The sesame plant is a flowering plant whose seeds grow in a capsule after the flower is pollinated and dries up. The sesame seed capsule is dehiscent, which means that at a certain stage of maturity the capsule splits and the seeds burst out and scatter. Evolution may have designed the plant this way to ensure that the seeds are spread far away from the parent. But today, when sesame, or til as we know it in India, is a valuable crop, cultivated for its seeds and the oil extracted from them, this characteristic poses challenges for farmers. It is manually harvested to prevent loss of seeds due to spontaneous scattering. This explains why the production and use of gingelly oil or sesame oil is limited despite it being a healthy oil option.
Here’s a bit of trivia: It is this characteristic of the plant that the saying “Open Sesame” has come from.
Sesame is cultivated all over the world, but the largest producers are India and China. In southern India, gingelly oil is used both as a cooking medium and an external applicant in body and hair massages. Sesame, in both seed and oil forms, is also widely used in South-east Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines. It has one of the highest oil content among seeds. It is valued for its nutty flavour, especially in South-East Asian cooking.
Sesame is one of the oldest oilseeds in cultivation. The oil extracted from it – gingelly oil – is said to be one of the healthiest seed oils and can easily replace most of the oils that are used in daily cooking. The health benefits of gingelly oil have been acknowledged by both, ancient physicians and modern doctors. It has an amazing nutrient profile with notable amounts of manganese, copper, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, and smaller amounts of many others. External application of gingelly oil, too, has huge health benefits. We may be well advised to make gingelly oil a part of our daily diet and body-care routine.
Types of gingelly oil
Based on methods of cultivation, extraction and treatment there are various types of gingelly oils in the market. Each has its own distinctive property, flavour and uses.
1. Unrefined gingelly oil: This is oil which has not been treated or refined in any way and is produced from commercially grown, non-organic sesame seeds. Gingelly oil is high in anti-oxidants and the unrefined variety has the highest quantity of antioxidants of all. Therefore, unrefined gingelly oil is least prone to getting spoilt or rancid. This type of gingelly oil has a light golden amber colour and the characteristic ‘nutty’ flavour. It has a high smoke point and is most suitable for stir frying. Besides anti-oxidants, unrefined gingelly oil also has a good number of minerals such as magnesium, copper, calcium and vitamin B6 as well.
2. Refined gingelly oil: Refined gingelly oil is lighter in colour and the flavour is also less pronounced. It does not flavour the food cooked in it. It has a higher smoke point than unrefined oil and is good for methods of cooking using high heat such as deep frying.
3. Toasted gingelly oil: Toasted gingelly oil or dark gingelly oil is extracted from the sesame seed that have been toasted. It is dark in colour, rather like coffee, and has a very strong nutty flavour. It has a very low smoke point and is unsuitable for cooking. It is used as a flavouring in salads, marinades and dips. Sometimes it is added to stir fries after it has been taken off the heat to impart extra flavour. As the flavour is intense, a very small amount of the oil is needed.
4. Cold pressed gingelly oil: In cold pressed extraction, only pressure is applied to the sesame seeds to extract the oil. At no stage is any heat applied in the process of extraction. This ensures that most of the nutrients in the oil are preserved during the extraction process and the resulting oil has the richest nutrient profile of all the varieties. This process takes more time than others but the oil produced is considered better.
5. Organic gingelly oil: Organic gingelly oil, is the oil that is extracted from organically grown sesame seeds. These plants are grown without any pesticides or chemicals. These plants grow slower as they are not given growth enhancers and the yield may also be lower than non-organic crops. Organic gingelly oil is perhaps the most expensive of all.
Let us look at the benefits of switching to gingelly oil, both for cooking our food and for use as a body care oil for our hair and body externally.