Sesame seeds, benniseed
(Sesamum indicum – Family Pedaliaceae)
Sesame seeds have been cultivated since time immemorial in various parts of Asia and Africa and consumed as food. Their use in European countries, however, has largely been in the form of their oil. The oil was used in Babylonian times and in ancient Egypt. The Hindus ground the seeds and used it as food. After being parched and ground into a meal, the Arabs called the result “rehshee.” In Asia, sesame seeds are highly prized and used in many of their culinary dishes as a topping, or in confections. In Greece, the seeds are made into cakes. These tiny seeds have been prominent in many religious rites from various cultures.
Black benniseed is probably an adulteration with the seeds of Ceratotheca, at least in some regions like the Benue Basin. In the Gongola Valley, in particular, there are three grades of seeds: #1 is the true S. indicum, while the other two grades are mixtures, with the seeds from the Ceratotheca being prominent. However, these grades can also contain some suspected hybrids that have a light brown to blackish colour. For certain European markets, only the yellow seeds are accepted, with most being destined for Turkey. The seeds contain up to 57% oil and can be substituted for such oils as peanut or olive. A relative, the African simsim (S. orientale), also produces a very important seed oil, as well as a spice plant in Africa. The oil is not only used in cooking but also in perfumery.
Sesame seeds are very important medicinally, as seen in 1988 when the Chinese government sponsored Dr. Xu Rongxiang and gave him his own clinic. Dr. “Xu” had proven that standard burn treatments were now obsolete. Mixing finely ground sesame seeds, honey, and other substances into a simple healing salve, he applied it to severe burns. The treatment not only relieved the pain and speeded up the healing process, but also significantly reduced the scarring and drastically cut the cost of burn treatments. His center in Beijing has successfully treated tens of thousands of burn victims, as well as trained thousands of other doctors in the use of the formula. The healing salve is now marketed worldwide under the name of MEBO, which lists ingredients of sesame seeds, honey, yam root, bee propolis, and amurente. MEBO also stops the dehydration, chemical ulcers, and lacerations common in all burn wounds, as well as halting progressive necrosis of the tissue and healing the deep wounds without scarring. It is equally successful in treating hemorrhoids, scalds, diabetic leg ulcers, insect bites and stings, severe skin rashes, and, yes, even leprosy.
Similar home preparations can be made using pure sesame oil, raw honey that has had no sugar added (most supermarket honey has), powdered wormwood, goldenseal powder, and Kyolic garlic powder (for antibiotic effect). Bee propolis is also good to add since it, too, is a powerful antimicrobial. Scientists found many years ago that blending one part sesame with one part soy protein produced about the same protein value as that found in casein, the main protein in milk. The high lysine / low methionine of soy complimented the low lysine / high methionine of the sesame seed. Sesame seeds are an excellent source of protein, calcium, unsaturated fatty acids, magnesium, iron, zinc, niacin, and vitamins A and E. However, most of the nutrient content is in the hulls.
An oily, creamy paste called tahini is extracted from sesame seeds. First, the seeds are soaked in water for twenty-five hours before being crushed with a heavy hammer to loosen the bran from the kernels. The crushed seeds are again soaked in highly salted water, which is high enough to float an egg! This causes the bran to sink while the kernels are skimmed off the surface and grilled before being sent to the mill to be ground, releasing the thick oily paste. There are two types of tahini. One is a light ivory and the other is darker. The former is considered to be superior in flavour and texture. Besides being used as a spread, tahini is used in many savoury dishes and dips and in the making of halva. It is also diluted with Seville oranges and cooked to make a special sauce called “Kibbeh ‘arnabiyeh.”