Origins and cultivation

Sesame is a crop of African origin, now also common in tropical and sub-tropical Asia extending to the Mediterranean area. There is an archeological evidence dating c. 2000 BC of use of sesame seeds in the Indus Valley.


Also called 'sim-sim' in East Africa, 'benniseed' in West Africa and 'til' in India, sesame is a small, oval oil seed with a nutty flavor and a slight crunch containing 45-55 per cent oil. Sesame seeds come in a variety of colors, from creamy-white to black. The largest producing countries in order of importance are India, China, Myanmar and the African countries like Sudan and Nigeria. It is an annual, propagated by seed and takes 3-5 months to mature. In harvesting, farmers cut the whole plants stack them in upright position. As they dry, the seed capsules split open and the farmers then turn the plants upside down and shake them to release and collect the seeds on a cloth.


Sesame seeds find use in human diet in various ways, the major use being extracted oil used in cooking, salad dressing and margarine making. In Asian countries, the seeds are used to make sweetmeats. In India, people mix sesame seeds with fennel seeds and salt and heat the mixture over mild flame to prepare an after meal mouth freshener. Many tropical families stew the seeds whole and add them to breads and bun tops.

Nutritional value

Sesame seeds are rich in minerals such as iron, calcium, magnesium and copper and vitamins B1 and E. Its medicinal benefits include pytoestrogens having anti cancer and antioxidant properties. The sesame cake left after extraction of oil is an important protein-rich stock feed.

- From December to April     : Burkina Faso & Mali
- From January to April         : Senegal, Guinea Bissau