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Sesame (Sesamum indicum) was one of the first oilseed plants to be used by humans. Major producers include Burma, India, China, and a range of countries in Africa (United Nations Food and Agriculture FAOSTAT website, 2010 data). Sesame is an annual, growing to a height of 1 to 2 m and bearing white, pink, or purplish flowers. Its fruits are capsules containing white, yellow, gray, red, or brown seeds. In harvesting, the whole plants are cut and stacked in an upright position. As they dry, the capsules split open at the apex (this is the source of the magical incantation "open sesame") and the seeds are shaken out onto a cloth. In some cultivars, the capsules do not split open, making mechanical harvesting feasible.

Sesame seeds contain around 50% of a highly unsaturated oil (oleic and linoleic acids predominate) and 20 to 25% protein. The oil, which rarely goes rancid due to the presence of phenolic material, is used in the manufacture of margarine, cooking fats, soaps, and paints and is used as a lubricant and illuminant. In India, it is used as a ghee substitute and is the basis of scented oils used in perfumery. The residue left after extraction is a valuable animal feed. Throughout the world sesame seeds are used in food in a wide range of savory dishes and sweet confections.

(Vaughan and Geissler 1997)

Although it has often been asserted that this species was domesticated in Africa and only later brought to India and elsewhere (e.g., Vaughan and Geissler 1997), Bedigian (2003, 2010 and references therein) and Fuller (2003 and references therein) argue that in fact it was more likely domesticated in South Asia.


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