How to toast sesame seeds

Although they are small in size, pale sesame seeds can provide a powerful punch of nutrition and flavor into any dish once they become golden brown. I’m constantly on the look-out for what I call ‘flavor boosts’, items used in minimal amounts but which give maximum flavor. Sesame seeds are one of my favorite flavor boosts, but be warned that sesame seeds are bland unless you carefully toast them.

While growing up, my mother never used sesame seeds. My only real interaction with them was sadly, at McDonald’s on the Big Mac – two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun. I never would have guessed how much I would come to love those itty-bitty seeds.

When I first started to use sesame seeds, I didn’t know how to toast them and burnt the first batch. Although many experienced cooks know how to toast sesame seeds, I thought this post might be useful for those new to cooking. We’ve all been there and the more help, the better.

I only started using sesame seeds in the past eight years but find myself sprinkling them on nearly everything at this point. Although you can purchase them pre-toasted, I strongly advise against it. The toasting process exposes the oils in the seed and when toasted seeds sit around, they quickly become rancid. I’ve tried pre-toasted sesame needs but found the flavor to be less than ideal.

You should purchase raw sesame seeds which can be found at nearly every market. I find that I get the best deal at Asian markets where sesame seeds are often used. I purchased a huge bottle the other day for $3.

The toasting process is simple and takes all of 3-4 minutes. It’s important that you carefully watch over the seeds during the full 3-4 minutes as they can burn in a matter of seconds – do not answer the phone, do not look away to mind the dog, do not daydream. This is not the time ponder whether Brad Pitt wears boxers or briefs.

Begin by placing a small pan or skillet over a medium heat burner. I use a small cast iron skillet (I love cast iron). It’s important that your skillet is dry and free of any oil. Add your sesame seeds and shake the pan so that they are evenly spread in a thin layer. As the seeds heat, you will see them begin to glisten with their natural oils. Shake the pan every 20 seconds or so, I often use a wooden spoon to stir them around.

Somewhere around 2 minutes is when my seeds visually begin to take on color. You are shooting for a light to medium caramel color. When you reach this color, turn off the burner and remove the skillet from the heat. I find that the heat in my skillet will continue to cook the seeds so I recommend immediately removing from the skillet as well. Place them into a bowl or on a plate to cool.

I use sesame seeds in everything, from soups and salads to desserts. The nutty flavor livens up noodle dishes especially well. I took a quick look through my online recipes to give you a few ideas.

Where should you sprinkle your sesame seeds?

Toasted Sesame Seed on Foodista

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Christie @ fig & cherry July 24, 2008, 2:39 am

    Great post Allen! I love sesame seeds too. Perfect sprinkled on salads, rice and ice cream – yep, you read right. It might be a bit unconventional, but a really tasty way to make ice cream taste a little less sweet and deliciously savoury. Yum.

  • Peter G July 24, 2008, 2:46 am

    Great tips Allen…very useful. “this is not the time to wonder if Brad Pitt wears boxers or briefs…”…ROFL!

  • Manggy July 24, 2008, 3:07 am

    I think I should give up my Asian Membership Card because I’m not a huge fan of sesame seeds– at least not when their flavor is too concentrated and out there. I blame this on an unfortunate event involving chocolate cake. I once ate a nice fudgy cake with thick ganache icing and caramel filling, but the caramel was tainted with sesame seeds. Hundreds and thousands of them. Needless to say I hated it and scraped the whole mess off…

    … But I don’t think it’s sad that your first encounter is in a Big Mac. That’s all good stuff ;) I like them when they’re just used as a coating (sticky Chinese treats) or sprinkling. But I’m still too traumatized to try tahini!

  • Erin July 24, 2008, 4:52 am

    You said the magic word: spicy tuna roll. Yes please!

  • Ben July 24, 2008, 8:42 am

    Great tip Allen… boxers or briefs, sorry but I can’t get passed that image. I vote for briefs ;)

  • Allen July 24, 2008, 11:26 am

    Christie: On ice cream? You rock!

    Peter G: I think it’s boxers …

    Manggy: Oh, I already revoked your Asian membership card months ago — haha! You make way too many tarts and cakes :-)

    Erin: I know, spicy tuna rolls are my fave.

    Ben: I should have included a 3rd option … ‘commando’ (aka nothing at all).

  • lovesitc July 24, 2008, 5:50 pm

    I recently found your blog and subscribed to it. I just wanted to let you know how much I am enjoying your posts and this blog. You are a terrific writer and your love of food/cooking really comes across in your posts. Thanks a lot!

    Tamara

  • worldfoodieguide July 25, 2008, 3:02 am

    Very useful post Allen! I did this the other day when I made some Japanese beans with miso and sesame paste dressing. I was a bit alarmed when they started to pop, which is when I took them off the heat. By then, they were lovely and golden…

  • Donal July 25, 2008, 5:08 am

    Great tips for sesame seeds! Cool blog!

  • Helen July 29, 2008, 3:00 am

    I think you had it right there in the first sentence with ‘carefully toast’ Allen! Those seeds really turn quickly. I’m totally with you on the flavour boosters thing though – nutritious and non-fattening ways to boost the flavour and keep your tastebuds satisfied.

  • Michelle April 11, 2009, 4:07 pm

    I love sesame seeds and now put them in some of my bread dough recipes for extra flavor. I never tried toasting them, but will from now on! Thanks!

  • Dipasa sesame seed April 15, 2009, 12:56 pm

    As one of the world’s largest producers of sesame seed and sesame oil we are always thrilled to see this kind of articles sharing our enthusiasm for sesame. A lot of people only know sesame seed as a decoration on their hamburger but there is so much more to it then just that.
    For instance Tahini is a paste made of sesame seeds which is very high in protein but also very delicious. Sesame oil is not only an edible oil but it is also used in cosmetic products because of it’s natural antioxidants which slow down the aging process of skin cells. There is really a lot to this little seed.
    Keep up the good work spreading the word and if you ever need any specialist information please contact us.

  • Lynn Redmond June 7, 2009, 10:36 pm

    Should I buy hulled or unhulled sesame seeds for roasting? Is there flavor or nutritional advantages of either? Thank you!

  • LAM, LIO KING June 29, 2009, 10:28 pm

    SESAME SEED IS VERY GOOD FOR HEALTH, I ONLY WANT TO KNOW ABOUT SESAME COMPRESS

  • alka December 9, 2009, 4:35 pm

    In India, sesame seeds are used extensively ,specially in winters. They are considered warm. A simple recipe-
    Dry roast 1/2 cup white sesame seeds to pink color. (You may also add some black sesame seeds if available but it is harder to tell how much to toast them because of their dark color).Cool them off in a plate..
    Then grind cooled seeds in a grinder with almost equal amount (or to taste)of sugar.
    Ready to eat dry sweet.You can store it in an airtight jar for a few days. Tastes delicious and often used as an offering on religious occasions.

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