Sesame, common name for about 15 species of
erect herbaceous plants native to Africa and Asia, sesame is now
found in most of the tropical, subtropical, and southern
temperate areas of the world.
The name sesame is applied especially to one of its
species that is widely cultivated for its seeds. The oil extracted from
sesame seeds is used in cooking, as salad oil, and in making margarine.
Commercially the plants are grown as annuals from seed, reaching a
height of about 2 m in three to five months. The plants are cut and
dried; as they dry, the seed capsules split open, and the seeds are
easily extracted by shaking the plants upside down.
The Chinese used Sesame 5,000 years ago, and for
centuries they have burned the oil to make soot for Chinese ink blocks.
The Romans ground sesame seeds with cumin to make a pasty spread for
bread. Once it was thought to have mystical powers, and sesame still
retains a magical quality, hence the expression "open sesame".