Sesame seeds, or Sesamum indicum, grow in tropical regions and are native to Africa and India. Cultivated for its edible seeds, which grow in pods, the annual global harvest for sesame seeds is over 6.2 million metric tonnes, with Ethiopia, Sudan and India as the largest producers.
Sesame was first used as an ingredient over 3,000 years ago, making it one of the oldest oilseed crops. The seeds are grown primarily for their oil content and feature one of the highest oil contents of any seed. It is a popular ingredient around the world due to its rich, nutty flavour. It is very tolerant to drought-like conditions and will grow where other crops will fail, however the best yields come from properly fertilised farms.
There are different qualities and types of sesame seeds. White seeds are a white-to-golden colour and are used primarily in hulled or natural form. Due to their consistent and aesthetic appearance, white seeds are perceived to be of higher quality by consumers and receive a higher market price than mixed seeds. Mixed seeds can range from yellow to dark brown in colour with immature or off-sized seeds generally crushed and used in sesame oil production. Black sesame seeds are smaller than the white seed and provide a rich source of calcium and magnesium and are used in non-dairy milk powders and other premium applications.
Sesame seeds are very healthy, which make them very popular. They are packed with fibre, vitamins, organic compounds such as sesamolin, as well as minerals like copper, calcium, iron, and manganese. Major help benefits include improved blood circulation and digestion to bone strength and inflammation.
The main usage of sesame, apart from oil production, is in food manufacturing and applied to bakery and confectionery products. The British food processing industry, in particular, uses sesame seeds in its breakfast cereals, snack bars and ethnic foods such as sushi and hummus. Whilst the bakery and confectionery manufacturers use them on the surface of breads to enrich flavour and add perceived value and health benefits to their products. Sesame seeds are classified into 3 main grades, which also relate to the end-use of the seed 1) crushing grade 2) food grade and 3) bakery/confectionery grade.
The European market primarily uses sesame seeds for toppings on bakery products. Sesame oil, particularly from roasted seed, is an important component of Japanese cooking and traditionally the principal use of the seed. China is the second-largest importer of sesame, mostly oil-grade. Other major importers are the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, Turkey, and France.
Changing consumption patterns, innovation in food products and increasing health awareness, especially in European countries, is resulting in a higher demand for sesame seeds. African countries are expected to dominate the sesame seed market, in terms of production and export, while Asian imports are expected to increase.
The global organic sesame seed market is also projected to expand significantly due to change in lifestyles coupled with the rise in ready-to-eat products. There is also increased demand for organic sesame seed in animal feed products as a result of its high protein content, as well as in cosmetics and medicines.