Where Do Sesame Seeds Come From? And Are They Nuts?

When I was a kid, I distinctly remember sitting down across from my dad at a burger establishment and suddenly realizing that my hamburger bun had seeds on it. As a semi-picky eater, the thought of seeds suddenly became unacceptable to me. I began attempting to prise off the hundreds of seeds on the bread until my dad suggested I stop and explained to me that a lot of burger buns have sesame seeds on them and they basically don’t taste like anything and won’t do you any harm. He was correct, and I’ve never looked back, or possibly thought about sesame seeds at all, since that conversation, until now. So, what are sesame seeds? Where do they come from? Let’s say “open sesame” and get some answers. 

Where do sesame seeds come from?

If you’re asking who the largest exporter of sesame seeds is, the answer is India, a country that exports over 400 million dollars worth of them a year. That’s a ton of money for an ingredient that gets very little attention. 

However, if you’re wondering, more generally, what are sesame seeds before they end up on my bagel, here’s the answer: They are the seeds of a widespread flowering plant known as, get this, sesame. The sesame plant is a member of the genus Sesamum (easy to remember). Its seed is the oldest oilseed crop used by humans, and it still has one of the highest oil contents of any seed. 

What do sesame seeds grow into?

Sesame seeds grow into sesame plants. The sesame plant, also known as benne or gingelly, is predominantly known for its edible seeds. Because the seeds are the main event, we don’t really see a full grown sesame plant in the kitchen that often, which is probably part of the reason people have confusion about where the seeds come from.

How do sesame seeds grow?

One of the benefits of sesame, and one of the reasons it’s been such a popular crop since ancient times, is that the plant can grow in conditions with little water and high heat. It can grow up to five feet high and produces pink or white flowers, which then become seed pods, which burst when the seeds are ready. The plant takes 100-135 days to reach full maturity. 

Are sesame seeds gluten free?

If you have celiac disease, you’re in luck, sesame seeds are completely gluten free so you can enjoy them to your heart’s content. Of course, as always, be sure to check the label in case some enterprising young food scientist decided to add a whole bunch of gluten for some reason. 

Are sesame seeds nuts?

Though there are a lot of so-called seeds out there that are actually nuts (like almonds, pecans, and walnuts), sesame seeds are actually, factually seeds. However, if you have a nut allergy, you still may want to steer clear of them. Some of the proteins in sesame seeds are similar to those in nuts and can still trigger people with severe allergies, so be sure to exercise caution. 

About the Author

Matt Crowley

Matt Crowley is a comedy writer living in Los Angeles. He likes maple-flavored snacks, loves every kind of cheese, and is slowly learning to accept mushrooms.

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