By Dr Harold Gunatillake Health Writer
Sesame oil, an edible vegetable oil, is obtained from the seed (Sesamum indicum). It has been given many names in different countries, but commonly known as gingelly oil. In the Tamil language the oil is called "Nalla Ennai" and in Malayalam language "Nalla Enna" (Nalla means good). In Sri Lanka it is called "Thala Thel".
The largest producers of sesame seeds are China and India, each annual harvest around 750,000 tons followed by Myanmar (425,000 tons) and Sudan (300,000 tons).
Sesame oil has been used as a type of healing oil for thousands of years. There are records in the Vedas that this oil has been used to kill common skin pathogens as well as skin fungi as in athlete's foot. It also kills the common cocci like staph and streptococcus bacteria, detected in most modern day infections.
It is most popular in South Indian cooking, and the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans use it as a flavour. It has a nutty flavour and it is used in most Asian recipes to add a bold kick to marinades, dressings, and sauces. Japan dominates the purchasing side of the trade for sesame seed, with an annual requirement up to 165,000 tons. Sesame oil, particularly from roasted seed, is an important ingredient of Japanese cooking and traditionally this is the principal use of the seed in Japan.
Sesame oil has a very high smoke point like coconut oil and is suitable for deep frying. Roasted sesame seed oil has a slightly lower smoke point and is unsuitable for deep frying, but used for stir frying of meats or vegetables. Omelets made with this oil are very delicious.
The seeds, hulled or dehulled, roasted or raw are now widely used in the European, North American and Australian bakery industry as a garnish on bread products. For bakery products it is more a question of consumer preference: the McDonald's burger buns, for example, use only the whitest grades of de-hulled seed which have been treated to maintain their whiteness on baking, whereas other bread products exploit the darker colour of the whole seeds to give aesthetic appeal.
Sesame oil is rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and it is an excellent unsaturated oil for heart health, unlike most saturated fatty acids. Peanut oil is a good substitute for sesame oil, as it has a similar flavour with nearly identical nutritional values.
In India it has been used for unblocking arteries (no studies available) and in Holland the Ayurveda physicians have used the oil in several chronic diseases, including hepatitis, diabetes and migraine. It is supposed to help in hair growth as well.
In an experiment at the Maharishi International College in Fairfield, Iowa, students rinsed their mouths with sesame oil, resulting in an 85% reduction in the bacteria which causes gingivitis.
It is found that the oil seems to nourish the skin; penetration through the skin is high. Ancient Indian medical system perceives sesame oil to pacify stress related symptom. No wonder, in Sri Lanka most people stop midway travelling from Colombo to Kandy to purchase their quota of "Thala Guli" famous as Jinadasa's, on the way side in Ambepussa. It is customary to eat a few juggery incorporated gulees (balls) before re-starting their journey, and also they take away parcel to give to the host and family friends.
Antioxidant properties; The oil penetrates the skin, and neutralises the harmful oxygen radicles (no studies available). Molecules of sesame seed oil maintain good cholesterol (HDL) and lower bad cholesterol (LDL). The oil is a source of vitamin E, considered an antioxidant.
Sesame oil is supposed to help in the regulation of cell growth, and may help in the slower replication of cancer cells.
Allergic rhinitis; Sniffing the oil when suffering from a runny nose caused by the cold virus or allergy relieves symptoms.
It helps sufferers of psoriasis and dry skin ailments. It is an excellent moisturiser for the skin. People has been successfully used it to kill louse in children's hair. It is a useful natural UV protector as well.
In Jaffna Tamil people apply sesame oil on the whole body and expose themselves to the sun frequently. The skin does not burn due to the applied oil that can block UV rays. The oil gets absorbed through the skin and nourishes it with its nutritional content.
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