Sesame oil, the amber-hued condiment that has come to define many Asian cuisines, is a versatile ingredient with a rich history that spans millennia. From its medicinal use in ancient India to its prominence in the modern culinary world, here’s everything you need to know about sesame oil.
It’s not just used in Chinese cooking but also the Japanese and Korean, giving any dish a distinctively “Asian” flavor. Let’s dive deeper into how to use it and what to look for in the store.
What is Sesame Oil?
Sesame oil, also known as zhma yóu in Mandarin or ma yeow in Cantonese, is extracted from sesame seeds. It is available in both untoasted and toasted forms. The distinction is obvious. The non-toasted oil is a pale yellow, not unlike vegetable or peanut oil, while the toasted oil is a deep golden brown.
Whenever a recipe calls for it, it should be toasted. Even the untoasted variety is off-limits to us. Sesame oil, especially toasted sesame oil for its robust flavor and nutty aroma, is ubiquitous in Asian and Chinese cuisines.
The flavor of the untoasted variety is much more subtle, making it suitable for sautéing. Sesame oil, with and without toasting, has different properties.
In terms of the toasted variety, you might find oils that are a shade or two lighter than the dark amber one pictured above. Lighter oils are made from less-roasted sesame seeds and have a more subtle flavor. The darker variety is more widely available, so that’s the one we usually buy.
What Are The Multiple Applications of Sesame Oil?
In Asian cuisine, toasted sesame oil is used more as a seasoning than a cooking oil because of the high regard in which chefs hold its flavor and aroma.
It’s expensive to use, and its potent flavor is inappropriate as a universal cooking oil. Furthermore, since the oil is produced by toasting sesame seeds, it can take on a burnt taste in a very hot wok. It is often used as a finishing touch after the cooking process or in a sauce, dressing, or marinade.
Half a teaspoon is sometimes used in a meat marinade for stir-fry. When making salad dressings for dishes like our Smashed Asian Cucumber Salad, we’ll use more liberal amounts. Its rich, nutty flavor complements the dish’s sour rice vinegar and spicy chili oil.
Sesame is a tasty ingredient, but too much of it can ruin a dish because of its strong flavor. Always use the correct amounts specified in a recipe.
As a medicine, it was once in widespread use. Sesame oil is widely used in TCM because of its purported benefits, including its ability to increase blood flow, warm the body, and nourish hair. Our blog features a recipe for Taiwanese Sesame Oil Chicken Soup, a dish traditionally prepared to support the health of pregnant women, nursing mothers, and the elderly.
There are rumors that some Japanese bakeries are replacing butter with untoasted sesame oil. It’s versatile enough to replace vegetable oil in any recipe calling for either.
Buying and Storage
We have relied on Kadoya for a long time because it is a reliable product. Sesame oil is 100% pure (not blended) and has a robust, nutty flavor.
Sesame oil does not spoil easily and can be stored for a long time. Compared to the smaller 5.5-ounce bottles, the 11-ounce size is the most cost-effective option. The large metal cans we buy it in allow us to refill the bottle we keep in the pantry repeatedly.
If you use it quickly, like we do in our kitchen, there’s no need to keep it in the fridge. Store it in a dark, cool place (the bottle it came in should have a resealable cap) until you’re ready to use it. This state of affairs will persist for a few months.
If you aren’t going to use it right away, refrigerating it will extend its shelf life. The oil’s clarity may diminish, but the flavor won’t be affected.
Various labels can be found in Asian supermarkets (usually Chinese or Japanese). You could even try your luck at regular supermarkets. If not, and there isn’t an Asian market convenient for you, you can always order it online.
You need only seek pure, toasted varieties and choose your preferred brand. Items from Japan and China will predominate. We always opt for Japanese products, so that makes sense.
Alternative For Sesame Oil
These days, you can find sesame oil in most supermarkets. However, if you find yourself out of sesame oil, you can use Chinese sesame paste or tahini, both of which will have oil floating on top in their place.
Remember that tahini is made from raw sesame seeds, while sesame paste is made from toasted seeds, making the oil in a jar of sesame paste a more suitable substitute.
Substitute peanut or walnut oil for the sesame oil if you’re allergic to it. Just leave it out of the recipe if the amount is insignificant (less than a teaspoon, for example).