What Is Sesame Oil?

Sesamie oil in a bowl between white and black sesame seeds

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Sesame oil is expressed from the seed of the sesame plant. There are multiple varieties on the market today, each offering unique cooking properties and flavors. Sesame oils are a common ingredient in Asian cuisine but have also begun to gain popularity in the United States.

Sesame oil is not only prized for its flavor but has high antioxidant content. Sesame seeds contain a large amount of vitamin E, which is fat soluble and is retained in the oil when it is expressed.


Each variety of sesame oil has properties that make it suitable for different types of cooking. Make sure you know which type of sesame oil to use for your recipe to ensure maximum flavor.

  • Unrefined sesame oil: Unrefined sesame oil has a light amber color and provides a nutty flavor. Unrefined sesame oil has a high smoke point, which makes it suitable for stir-frying. Since it also contains the most antioxidants, unrefined sesame oil is also the least prone to rancidity. In addition to retaining its flavor and antioxidant content, unrefined sesame oil also contains a variety of other vitamins and minerals, such as magnesium, copper, calcium, and Vitamin B6.
  • Refined sesame oil: Refined sesame oil has a light color and a neutral flavor. It has a higher smoke point than unrefined sesame oil, making it not only good for ​stir-frying but also deep frying. Refined sesame oil is considered a neutral oil and will not impart additional flavors to the foods cooked in it.
  • Toasted sesame oil: Toasted sesame oil has a deep golden brown color because the sesame seeds have been toasted prior to expelling the oil. The toasting process also provides a very rich, nutty flavor. The flavor of toasted sesame oil is quite strong, and often only a small amount is needed to add intense flavor. Toasted sesame oil has the lowest smoke point of the three and is therefore not well suited for stir-frying or deep frying. In fact, toasted sesame oil is most often used as a flavoring oil, rather than cooking oil. Toasted sesame oil is often added to dressings, marinades, and dips for an extra burst of nutty flavor.

Purchasing and Storage

Refined and unrefined sesame oils can be found near other cooking oils, such as olive oil, in the grocery store. Larger grocers, specialty grocers, and natural food stores are likely to carry a wider selection of sesame oils. Organic sesame oil can also often be found in the organic ingredient section of larger grocery stores.

Toasted sesame oil is most likely found in the Asian or ethnic ingredient aisle in most grocery stores. It is usually sold in small bottles, as it is very strongly flavored and only a little is used at a time.

Since sesame oil has a high amount of antioxidants, it can be stored for long periods of time before turning rancid. Regardless, oil should always be stored in a cool, dark place, away from sunlight. Always store oil in an air-tight container to prevent exposure to oxygen, insects, and other debris. There is no definitive guide for how long sesame oil will stay fresh, as it is largely determined by a variety of storage conditions. If at any time your sesame oil develops an off-color or aroma, it should be discarded.