Crisp black sesame seeds are my latest discovery at the Japanese market. They’re great for giving a rich, nutty flavor to just about anything, and they look striking as a garnish, too. As people throughout Asia have known for thousands of years, sesame seeds have powerful health properties.
Doctors of traditional Chinese medicine prescribe black sesame seeds for increasing energy, relieving joint pain, and for nourishing dry skin and thinning hair. In China, black sesame seeds are used everywhere from stir-fries to desserts to the ever-present toasted sesame oil.
In the west, black sesame seeds are known to be a great source of both calcium and magnesium, and they’re highly recommended for preventing osteoporosis. The key to making the calcium available for absorption in your body is to grind the seeds. Just put them in a mortar and pestle or an electric spice grinder and grind enough to last for a month or so, or fill a pepper grinder and grind the seeds as needed.
In Japan, sesame seeds are part of an everyday seasoning called gomasio, a mix of ground sesame seeds and salt. Gomasio is used to season food just like salt, but because it has so much flavor from the sesame seeds, you use a lot less salt. Mix up a batch of gomasio and keep it on your table with the salt and pepper. Add a spoonful to baked goods, breakfast cereal, or the flour coating for fish. Look for black sesame seeds in health food stores and Asian food stores, or order online from a reputable spice company like Penzey’s.
The traditional Japanese way to make gomasio is to grind it by hand in a suribachi, a Japanese mortar and pestle. Hand grinding is believed to preserve more nutrients than electric grinding. Avoid storing the gomasio in plastic, as it contains toxins that can leach into fat-soluble foods like sesame seeds.
- 1 cup black sesame seeds
- 1 rounded tablespoon sea salt
If the sesame seeds are raw, toast them in a 350-degree oven for about 5-10 minutes, until you just start to smell the seeds. Transfer the seeds to a plate and cool to room temperature.
Combine the seeds and salt in a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder. If grinding by hand, mix until the sesame seeds turn into a coarse, textured powder. If using a spice grinder, pulse for a few seconds at a time, and grind until the seeds are just broken down. Overgrinding can turn the mixture into a paste.
Store in a clean, dry container at room temperature.
Louisa Shafia is a cook with a passion for healthy eating. She recently penned Lucid Food: Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life, a collection of seasonal recipes and eco-friendly advice on food. To watch her cooking videos, see her recipes, and find out about her cooking classes, go to lucidfood.com.