Sesame – The King of Oils

Sesame is rich in oil, minerals and vitamins. Yet, its sharp quality makes it damaging if used in excess. When processed with the right herbs, sesame oil can cure most diseases…

The use of sesame (Sesamum indicum) is so prevalent in India as gingelly and in ayurveda as til that almost no Indian is without their favorite ritual, recipe, or prescription.

Sesame OilThe magical volcanic islands on the southeastern border of Akhanda Bharat (ancient India), Sunda islands are the ancestral home of the bell-shaped sesame flower plant that yields long pillow-like pod fruits sometimes containing nearly 100 sesame seeds. The bells come in various colours and indicate something of their ayurvedic energetic properties. Sesame seeds, which also come in different colours and indicate difference nuances of subtle panchabhuta energy, contain about 50% fixed oil and packed with minerals and vitamins. Because of their high oil content, they have been traded and exploited for thousands of years, altered naturally into different variants by soil and climate variations. Records of the use of sesame are 5000+ years old in different parts of the world and now are used in cuisines throughout the world.

Ayurvedic wisemen considered sesame oil as the King of Oils because of 3 main properties. 

    • sroto-sodhana (channel-cleansing)

The wisemen describe a unique property of sesame oil as sroto-sodhana (channel-cleansing). Think of swallowing something that scrapes away phlegm and excess lying on the edge of microchannels it passes through. Great! As the body is full of fat-lined cells and vessels, those with residue stuck to the edges would benefit from a small amount of scraping. However, too much and for too long, that same sesame oil that was cleansing will begin to chafe and wear down the walls, creating damage. The tissues begin to break down.

Sesame Oil

The ancient Ayurvedic medical text Astanga Hrdayam describes sesame as the chief vegetable oil to understand before use, due to its severe properties of teeksna (sharp in action), vyavaayi (ability to spread quickly in the tissues of the body), and tvak doshi (causes skin eruptions when eaten in excess) (Ayurvedic source: AH Sū.5.55). This seems mysterious unless you have a strong grasp of ayurvedic physiology.

  •  vyavaayi (spreading quickly)

Ingested into the body, sesame oil spreads quickly throughout (vyavaayi) and acts with its sharpness to penetrate and open up clogged spaces before it is able to be metabolised by the tissues; this is also a common property of poisons. So, it is important not to ingest too much.

However, this ability of sesame oil to penetrate is exactly why it can get into microchannels and small spaces and clean out phlegm, deep scar tissue, and toxins that are waiting to be released because they do not belong there. Microscopic images of sesame seeds using SEM (scanning electron microscope) reveals a series of regular polygonal, honeycomb – like depressions that look like scales measuring 6-10 micrometers across.

Ingested vs. Topical Sesame Oil

The use of sesame on the external body where it is near air conveys very different properties than its use ingested as food, in which it is inside the body, which is 70% water.

If a person thinks a-little-is-good-but-more-is-better, they run the risk of destroying their tissues because the excess sesame oil continues to penetrate deep into the body and opens up the walls of the cells and damages its functions by breaking intercellular bonds and hampering crucial muscle and bone interfaces.

The ayurvedic wisemen tell us that ingested oil in excess is NOT good for the eyes. The eyes are balls of fat, and they should never be exposed to excess heat. Sesame oil is penetrating and heating and can melt down the fat balance in the walls of the body's cells when consumed in excess. While it is an oil, it does not increase kapha, the theme of lubrication, stability and material grounding in the body, because it is teekshna (sharp). In excess, sesame oil also induces constipation. Yet, when processed with the right herbs, sesame oil can cure most diseases (Ayurvedic source: AH Sū.5.56).

  • The best medicine for Vata

Used on the skin of the body ("externally"), sesame oil is a completely different medicine than its use internally.

Because it is heating, it calms vata and is a wonderful remedy for calming the gut, the mind, and helping rid insomnia, jetlag, and flighty emotions, which are all due to unharmonious micromovements in the body (vata utklesha). Rubbing the oil under the feet before bedtime results in deeper sleep. Rubbing the oil under the feet and behind the ears before a long airplane or train journey brings less jetlag and less post-travel fatigue. Nightly use during the high-vata times of year, such as the windy monsoons or the oncoming of autumn season, calms the vata rising in the body.

The unique sharpness of sesame oil instills a cleansing property on external surfaces, where the oil can penetrate the dermis and clean toxins submerged in fat and muscle tissue.

Sesame and Cold Weather  

During the months of November to January in the northern hemisphere, many Indian festivals celebrate by ritualizing the making and gifting of sesame seed-based sweets. During this cold time of year, a small amount of ingested sesame penetrates to break through the phlegm, heats the body, and prevents skin infections that can occur in the cold season when skin gets dry and cracked.

Caution Goes a Long Way

There are a few cautions for use of sesame oil, as with any ingredient. Sesame oil should not be used if your body is already full of toxins, such as autoimmune antibodies. People arriving to a center for pancakarma are often given a relaxing oil massage, but they feel more tired afterward, and not rejuvenated.  This is due to the vyavaayi property of sesame oil, that takes the toxins and carries them across the internal fat highways of the interstitium, spreading the toxins and making them even more difficult to gather up and expel.

Sesame Oil in Ayurverda

The beloved golden yellow sesame oil is clearly highlighted in detail multiple times in the classic texts of ayurvedic medicine, both as a therapeutic food in certain seasons and health conditions, and as the most prescribed component in the intricate medicine-making processes for specific diseases. A majority of ayurvedic oils also use sesame oil as a base or as a component.


Sesame Seeds

The Cosmopolitan Life of Sesame Seeds

Following the journey of sesame seeds, the oldest known oilseeds in history, from the Sunda Islands of Indonesia to India and rest of the world, and its use in Ayurveda

Originating along the rim of the Indian Ocean in the Sunda Islands of western Indonesia, the sesame plant, Sesamum indicum, are the oldest known oilseeds in history. With its oblong ridged pod containing these 1/8-inch-long husks, sesame seeds were widely traded from these eastern rims of the Bharatiya (ancient Indian) world from the native tropical Sunda to the east coast of Africa, and became part of the most ancient records of cultures in China, Egypt, Japan.

Egyptians grinded the seed and used it as grain flour. The Chinese burned the oil in the sesame seed and collected the soot for use in Chinese ink blocks. The Mesopotamian cultures in the Fertile Crescent of present-day Turkey extracted the oil efficiently from the seeds. The Assyrians created sesame wine offerings to the gods and assigned mystical powers to it, remembered by Ali Baba's command Open Sesame! in Arabian Nights. Romans in the French-Italian hills featured sesame baked into breads and pasta and also ground sesame seeds with cumin to make pastes to spread on bread. Soldiers at war were rationed sesame seeds to preserve their strength, as they are portable and easy to preserve.

The sesame plant's resilience in surviving in different climates of the tropical, subtropical, and southern temperate areas but especially dry, hot deserts, allowed it to surpass crops that perished without water. As trade across the Indian Ocean, known by ancient Greeks as the Erythraean Sea and to the land of Bharat as the Ratnakara, moved into the Mediterranean Sea, known as the Western sea in ancient times, sesame was a great crop for trading as it remained intact for months with its sweet-nutty, mild and mellow flavour and crunchiness when kept in dry, dark cool airtight conditions. Toasting brings out an almondy flavour.

sesame seedThere are several varieties of sesame, with white, cream, yellow, red, tan, brown or black seeds. Europeans preferred the white and cream-coloured seeds, with their white bell-shaped flowers tinted with blue, red or yellow, whereas the Chinese prized the black sesame seeds. Depending on the climate, the plants take 80-180 days to ripen 15-20 fruits with seeds fully and grow 1 to 2 meters tall, with hairy leaves and a characteristic unpleasant odour. Each fruit contains 70-100 seeds. Four billion pounds of seeds are harvested worldwide annually, of which India is the largest producer, mostly by small farmers during arid and hot summers.

sesame seedsHanging the collected stems with their fruits upside down, the oblong pods dry until brittle, from which the husked seeds fall free. Once dehusked, the seeds can be used either whole or ground. Crushing the seeds and pressing them can yield 50-60% stable, fixed oil. Because the oil is stable at high heat, it is commonly used for stir frying and high heat cooking. Sesame oil is used raw in salads or as a cooking oil placed into shortening, margarine, and in the manufacture of items requiring a stable oil, such as soaps, lubricants, cosmetics and perfumes due to its hydrating and antioxidant benefits and in pharmaceuticals.

While a large body of research analysis has been done on this hearty seed and its derivative products, most agronomists, biochemists, engineers, soil scientists, and agricultural chemists have not acknowledged the clinical research done by the wisemen of ayurveda in ancient times.

The characteristic golden yellow sesame oil is clearly highlighted in detail, multiple times in the classic texts of ayurvedic medicine, both as a therapeutic food for certain conditions, and as a component in the intricate medicine-making processes for specific diseases. A majority of ayurvedic oils use sesame oil as a base or as a component due to its unique sroto-sodhana (channel-cleansing) properties. This unique cleansing property is excellent on external surfaces where the oil can penetrate and clean toxins for submerged fat and muscle tissue. However, this same penetrating property warns not to ingest it in excess as excess consumption can break tissue bonds and hamper crucial muscle and bone matrices.

Sesame seed
Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

The most common celebrated use of the sesame seed is during the seasonal festivals of December and January during which balls of sesame seeds (laddoos) are made with honey or jaggery, or fried seeds are bound to jaggery and dried in sheets, or seeds are baked into biscuits. These are offered abundantly to family and friends, during the kite-flying season, at Makar Sankranti when the sun heads toward the northern sky and during Sankat Chaturthi in celebration of the sweet-loving Ganesh and all children with mothers.

Defying the modern western fear of oil, sesame oil continues to be a favoured choice in breads ("sesame seed buns"), Asian stir frying recipes, hummus containing tahini (sesame seed paste), and sesame crackers.

(Dr. Bhaswati Bhattacharya is a Fulbright Specialist in Public Health, a family physician in the Dept of Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, and holds doctorates in pharmacology and Ayurveda. She teaches ayurvedic nutrition on global platforms and keeps sesame oil next to her bed)


Sesame to your Diet

Tasty Ways to Add Sesame to Your Diet

Sesame is good for health, especially during winters. In addition to building immunity, it is a good source of calcium, and iron. In India, sesame is especially used to make sweets and savouries as part of festivities around this time. One tasty way to add sesame to your diet is try eating Til laddoos and chikkis that are very popular across the sub-continent. There are also bunch of recipes that use sesame to make a popular sweet dish – kheer/ payasam using both the white and black sesame.

Sesame in Daily Diet
Image by 1900mmc from Pixabay

It is important to add the magic ingredient, Sesame to your  diet, albeit never over do. If you are a rice eater you can try making the south Indian podis that can either be mixed with rice or used as flavouring to spice up your curries and fries. Or one can sprinkle sesame on salads or stir fries to add that extra crunch, and that includes both white and black sesame. Baking enthusiasts can sprinkle an extra fistful of sesame next time they make burger breads or multigrain breads. There is no limit to creativity. There are hundreds of recipes that add sesame in one form or the other. Here are few interesting and simple ways to add Sesame to your diet.



Traditional Telugu (South India) Style Sesame (Nuvvula) Podi:

For two measures sesame seeds add half measure of bengal gram and split black gram each, one table spoon of cumin seeds, 2 tablespoons of coriander seeds, red chillies as per spice preference, around 7-8 garlic pods all separately roasted well in very little oil.  Grind them together with preferred quantity of salt and ensure the powder is not too coarse if you are eating by mixing in steamed rice. A dollop of clarified butter/ ghee – the good fat adds a whole lot of flavour to this. Alternately one can use this in all your vegetable-based curries and fries; in which case you can even add grated coconut at the time of cooking. Minus the coconut this powder can be stored for atleast 15 days in an air-tight container, and for a month if you keep it under refrigeration. For some twist you can even add flax seeds to the mixture; that will be an easy way to add sesame to your diet.

Sesame in Daily dietSalads/ Stir Fries:

Be it a green salad using lettuce or spinach or potato or fruit salad, roasted sesame will add nice crunch making it wholesome, nutrition wise as well. In addition, one can use sesame in Asian styled stir fries, especially those tossed in honey – it is the most traditional way to have these salads.


In China roasted black sesame and sticky rice/ sweet rice are ground together and the powder is stored to be used to make the most simple, nutty and flavourful cereal bowl. To boiled water add a few spoonsful of this powder to make the porridge. The modern way can be to add a few more nuts and fruits to make it interesting.

Sesame to Your Daily DietAlternately roasted sesame can be added to your Muesli, flakes or the regular seed mix that you keep on your table to address the hunger pangs. It is the most simple and healthy way to add Sesame to your diet.

Famous Indian cookbook author and presenter Late Tarla Dalal’s recipe for cereal is simple to make too. She uses oats, wheat germ, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, brown sugar and nuts, tosses the mix in oil, some water and a pinch of salt before baking it. This turns crunchy and can be stored to be used with raisins, fresh cut fruits and milk (vegans can use coconut milk).

Sesame is one of the most versatile ingredients, and can enhance the taste of the dish it is used in with its nutty flavour – packing in a whole lot of health benefits as well.


AHARA – The Intake of Nutriment

"What is Ahara?" 

Anything that nourishes, sustains the body's existence, and promotes growth and energy is called Ahara (aahaara). Here’s what Ayurveda says about how and why we must stay calm while taking Ahara!

If you venture towards ayurvedic nutrition, the concepts will require you to begin thinking more in Sanskrt. Sanskrt is not simply a language; it is a code for understanding a way of life that integrates the human experience with the world around us, from the microcosmic to the macrocosmic worlds.

Subtle energies are a big part of understanding Sanskrt and Ayurveda, so any foray into ayurvedic nutrition will take you on a journey into the transmutation between energy and matter, something understood inherently when the language of Sanskrt dominated all works of wisdom because the language was well-done, constructed to convey everything that would explain the universe, our place in it, and how to feed ourselves what we need for a good life.

What is Ahara
Ayurveda advises us to be aware of our intake. When we are intaking food, we should not be intaking other inputs, such as wind, sun, rain, or loud noise, rushing visuals, or non-food smells

The term ahara (pronounced aahaara) is used throughout the philosophies of ancient times and is totally dummed down to a translation as food.  hara means to lose from oneself, and a-hara means the opposite, not to lose, but to take into oneself. There are metaphysical interpretations of ahara, such as the nutriments of absorption through the 5 senses, absorption through the feeling mind, absorption into one's inner space or soul, as well as absorption of material food. Anything that nourishes, sustains the body's existence, and promotes growth and energy is called aahaara.


Ayurveda advises us to be aware of our intake. When we are intaking food, we should not be intaking other inputs, such as wind, sun, rain, or loud noise, rushing visuals, or non-food smells. While modern science has yet to understand this wisdom, it is slowly emerging with studies that show that various brain inputs influence digestion. Of course, we know that a phone call or loud shock can completely sidetrack our appetite in the middle of eating.  Ayurveda reminds us to set up our eating space to be calm, quiet, and cool, so that we can fully absorb the nutrients and discard the non-needed parts of the meal we eat.

In modern ayurveda, ahara is one of the three pillars of sustenance and healthy life, ahara-nidra-brahmacarya. The importance of taking in those things that will support healthy growth and optimal function of the tissues is crucial. A glow occurs around the body when the cells have proper energy and nourishment.

In contrast, today's scientists have disconnected food from the ecosystems of life. For the past 8 decades, scientists have emphasized the chemical aspects of food, focusing on molecules of carbohydrates, fats and proteins without observing the crucial link to living cells. The measurement of calories has replaced the attention to balance of different nutriments and their sources. Professions have emerged claiming expertise and dominion using the approach of chemistry and food processing. Food industrial chemists devise new chemical processes to technically stay within the law but maximize profit and innovation by further detaching naturally-grown foods from their inherent chemicals. What they feed us tastes good, smells good, and looks good, but feels not-so-good once it goes down and through the belly.

In modern ayurveda, ahara is one of the three pillars of sustenance and healthy life, ahara-nidra-brahmacarya. The importance of taking in those things that will support healthy growth and optimal function of the tissues is crucial. A glow occurs around the body when the cells have proper energy and nourishment

Ayurveda returns us to our instinctive reminders about what food is and reconnects us with 10,000 years of human tradition, before synthetic foods and non-living foods became the norm in restaurants, groceries, school cafeterias, hospitals, college campuses and food grant programs. Ayurveda reminds us to take in only those things we can source, to nutrify ourselves with energies that are ethical, foods that are living, and processes that respect the human condition.

The term ahara is more complete than the term food. Ahara reminds us to look at each step in what makes what are eating, from soil to seed to stove to stomach. Ahara reminds us ‘We Are What We Eat’. It reminds us to choose nutriments that will heal us and make us whole.


India and the Sesame Connection

Most of us do not consider the deeper connections of our local culture with sesame, but it is there. Those who grew up in the USA in the 1970s must remember Sesame Street, but did we ever wonder why it is named Sesame Street? The word sesame was chosen from the fable Arabian Nights in which Babylonian celebrity Ali Baba proclaims Open, Sesame! to magically unlock a cave of treasures sealed by a large rock. Babylonian culture was known to use sesame oil to call in the gods. Excitement and adventure beyond the greed of Ali Baba's treasures also occur in nature when the seed pod that tightly hold sesame seeds splits open spontaneously when it reaches maturely in 3-6 months. 


There are also holidays named after the til plant. The auspicious day of Shatila Ekadashi was observed on Friday, January 28, 2022. On the Ekadashi Tithi (11th lunar day) of Krishna Paksha (waning moon) of the month of Magha in the Hindu calendar, devotees of Lord Vishnu observe a day-long fast and use sesame seeds in the puja ceremony for Vishnu during the day.  



On this day, til (sesame) is celebrated in six (shat) different ways. In the morning a sesame oil massage is done, rubbing the entire body and hair with oil of black sesame seeds that have been cold-pressed. Sitting in the sun after the massage allows the heat to penetrate. A small amount of oil is also used in the bath bucket. After the bath, a sacred fire ceremony called a yajna is performed, in which black sesame seeds are thrown into the sacred fire as an offering to the ethers and the gods therein. Some will use the white sesame seeds, as they are considered only for devatas. Incidentally, they are also considered of lesser medicinal value for human physiology. Some prepare a pindi shraddham for one's ancestors, a ball of black sesame seeds held together by rice starch and given with mantras to reach the elders, known as pitru shraddham. On this day, food must be prepared containing til and it must be consumed in six preparations. Sesame sweets are donated to the poor. If one completes this Shad-tila offering with pure thoughts; it is said that one is blessed.


Shatila Ekadashi sits among several winter holidays and is usually only observed by devout Hindus. But there are several holidays during this time to mark the importance of the sun and the sesame in giving the body health. 


The day of uttarayana is also known around the country for different festivals according to their farming seasons. It is a harvest festival giving thanks and marking the start of spring and another cycle of growth.


The Makara Sankranti festival reminds all to replenish their oils. Sesame laddus are homemade and fed to everyone, the family participates in kite flying and kite flying competitions. Makara is the vahana (vehicle) of Varuna, the god of wind and sea and the god of the great Ganges river. Kites take to the wind and remind us of Varuna. The International Kite Festival in Ahmedabad, Gujarat encourages everyone to come outside and play. 


In addition to Makara Sankranti, the harvest festival in Tamilnadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh are celebrated over 3-4 days as Pongal and Sankranti. Pongal means to boil over, and milk or rice is cooked until it boils over, as the symbol of an overflowing harvest. The sweet dish made with this milk is offered first to the divine, then eaten to cleanse the past and replenish for the future. On the third day of the festival, the village cows are decorated and worshipped in Mattu Pongal. Parikrama or circumambulation of a cow has been shown to increase bioelectric rhythms in humans and can repair the body's subtle energies.


In the northern cold winter of Punjab, this day of uttarayana is known as Lohri. Bonfires are lit to symbolize the soon departure of the cold weather. Sugarcane, rice and sweet items are thrown into the bonfire as time is spent with friends and relatives in preparation of a new season. 


In Uttar Pradesh, the period is known as Kicheri, and celebrates the coming of light. Bathing in the Ganges is a must, or in the Sangam of Prayagraj where the underground Saraswati, Yamuna and Ganga flow together. Masses of people can be seen submerging themselves in super cold river water. Then they go home to prepare khichari, sweets of curd, jaggery and chudwa (poha, flattened rice). Donations of sweets and clothes to the needy are a must.


ITC Ltd Announces Foray Into Plant-Based Meat Market

Major FMCG brands across the world are fast expanding their portfolio to include plant-based products. India has been slow to catch up on this trend. Leading the way is ITC Ltd, manufacturer of many familiar brands including Aashirvaad Atta and several ready-to-eat dishes from Indian cuisines.

ITC has announced its foray into the plant-based sector. The company will soon launch plant-based burger patties and nuggets that will be available through retail, e-commerce and food service establishments, initially available in country’s top 8 cities. In this venture The non-profit entity Good Food Institute India (GFI India) will provide product and positioning strategy.

In an article on Business Standard Varun Deshpande, MD, says, "Smart protein and plant-based meats are a generational opportunity to align planetary health stewardship, public health resilience, and economic growth. While entrepreneurs are blazing a trail in building the category, mega-corporations with their distribution heft, deep R & D capabilities, and intimate involvement in consumers' lives can take a nascent phenomenon to the next level. ITC Ltd's visionary foray into plant-based meats and focus on providing non-vegetarian eaters with the meat products they know and love will further accelerate the sector, bringing delicious, sustainable protein into the true mass market and onto plates across the country."

Hemant Malik, Divisional Chief Executive - Foods, ITC Ltd said "There is no large pan-Indian brand in the plant-based protein segment in India. We have worked with some global partners to ensure there is no compromise either on the product texture, quality, and taste. We want to enjoy the early mover advantage in India. The meat market is huge with 72 per cent of Indians being non-vegetarians and [the market] is estimated today at $45 billion. Given the growing concerns around wellness and sustainability, India has the potential to emerge as a large market for plant-based alternatives.”