Sesame is a flowering plant in the species sesamum, also called benne. Numerous wild relatives occur in Africa and a smaller number in India. It is widely naturalised in tropical regions around the world and cultivated for its edible seeds, which grow in pods.
Although sesame seeds are imported, they can be found in local food markets or supermarkets.
A kilogram of sesame seeds costs between Rwf 3500 to 4000 depending on where one buys them.
Studies show that all varieties of sesame seeds are extremely nutritious, and that they have a high oil content of 40 to 60 per cent.
Sesame is a rich source of minerals like copper and manganese, they also contain magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, iron, selenium, vitamin B1 and zinc, and are rich in dietary fibre and monounsaturated fats.
Joseph Uwiragiye, the head of the nutrition department at University Teaching Hospital of Kigali (CHUK), says sesame seeds are loaded with nutrition that makes it a must-have in one’s diet.
He says sesame seeds are a good source of dietary protein, with high-quality amino acids making up 20 per cent of the seed.
This means they are great for a high-protein vegetarian diet.
The rich omega fatty acids content present in the seeds helps promote hair growth and also repairs hair damage.
Uwiragiye says the seeds also help in moisturising the scalp and improve blood circulation to rejuvenate hair follicles.
“Sesame seeds are packed with antioxidants that reverse signs of ageing and give one a youthful and glowing skin,” he says.
The nutritionist notes that the seeds are helpful in lowering the cholesterol levels; they contain two substances called sesamin and sesamolin, which belong to a group of fibres called lignans.
Lignans have a cholesterol-lowering effect as they are rich in dietary fibre.
Studies show that sesame seeds are also rich in replenishing vitamins, minerals and nutrients that are vital for a healthy scalp.
Further, the studies indicate that massaging the scalp with sesame seed oil combats dryness, flakiness and clogged pores that cause hair thinning and hair loss.
Besides, he says, these seeds are antifungal, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties help in treating scalp infections and dandruff and soothing an irritated scalp.
Rene Tabaro, a nutritionist at King Faisal Hospital, says the oil present in sesame seeds can do wonders for one’s skin.
He says sesame helps the skin remain soft and supple. They are rich in anti-inflammatory properties that are vital in healing redness, sores and other facial skin issues from within.
Tabaro says the oil present in the seeds helps to remove dental plaque and boosts oral health.
Sesame seeds have a high fibre content also fibre which is helpful in curing constipation.
“The oil found in the seed can lubricate one’s intestines, while the fibre in the seed helps in smooth bowel movements,” he says.
Sesame seeds are a good source of energy due to its high-fat content.
Tabaro explains that this is so because they contain healthy fats like polyunsaturated fatty acids and Omega-6.
Apart from that, he says, they also contain iron, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus that boost energy levels.
“Sesame oil contains an amino acid known as tyrosine, which is directly connected to serotonin activity,” says Tabaro.
Serotonin, he says, is a neurotransmitter which impacts our mood.
An imbalance of it could lead to depression and stress.
According to experts, consuming foods that help in the production of serotonin helps in keeping chronic stress at bay.
Unlike butter and ghee which come loaded with harmful saturated fat, sesame oil-primarily contains unsaturated fats.
According to the nutritional value chart of sesame oil, per 100 grams contains 40 grams monounsaturated fats, 42 grams polyunsaturated fats and about 14 grams saturated fats.
Uwiyagire says all cooking oils contain a mix of all the three types of fats, the varying amounts of which determine how healthy or harmful it is for us.