What Is Sesame Oil?

Buying, Cooking, and Recipes

Sesame seeds and 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 Indian, and Middle Eastern cuisine. Light sesame oil is typically used as a neutral cooking oil, while toasted sesame oil is used as a flavoring in sauces, soups, and other dishes.

Fast Facts

  • Cuisines: Asian and Middle Eastern
  • Smoke Point: 450 F
  • Flavor: toasted sesame oil has a strong nutty and toasty taste
  • Storage: a cool, dark place or 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; 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. 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.

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 With Sesame Oil

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.

Dark sesame oil 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 at 450 F. 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.

Sesame Oil 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.

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Where to Buy Sesame Oil

Toasted sesame oil can usually be found in the Asian section of major supermarkets. It is often sold individually in glass or plastic bottles, but it can sometimes be found in larger jugs, especially at bulk food stores. For more options, visit an Asian market, where you can typically find a few brands along with light sesame oil. Look for an oil that's 100 percent 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 for 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 percent monounsaturated fat, 42 percent polyunsaturated fat, and 8 percent saturated fat.

Note that sesame is a common allergen, and many individuals allergic to sesame seeds are also allergic to the oil. Even if no seeds are present, if cooking for a crowd, be sure to let diners know that sesame oil was used in the preparation. The light or cold-pressed variety is also used in Ayurvedic medicine.