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Sesame has a long history of cultivation dating back 6,000 years and has been recognized by ancient civilizations as having health-­giving properties: historical accounts show that the women of ancient Babylon would eat halva (a mixture of honey and sesame seeds) to prolong their youth and beauty, while Roman soldiers ate sesame seeds and honey to give them strength and energy.

The seeds are exceptionally rich in iron, magnesium, manganese, copper, and calcium (90 mg per tablespoon for unhulled seeds, 10 mg for hulled), and contain vitamins A, B and E. They also contain lingans which are phytoestrogens with antioxidant and anti-­cancer properties. Sesame seeds also contain phytosterols associated with reduced levels of blood cholesterol. The nutrients of sesame seeds can be better absorbed if they are ground or pulverized to a paste before consumption, as in tahini, or extracted in oil form.

Research shows that sesame seed oil is a potent antioxidant. In comparison to other commonly used plant-­derived edible oils, sesame oil has the highest antioxidant content. The rich oil that is extracted from the seeds is very stable and contains an antioxidant system comprising sesamol and sesamolinol formed from sesamolin, which substantially reduce its oxidation rate. If properly stored, sesame oil is not likely to go rancid, making it popular as a cooking oil. It contains linoleic acid and alpha linoleic acid as well as lecithin, and this may go some way to explaining its benefit to the brain and nervous system. Like olive oil, sesame oil is considered good for lowering harmful cholesterol levels. Sesame oil also has a history as being used as a healing agent due to its antibacterial, antiviral and anti inflammatory properties.