we at HuffPost Taste decided to investigate sesame seeds, so you wouldn't have to. Here's what you need to know:

1
Sesame Seeds Come From The Sesame Fruit (Who Knew?)
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The fruit is a long pod that looks sort of like okra, and grows on the sesame plant, which is native to Asia and East Africa.
2
Sesame Plants Are Dried Before The Seeds Are Removed
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As the fruits dry, the pods begin to open, revealing the seeds inside. To extract sesame seeds, the dried out plants are shaken to release seeds.
3
Seeds Are Usually Hulled From Their Shells
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The pearly white seeds you find on your hamburger buns don't come straight out of the fruit that way. They must be hulled from their darker shells first. Not all sesame seeds are white, however, and some seeds will still be dark in color even after they're hulled.
4
Sesame Seeds Come In Many Colors
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From white and black to red, brown and tan, sesame seeds are multi-colored.
5
Sesame Seeds Are Major Crops In Parts Of Asia And Africa
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The biggest producers of sesame seeds in 2012, according to FAOSTAT data featured on Top 5 Anything, were Myanmar, China, India, Ethiopia and Sudan.
6
Sesame Plants Are One Of The Oldest Known Plants To Be Cultivated
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Sesame plants are the "oldest oilseed crop known to man," and are said to have been sought-after crops up to 4,000 years ago in ancient Babylon and Assyria. Today they're used around the world, particularly in Asian and Mediterranean cuisine.
7
Sesame Seeds Have Many Health Benefits
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Dietician Michele Turcott says that sesame seeds are high in vitamin B1 and dietary fiber, as well as other vitamins and minerals. Sesame oil has the good kind of fat, mono- and polyunsaturated acids (PUFAs), which help lower cholesterol, and is high in vitamin E, magnesium, copper, calcium and iron.
8
They're Damn Delicious Too
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Sesame seeds are best when toasted, because the heat brings out their nutty flavor. They're responsible for all kinds of wonderful food, like tahini, without which there'd be no hummus. (NO HUMMUS!) Black sesame seeds also make great gelato.

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Correction: This article originally said that sesame oil has the good kind of cholesterol, when in fact sesame oil contains the good kind of fat: mono- and polyunsaturated acids, which are the fats that cut cholesterol.

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