Sesame oil: Powerful anti-oxidant, lowers blood pressure

The cultivation of sesame, commonly known as til ka tel or gingelly oil, is believed to have started in China. It is now native to India, Myanmar and Mexico. Sesame oil owes its unique properties to its balanced fatty acid profile, its powerful antioxidants, high Vitamin E and phyto-estrogen (lignan) content.

It is equally rich in mono-unsaturated fatty acids, MUFA, (41.5 per cent) and poly-unsaturated fatty acids, PUFA, (43.8 per cent), and it is low in saturated fats (14.6 per cent). This conforms very well to guidelines for fats and oils.

Besides fats, sesame oil is also rich in Vitamin E (40 milligrams per 100 grams), which is a good anti-oxidant. Vitamin E, besides being good for normal growth, development, skin and immunity, also protects sesame oil from rancidity, thus contributing to its long shelf life. Vitamin E also gives sesame oil an anti-ageing effect and helps it prevent chronic diseases such as cancer.

Even if sesame oil is refined, it is fine oil because of its high level of stable anti-oxidants. These anti-oxidants improve its taste. Roasted sesame oil resists rancidity due to anti-oxidants formed during seed roasting. It is popular in South India. Japanese people prepare a mix of table salt and crushed sesame seeds called Gomasia, which makes an excellent salt substitute and can help reduce blood pressure.

There are many variations in the colour of sesame oil: cold-pressed sesame oil is almost colourless, while Indian sesame oil is golden and Chinese sesame oil is a dark brown colour. Sesame oil has a high smoke point, and is suitable for frying, while heavy (dark) sesame oil (from roasted sesame seeds) has a low smoke point, and is unsuitable for frying. It is used for seasoning, particularly in East Asian cuisine.

Sesaminol inhibits lipid peroxidation (rancidity of fats), and reduces susceptibility to oxidative stress and free radical cell damage. A novel synergistic effect of sesame lignans happens with Vitamin E, which prevents the breakdown of the vitamin. This explains why sesame oil has anti-ageing properties and promotes longevity.

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