Sesame oil is one of the secret weapons of making great Asian-inspired meals. Sesame oil is versatile–you can use it as an ingredient in salad dressing, you can use it to cook gyoza or even as a seasoning for a bowl of noodles.
Some people gravitate toward extra-virgin olive oil in their cooking, but sesame oil’s nutty, rich flavor makes it something you should always have on hand if you’re a fan of Thai, Japanese, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, or Chinese-inspired cooking.
Sesame oil is made by crushing sesame seeds and extracting the oil using either hot or cold press techniques. Cold-pressed sesame oil is preferable as it has not lost nutrients during the extraction process. Hot-pressed sesame oil may have fewer nutrients or even no nutrients depending on the nature of the extraction.
Some sesame oil is dark, but some varieties are light in a similar fashion to olive oil. Some are meant for salads and other food prep that needs a mild flavor, while other varieties may be more suitable when a strong sesame flavor is needed.
Sesame oil is low in saturated fat, and is said to be full of Omega-3, Omega-6, and other healthy fats. A tablespoon of sesame oil packs about 120 calories, which is roughly about the calorie count of a Kind Bar or about 20 calories more than a large apple.
Sesame oil is said to have compounds including something called sesamol which is an antioxidant, and said to be key in maintaining the freshness of the oil.
Sesame oil is, like many other types of cooking oil, best stored in a cool, dark place. Your experience may vary but multiple sources say it can be stored for up to three years under such conditions.
When it’s time to use, know that sesame oil has a smoke point of 410 degrees (Fahrenheit). Compare that to extra virgin olive oil which has a smoke point of up to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, and light olive oil which has a smoke point as high as 470 Fahrenheit. Avocado oil has the highest smoke point of most cooking oils, topping out at over 500 degrees.
Sesame oil has a higher smoke point than some, but it’s still best to be conservative with the temperatures as sesame oil can develop an unpleasant flavor (to some) if it’s treated like avocado oil and subjected to higher cooking temps. Sesame oil can develop a burned flavor if it gets too hot.
When using sesame oil. It’s good to be aware of how that flavor will interact with the other flavors and textures you are cooking with. For example, make a bowl of ramen noodles all by themselves with no flavor packet or soy sauce, and you basically have a bowl of starch. But add a tablespoon of sesame oil and a bit of salt and you have something far more rich and flavorful.
Sesame oil pairs well with dishes prepared with any combination of ingredients such as garlic, ginger, soy sauce, tamari, hot chilis, meat or veg seasoned with cumin, plus cabbage, cucumber, cilantro, and many other ingredients.
Some people even use sesame oil as a skin care product, believe it or not. Some like it for its B and E vitamins, others may prefer to use it to help soothe rashes or to apply to dry skin. Not all ingredients are quite this versatile, but sesame oil is!
Types of Sesame Oil & Sesame Seeds
There are 3 varieties of sesame seeds that can range from light brown to black. These varieties are pressed plain seeds or toasted seeds, and they are used in different ways in Chinese, Japanese, South Indian, and Middle Eastern cuisine.
Sesame oils have many names depending on the sesame seed variety, pressing method, pureness, organic and other factors. Here are a few types of sesame oils that can be found in stores.
- Black Sesame Oil: Pressed from black sesame seeds.
- Dark Sesame Oil: Pressed from toasted sesame seeds, which give it a coffee-like hue.
- Cold Pressed Sesame Oil: The oil is extracted at room temperature without adding chemicals and preservatives and any external heat. If it doesn’t say cold-pressed one can assume heat was using in the pressing process.
- Light Sesame Oil: Made from raw sesame seeds, same as untoasted.
- Organic Sesame Oil: USDA certified as organically grown.
- Pure Sesame Oil: Pressed from uncooked sesame seeds.
- Toasted Sesame Oil: The seeds are toasted before being pressed.
- Untoasted Sesame Oil: As the name implies the seeds as are NOT toasted.