What is sesame oil all about? We get the low­down from Lim Kay Kheng, the sales and mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor of home­grown Singapore brand Chee Seng Sesame Oil.


The fi­nal points of sesame oil

Fra­grant and nutty with a dis­tinc­tive aroma and taste, sesame oil is an in­dis­pens­able in­gre­di­ent in the Asian kitchen. Its uses are myr­iad—as a sea­son­ing, a mari­nade, as a cooking oil or in­creas­ingly, even as a dress­ing. Be­yond the kitchen, sesame oil is also used in al­ter­na­tive medicine and treat­ments, such as in the tra­di­tional Indian holis­tic healing sys­tem of Ayurveda. There are many dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties of sesame oil on the mar­ket—the cold-pressed va­ri­ety pop­u­lar in Western health shops; Indian sesame oil, bet­ter known as gin­gelly; and of course, the roasted sesame oil most Asian cooks are fa­mil­iar with.

Sesame oil is pro­duced by press­ing the seeds of the sesame plant, which can be found in the trop­ics, from Tan­za­nia and the Su­dan to India, parts of China and Myan­mar. At Chee Seng, one of Singapore’s most wellloved house­hold sesame brands, sesame oil is pro­duced from seeds sourced from all over the world. They are first cleaned, then roasted and pressed to re­lease their oil.

We speak to Lim Kay Kheng of Chee Seng Sesame Oil about the finer points of this fra­grant condi­ment.

What are the key dif­fer­ences be­tween white and black sesame seeds and the oil they pro­duce? The key dif­fer­ence be­tween white and black sesame seeds is the colour of the husk. There are many va­ri­eties and colours of sesame seed in­clud­ing brown, gold, red and of course, black and white. In terms of taste, aroma and nu­tri­tion, there are very sub­tle dif­fer­ences be­tween the two. At Chee Seng, we choose qual­ity black and white sesame seeds, and process them care­fully to en­sure a rich flavour and nutty taste.

Some pro­duc­ers over-roast the seeds to give their sesame oil an ex­tra boost of flavour, and mar­ket it as black sesame oil. But this tends to give a bit­ter­ness that’s not very pleas­ant at all.

What are some of the health ben­e­fits of sesame oil?

Sesame oil has nu­mer­ous health ben­e­fits. It is rich in vi­ta­mins—the most sig­nif­i­cant be­ing vi­ta­min A, vi­ta­min B and vi­ta­min E—and has anti-ox­i­dant and an­tibac­te­rial prop­er­ties.

The main nu­tri­ents in the sesame seeds are mo­noun­sat­u­rated and polyun­sat­u­rated fatty acids, pro­tein, fi­bre, cal­cium, iron and vi­ta­min E. The two main fatty acids in sesame are oleic and linoleic fatty acids, which are both rich in omega-6. Oleic acid helps to lower harm­ful choles­terol (low den­sity lipopro­tein) and pro­motes good choles­terol (high den­sity lipo-pro­tein) in the body. Linoleic acid is needed as a build­ing com­po­nent of lipo-pro­tein. As our body can­not pro­duce this fatty acid, we have to ob­tain it through what we eat.

There are also nat­u­ral an­tiox­i­dants in sesame. One of which is vi­ta­min E, a fat-

Lim Kay Kheng is the sales and mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor of Chee Seng Sesame Oil, one of Singapore’s best­loved sesame oil.

sol­u­ble an­tiox­i­dant that pro­tects the body from harm­ful ox­i­diz­ing com­pounds. It is also good for the heart and ner­vous sys­tem. Other an­tiox­i­dants present in­clude sesamin, sesamolin and sesamol.

Stud­ies have also shown that sesame oil helps to in­hibit the pro­lif­er­a­tion of my­cobac­terium tu­ber­cu­lo­sis.

Should we use sesame oil to cook?

Roasted sesame oil can be used for light cooking, but not deep-fry­ing as it has a low smoke point and dis­tinct fra­grance. Sesame oil is mainly used for mar­i­nat­ing and as a sea­son­ing. Of course, there are ex­cep­tions such as in con­fine­ment dishes, where sesame oil is used lib­er­ally. The Chi­nese be­lieve that sesame oil helps to ex­pel ‘wind’ and nour­ish the body af­ter child­birth, hence the heavy use of sesame oil in con­fine­ment dishes such as sesame oil chicken.

How should we store sesame oil in the

home kitchen? Store sesame oil in a cool dry area, away from the stove, heat and sun­light.

How long does sesame oil keep?

Sealed bot­tles of sesame oil can last up to four years. Once opened, it can last four to six months be­fore it turns ran­cid.

How does one judge the qual­ity of a sesame oil?

A good qual­ity sesame oil should have a strong nutty fra­grance of sesame. The oil should be light clear, brown in colour, sim­i­lar to that of a whisky. On the palate, it should taste clean, and not bit­ter or “oily”.

What are some pop­u­lar mis­con­cep­tions about sesame oil?

Some peo­ple mis­tak­enly think that as it is an oil, it is un­healthy. That’s clearly un­true as sesame oil has many health ben­e­fits. An­other mis­con­cep­tion is that black sesame oil should be black in colour. While the sesame seed used is in­deed black in colour, the colour of the oil should be a clear whisky brown.

Sesame plant

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