Over the years, oils of all varieties have come under the heat. One moment they’re hailed as the next superfood and the next they’re vilified as carcinogens.
The media loves a great “super” story and the one thing you can usually count on is that whenever something is sensationalized in mainstream media without a lot of backup from the medical world, there’s probably a grain of truth and a whole lot of speculation.
Sesame oil has recently taken center stage as one of the best oils to eat for both health and flavor.
We did plenty of behind-the-scenes research as well. It turns out that, just like with most things in life, sesame oil comes with a long list of benefits but does have a few risks as well. The good news is that yes, sesame oil is good for cooking, but there’s a lot more to the story than just your next stir-fry.
Read on to find out if sesame oil is good for cooking and check some of our recommendations.
A Healthy Look at Sesame Oil
There are two sides to every coin. Sesame oil is neither all good, nor all bad.
First of all, every individual body is unique, and some people will digest sesame oil really well while it may cause others a few digestive issues. On average, sesame oil has a powerful set of health benefits, but there are a few drawbacks that are important to note as well.
Benefits of Sesame Oil
There are a lot of great reasons to add sesame products to your diet, including sesame oil.
First of all, sesame oil is well known for being a great source of both mono and polyunsaturated fats, which reduce your risk of heart disease and lower your blood pressure.
The days of fat fear are well behind us but knowing which fats to eat more of is still important, and sesame oil is definitely on the “healthy” side of the debate.
Sesame seeds are also a great source of vitamins and minerals. Depending on whether you choose unrefined, refined or toasted sesame oil for cooking with, the nutritional potency will vary. You can expect to get at least some of the following nutrients:
- Vitamins: B vitamins are great for providing you with energy and vitamin E is good for your skin.
- Minerals: Iron, magnesium, calcium and phosphorus are all available in good supply, but zinc and copper are the real powerhouses. They’re both good for your red blood cells, blood circulation and metabolism. Zinc also helps with collagen production and immune function, and copper is also an anti-inflammatory agent.
- Antioxidants: These nutrients fight off free radicals that cause inflammation, cancer, aging, and diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Risks of Sesame Oil
The biggest risk of sesame oil is an allergic reaction, which is fairly rare. As with most foods, if you have a lot of sensitivities, especially to nuts or seeds, it’s always a good idea to test a small amount safely before consuming large quantities of anything new.
Beyond allergies, sesame oil is…an oil. This means that it’s very high in fat and should be moderated in your diet. Oils are easy to overconsume because they contain a lot of calories in a very small quantity.
If you’re watching your calories or macros, you’ll want to measure your sesame oil so that you don’t accidentally sabotage your other health efforts.
If you have low blood pressure, monitor your intake of sesame oil because it can lower it even further.
Finally, this isn’t really a risk but it’s a good idea to store opened sesame oil in your fridge to keep it from going rancid. If you happen to eat sesame oil that has gone bad, it might taste unpleasant, but it’s unlikely to make you sick. With proper storage though, high-quality sesame oil will last for a year or more.
How to Use Sesame Oil in Cooking
One of the greatest non-health benefits of sesame oil is how incredibly versatile it is. You can use it uncooked, you can bake with it, and you can most certainly use it for frying or toasting, so long as you are careful about your heat levels.
Unrefined sesame oil has a smoke point of around 350F, which means that it won’t start to burn until it hits that temperature. Refined sesame oil has a higher smoke point, of around 450F, but it’s more highly processed which takes out a great deal of the nutrition and flavor.
Finally, you have toasted or roasted sesame oil, which is extracted after the seed has been toasted. It has the lowest smoke point, so you don’t necessarily want to cook with this variety, but it has an incredible nutty flavor that is ideal for uncooked usage.
Any way you use it, sesame oil is guaranteed to add a healthy dose of yummy, slightly nutty, flavor.
Using Uncooked Sesame Oil
Unrefined and toasted sesame oil has a beautiful flavor that lends itself to many different dishes that don’t require it to be cooked. Here are a few ideas for putting it to good use in your kitchen:
- Salad dressing: swap out the olive oil and make yourself an Asian-inspired dressing using flavorings like honey, soy sauce, orange juice, and rice vinegar.
- Dips: many recipes like homemade hummus or bean dips call for a combination of olive oil and tahini. If you want even more flavor, enhance your tahini – which itself is made from toasted sesame seeds – with sesame oil instead.
- Vegetables: Instead of drenching your steamed, broiled, or roasted veggies in a heavy sauce, toss them with some sesame oil and maybe a few sesame seeds as well
- Pasta or Rice: Keep your cooked pasta or rice from sticking and add great flavor while you’re at it. Just toss with a teaspoon of sesame oil.
- Supplement: many people take sesame oil supplements for their nutritional value, but it’s particularly useful for a backed-up digestive system. 1 tablespoon of sesame oil in the morning and another in the evening can help ease constipation in an oh-so-delightful way.
Baking & Boiling With Sesame Oil
Refined sesame oil has a very light, barely noticeable flavor and it will work well in a variety of different baking recipes. If you choose unrefined or toasted sesame oil, be aware that the flavor profile will be quite strong and will likely shine through in your recipe.
- Marinades: no matter what protein you’re cooking for dinner, beef, pork or even tofu will be given a jolt of flavor when it’s soaked in a ginger or honey sesame marinade for a few hours prior to cooking.
- Sauces: If you’re getting a little tired of your go-to cheese, alfredo, or red sauce, try adding some sesame oil to the mix for a deep, nutty variation.
- Baking: For pastries and desserts that lend themselves well to a nutty, smoky flavor, don’t hesitate to use unrefined sesame oil. However, if you’re in a fix and you need a healthy oil that won’t be noticeable in your baking, try a refined sesame oil.
- Roasts: Meats, potatoes, squashes and just about any veggie known to man can be basted with sesame oil to pack a lot of flavor into the dish.
Fried & Toasted Sesame Oil
If you’re going to use sesame oil for frying or toasting, you don’t need to use pre-toasted oil and, in fact, you don’t want to. Toasted sesame oil has a lower smoke point than its companions and is better used at lower heats. Otherwise, sesame oil is great for frying, and many people even use it as the go to oil for their deep fryers!
If pouring multiple cups of sesame oil into a pot for a good deep fry party is out of your comfort zone, try a few of these delicious options instead:
- If you’re making scrambled eggs or omelettes for breakfast, add a few drops to the eggs as you beat them, and use a bit more in the pan as you fry.
- Brush your veggies with sesame oil before you grill them and, for even more flavor, sprinkle sesame seeds and some rock salt for some real wow factor.
- Stir fries! This is probably the most common use for sesame oil, as it’s very common and beloved in Asian kitchens. Use it for fried rice, chow mein, vegetable stir fries, or even to drizzle over ramen noodles.
- Popcorn, the best snack of all time, is even better when it’s made in a pot with a tablespoon of sesame oil. No need for butter, just a bit of salt and you’ve got a winner that’s as healthy as it is delicious and crunchy.
Non-Edible Uses of Sesame Oil
Sesame oil is not just tasty, it’s also a great solution for many day-to-day tasks that don’t include eating. Sesame seeds have a lot of nutrition packed inside their tiny hulls, and when it’s condensed into an oil, the level of nutrients that can be absorbed through your skin and hair is unbelievable. Sesame oil can even be good for your pets!
You may have heard it said that your skin is your largest organ, and it does a great job of absorbing healthy nutrients so that you don’t have to eat more calories to get more nutrition.
Sesame oil is anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory, full of Vitamin E, and, in general, a great addition to your skincare routine. Here are a few popular ways you can get some more use out of it:
- Massages: any massage is delightful and relaxing but foot massages with sesame oil have been shown to help with sleep.
- Facial care: Oils are great for cleaning and moisturizing your face and they make one heck of an effective makeup remover. With the high zinc content in sesame oil, it can help boost collagen and keep your skin more elastic – translation: fewer wrinkles!
- Cosmetics: If you happen to make your own cosmetics, you can use sesame oil as a stable carrier oil. Many commercial companies do as well!
- Natural SPF: If you’re trying to get in your 15 – 20 minutes of sun exposure, you can use sesame oil as a safe, low-level and all-natural SPF. It has an SPF of between 4 – 10, depending on quality, so it’s important you still limit your exposure and stay safe.
- Oil pulling: While technically not skin care, your dental hygiene can impact your skin and nearly every other organ in your body too. Oil pulling is an Ayurvedic technique to reduce bacteria in your mouth and keep teeth & gums healthy.
You can use sesame oil to keep your hair shiny and your scalp hydrated. Simply warm a small amount of sesame oil (not hot) and use as a hot oil scalp massage.
Not only will it feel great and relaxing, but the vitamins and minerals present in the oil will nourish your hair and scalp. You can leave the oil on as a mask for 30 minutes and then shampoo and condition as normal.
Even your pets can benefit from the nutrients and healthy fats in sesame oil. You can add a drizzle to your cat or dog’s food dish at feeding time. Just remember that animals are usually much smaller than humans – a little oil goes a long way! You can also use sesame oil on their skin to soothe and protect small cuts, scrapes, or irritated/sensitive skin.
What Is the Healthiest Oil to Cook With?
How healthy oil is to cook with depends mainly on the smoking point. Oils that are high in natural saturated fats should be eaten in moderation, but they’re great for cooking.
These include coconut oil & palm oils. Oils that are high in monounsaturated fats, like olive oil, avocado oil, and canola oil also are fairly heat stable.
While oils high in polyunsaturated fats may have health benefits, they oxidize easily when heated, which isn’t ideal, so you have to watch your temperatures closely. Polyunsaturated fats come from most seeds, walnuts, fish, soybeans, corn, and safflower.
You’ll want to avoid trans fats entirely if possible, and these include man-made oils that say, “partially hydrogenated.”
Is Sesame Oil Better for You Than Olive Oil?
Sesame oil and olive oil are both very nutrient-dense with a lot of incredible health benefits. Olive oil has a higher smoke point, making it a better choice for cooking with high heat.
The two oils have much different vitamin profiles, and they each have a variety of antioxidants so your best solution would be to use both in your eating plan in order to enjoy the unique health benefits from each of them.
They have very different flavor profiles, so when you’re making a meal more Mediterranean-inspired, opt for olive oil. If you’re making an Asian dish, you have a great opportunity to use some sesame oil.
Can You Take Sesame Oil as a Supplement?
You can take sesame oil as a supplement, and many people do. It’s been shown to be a great source of antioxidants and a powerful anti-inflammatory agent. Studies have shown that as a supplement it can be effective in lowering your risk of heart disease.
Even though supplements aren’t regulated, it’s always best to discuss any new supplements with your doctor before adding them to your daily routine, especially if you’re currently taking any medications.
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