For many people, their only exposure to sesame seeds are those that are sprinkled on top of a sandwich bun or a bagel. However, you may be interested to learn that sesame seeds are so much more than a garnish. They can offer a nutritional boost and be good for your health too.
Sesame seeds come in two colors; black and white. White sesame seeds, called Bai Zhi Ma in Chinese medicine, are actually native to parts of Africa and South America. They’re the ones you find on buns and bagels, because of their mild flavor.
Black sesame seeds, or Hei Zhi Ma in Chinese medicine, are native to Southeast Asian countries, including Myanmar, China and India. They’re more crispy or crunchy than white sesame seeds and have a stronger nutty flavor. Black sesame seeds are also a part of the Chinese herbal formulary, whereas the white seeds are not.
As a Chinese herb, Hei Zhi Ma is a Yin tonic, which means it helps fortify and moisten your body. It’s used to nourish Yin of the Liver or Kidney organ system as a way to support your blood, eyes, the health of your hair, and is helpful in recovering from severe illness. Hei Zi Ma might be included in a formula to treat eye problems, such as blurry vision or red, irritated eyes or ringing in your ears, a condition called tinnitus. These healthy little seeds can also treat a condition called internal wind, with symptoms such as dizziness, vertigo, headaches or numbness and tingling of your extremities. In addition, the moistening properties of Hei Zi Ma makes it an ingredient in herbal formulas for moistening the intestines as a way to treat dry constipation.
Sesame seeds are also a nutritional powerhouse. They’re rich in calcium, magnesium, iron, copper and manganese. They are also a good source of lignans, which are a type of phytoestrogen that scientists have found can lower your risk of heart disease, decrease the symptoms of menopause, and reduce your risk for osteoporosis and breast cancer. In addition, they’re packed with antioxidants, which help decrease the damage to your body from oxidative stress. And while both black and white sesame seeds are nutritionally beneficial, black sesame seeds pack in more of these nutrients than the white seeds.
If you’re wondering how to include more sesame seeds into your diet, especially black sesame seeds, there are a number of possibilities, including:
- Sprinkle them on top of salads
- Add them to vegetables for a crisp nutty flavor
- Toss sesame seeds into noodle and rice dishes
- Add them into breads, muffins and other baked goods
- Try a crunchy sesame seed coating for baked fish
- You can also find sesame seeds that are ground up in the form of smooth tahini paste or extracted into oil for salads and cooking
- And if all else fails, you can find sesame seed powder in capsule form
The bottom line is that sesame seeds are more than a decoration for bagels and buns. Think of them as a way to support your blood, moisten your body, promote recovery from illness and as a tiny, yet potent nutritional boost. And when you can, choose black sesame seeds; they offer more in the way of flavor, texture, nutrition and health benefits.
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Dr. Jeda Boughton is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Registered Acupuncturist in Vancouver. She is also a Registered Herbologist and the founder of BodaHealth.