What Is Sesame Oil?

Buying, Cooking, and Recipes

Sesame Oil

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Sesame oil is a cooking oil made from sesame seeds that's popular in Asian cooking. There are a few varieties made with pressed plain seeds or toasted seeds, and they are used in different ways in Chinese, Japanese, south India, and Middle Eastern cuisine.

Fast Facts

  • Popular in Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine
  • Smoke point: 450 F
  • Toasted sesame oil has a strong nutty and toasty flavor
  • Store in a cool, dark place or in the refrigerator

Varieties

Toasted sesame oil is also known as dark, black, or Asian sesame oil. The light brown to dark reddish-brown oil is made with toasted sesame seeds, and has a strong aroma and flavor. A little goes a long way, and sesame oil is often used as a finishing oil, adding nutty, toasty flavor to a hot or cold dish.

Typically, the darker the toasted sesame oil, the stronger the flavor. It can be used for low or medium heat cooking (not deep-frying) but tends to lose some of its flavor if cooked for too long or over high heat. That said, its smoke point is relatively high: 450 F.

Light sesame oil, also called white or plain sesame oil, is light in color. It's made using raw sesame seeds, resulting in high heat, low flavor oil. Plain sesame oil is best used as you would other neutral oils for frying, sautéing, roasting, stir-frying, and in salad dressings.

Cold-pressed sesame oil is made without the use of heat or chemicals. It's prized for its purity and can be found in health food stores. Blended oils are also available, combining toasted sesame oil with other oils. The result is a cheaper option with a less intense flavor.

How to Cook

Light sesame oil can be used much like canola or vegetable oil. It has a similar neutral flavor and can withstand high heat for frying or roasting. Use it to stir-fry and sauté, or use or anywhere that calls for a neutral-tasting oil. Toasted sesame oil is best used in low heat cooking methods or added at the end or after cooking. Its strong flavor can dull if cooked for too long, so it's frequently drizzled on dishes like soups and stir-fries after cooking. It can be used in salad dressings, marinades, and sauces.

What Does It Taste Like?

Light sesame oil has a neutral oil flavor and will blend easily into any dish. Toasted sesame oil is beloved for its rich, nutty, toasty taste. It has a distinct toasted sesame aroma and adds a punch of flavor to recipes.

Recipes

Toasted sesame oil adds a deliciously nutty dimension to a wide range of dishes. Try using a splash in salad dressing, in a marinade for meat or tofu, or drizzled over noodles, soup, or dips like hummus.

Where to Buy

Toasted sesame oil can usually be found in the Asian section of major supermarkets. For more options, visit an Asian market, where you can typically find a few brands along with light sesame oil. Look for oil that's 100% sesame (not blended) and, for toasted sesame, a darker color usually equals a stronger flavor.

Storage

Sesame oil has a long shelf life and can be stored in its container, with the lid screwed on tight, in a cool, dark place. Light sesame oil is best stored at room temperature and will last up to a year. Toasted sesame has a slightly shorter shelf life, but will still last for many months under ideal conditions. It can also be stored in the fridge, extending its life even longer. The oil will be slightly thicker when cold but still easily pourable.

Nutrition and Benefits

Since sesame oil is typically consumed in small amounts, the nutritional benefits are largely negligible. A 10-gram serving has 88 calories, similar to olive oil. Sesame oil is composed of 40% monounsaturated fat, 42% polyunsaturated fat, and 8% saturated fat.

Note that sesame is a common allergy, and many individuals allergic to sesame are also allergic to the oil. The light or cold-pressed variety is also used in Ayurvedic medicine.