According to our Food Editor, Merce Muse, choosing the right cooking oil can take sauteed veggies from basic to sublime: “Using just a hint of toasted sesame oil in your cooking enhances the flavor of every vegetable—they won’t need any sauce, just lightly salt them and enjoy!”
Fragrant and flavorful, sesame seed oil is a must-have pantry staple. Derived from tiny sesame seeds, you’ll find it in two forms: pressed, ideal as a cooking fat, and toasted, typically used as more of a condiment or finishing oil.
Although they vary in taste, there’s no denying that both forms are loaded with nutrients. High in zinc, copper, and calcium, as well as vitamins K and E, sesame seeds and their oil can improve the appearance of hair and skin. Because zinc is naturally antibacterial, adding sesame oil to your diet or even applying it topically may help clear up acne. Zinc is also a key mineral for healthy skin, improving elasticity and reducing the appearance of age spots, so sesame oil can be used on its own as a nighttime anti-aging moisturizer.
Its antibacterial nature is part of the reason it’s been used for centuries for oil pulling, a traditional Ayurvedic practice that involves swishing with oil for a few minutes a day to cleanse the mouth and body of bacteria. You can also use sesame oil as a facial cleansing oil or all-over hair and body moisturizer—go with the regular pressed variety, because it has a lighter scent (unless you’re cool with your hair smelling like stir-fry).
Along with beauty benefits, both types of sesame oil have been studied for their anti-inflammatory properties. A research paper published by scientists at the University of Central Florida found that supplementing with either variety of sesame seed oil has three huge health benefits:
- It decreases the buildup of plaque in the arteries, helping the heart function properly.
- It reduces cell response to inflammation, meaning there’s less inflammation in the body overall.
- It turns on genes that contribute to cholesterol transport, which could lower cholesterol levels and boost lipid metabolism.
Another positive side effect? Researchers noticed that over 15 weeks of supplementing with the oil, the subjects also lost weight, perhaps due to increased lipid metabolism over time. It’s unclear if supplementing with full sesame seeds would have the same effect—but it’s probably easier to get in the necessary amount of nutrition from the concentrated oil as opposed to trying to eat sesame seeds in every meal.
Stock up on toasted sesame oil—an essential flavor in most Asian dishes—if you really want to kick your takeout habit and cook more at home. Nutty and slightly sweet, toasted sesame oil has a stronger flavor than its plain counterpart. It’s best used in dressings, marinades, soups, and sauces—a little goes a long way, so sprinkle it on sparingly, otherwise the flavor can be overpowering.