“Open Gingili!”, Ali Baba said. Or at least he would have, if he were Indian. In the story of Ali Baba and the 40 thieves from One Thousand and One Nights, Ali Baba used the magical words “open Gingili” to get inside the cave containing the treasure. Being an Arab, he used the word Gingili. More oil-savvy people know that Gingelly, Sesame and Gingili oil are virtually the same. In India, they just prefer to call it Gingili oil. In these article we will use both words interchangeably, just keep in mind that we are talking about the same thing.
Whether you call them Gingili seeds or Gingili seeds, they’ve been around for a long time. Archeologists discovered that growing Gingili seeds was an ancient tradition dating back to 4000 BC. They even found mention of them in Papyrus Ebers, the Egyptian book of medicine written in 1550 BC with the help of texts from 3600 BC. The reason these seeds have been around for so long is that they can survive almost anything. Even draught, they’ll grow right through it. That’s why they’ve been given the name “survivor crop”. And over the long years these seeds have existed, they’ve slowly become more and more essential to our diet.
Pick any country that comes to mind. They’ll have a dish that requires either Gingili seed or Gingili oil. The Japanese uramaki and gomashio, the Greek koulouri which is called simit in Turkey, Indian yullunde, Chinese black Gingili rolls, sweet Sicilian nougat. Everyone loves Gingili seeds. We even put them on our hamburger buns. In fact, 75% of the Gingili seeds produced by Mexico are bought by McDonald’s alone. Have you heard of the infamous Benne Wafer cookies? Those little Gingili biscuits? You probably thought they were named after someone called Benne Wafer, right? Actually, the word “benne” comes from Nigeria. It means sesame.
Myanmar sits at the top of the Gingili seed production industry with 722.900 million tons of seeds produced in 2010 alone. Second largest production goes to India followed by China, Ethiopia and Sudan. But why do we need so much of these Gingili seeds? Sure, they make our hamburgers taste great, but what else? We use their oil. Gingili oil is far more important that the seeds themselves.
Gingili oil is made by pressing the seeds obtained from the Sesamum indicum plant. You can find this plant growing in warmer parts of Asia and Africa, especially India, China and Egypt. Depending on how you press the seeds, you get different uses for the Gingili oil. If you cold press the seeds once or twice and stop there, the resulting oil is usually used for culinary and health benefits. If you follow up with heat pressing, your Gingili oil will more likely be used in the soap industry. You can probably guess why. The heat involved in the second process degrades some of the essential components that have health benefits. It leaves you with an oil containing very little beneficial elements. So, soap manufacturers use it to give their soap a longer shelf life and a good moisturizing effect. We’ll get to why Gingili oil does that in a bit.
If you’re into Asian cuisine, you’re probably familiar with a third type of Gingili oil called toasted sesame oil. It’s pretty much the same as the cold pressed one but the seeds you start out with are roasted. This gives it a darker, golden brown color and a stronger, nutty taste. A small amount is strong enough to give an intense added flavor. You can’t, however, use it as a cooking oil because of its low smoke point. So stick to flavoring and dressing.
Regardless of the type of sesame oil, how beneficial is it to your health? Studies have shown that it helps the heart and liver, regulates blood pressure, lowers cholesterol and even prevents tumors. It comes down to the components of sesame seed oil that can do all this. These components are mainly :
Let’s start with the lignans. Sesame oil has 4 types of lignan fibers: sesamin, sesamolin, sesaminol and sesamolinol. These four work in different areas of your body but their overall effect is extremely beneficial. They reduce the amount of lipids in your blood. They’ve been found to reduce cholesterol by inhibiting both, its synthesis and its absorption. You probably know how important this is. Everyone is afraid of their cholesterol levels, especially with age. Why? Because too much fat in your bloodstream is dangerous. Think of it this way. Your blood is hydrophilic. It’s like water. It doesn’t mix well with fats. When your cholesterol levels start to rise, fats can start to accumulate in certain areas of your arteries. This can result in plaque formation and atherosclerosis. Your arteries begin to get narrower and the blood flowing to certain organs decreases. Now if that organ was your brain, you become liable to strokes. If that organ was your heart, the risk of heart diseases or heart attacks increases significantly. So by lowering your cholesterol levels, you’re protecting your heart and almost all organs in your body.
Another thing these lignans do is lower your blood pressure. Hypertension is one of the most dangerous undiagnosed diseases in the world. And emphasis on undiagnosed. People don’t usually realize they have hypertension until it’s progressed into a symptomatic phase. Before that, it doesn’t show any warning signs or symptoms. By regularly including lignans in your diet, you can not only lower blood pressure, but also prevent hypertension.
Aside from blood pressure and cholesterol, lignans can benefit people suffering from certain diseases like arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease and lupus. This is due to its strong anti-inflammatory properties. How does it work? Studies have shown that lignans lower arachidonic acid levels in blood. This arachidonic acid, ARA for short, undergoes several processes to give eicosanoids called prostaglandins, thromboxanes and leukotrienes. These can cause inflammation. So by decreasing the ARA in your body, lignans are essentially reducing the starting material for inflammation.
Surprisingly, lignans can help fight cancer. A lot of cancers are affected by hormone levels. Especially estrogen. It strongly promotes cell division which is basically what cancer is; a cell dividing out of control. This is why women are much more prone to some cancers than men. They have naturally higher estrogen levels. So where do lignans come in? When you eat the lignans in sesame oil, bacteria in your body convert them to certain compounds that have weak estrogenic activity. That doesn’t make sense, right? If estrogen makes cancer worse, how can something estrogen-like, improve it? Think of it this way: you can’t suddenly take a hormone like estrogen out of your body. You’ll lose all your feminine qualities and that’s the least of your worries. Instead, give the estrogen receptors in your cancer cells something that looks like estrogen, but is weaker. That way, the tumor can’t divide as rapidly or as strongly. It’s a smart move because with cancer, who says you have to play to the rules?
In other non-cancerous cells, this estrogenic effect works differently. In bones for example, it helps maintain density. This is especially good for patients with or liable to osteoporosis. In fact, a study on the bone density of postmenopausal women who followed lignan-rich diets showed that their spine and hip had very high bone density. This suggested that the benefits of lignans go way beyond the estrogen receptors.
Now let’s get to the vitamins. Sesame oil is full of vitamin E. Everything vitamin E does goes back to one word. Antioxidant. It’s one of the most powerful antioxidant there is. But what does that mean? Imagine this. Every cell in your body has chemical reactions going on throughout the day. As a result, some byproducts called “free radicals” are constantly being formed. These free radicals are basically unstable atoms. They’re reactive and can’t stay in that form for long. So they start to harmfully react with your cells and tissues. The result? A negative effect on your health. For example, when your skin is exposed to UV light, some reactions occur that lead to free radicals being released in your skin layers. This leaves your skin looking wrinkled and accelerates its aging process. That’s why vitamin E helps revitalize your skin. It acts as a free radical-scavenger. It finds and neutralizes them leaving you with healthier, younger-looking skin.
Vitamin E also helps the lignans in their fight against cholesterol. While lignans lower cholesterol levels, vitamin E helps protect the remaining cholesterol from being oxidized and turning into something even more dangerous. Not only that but a certain isomer of vitamin E called “tocotrienol” can help reduce the synthesis of cholesterol. It inhibits the key enzyme in charge called HMG-CoA reductase. It also prevents atherosclerosis by not allowing cells to stick to each other in your blood stream. All of this contributes to a healthy heart and lowers the risk of any heart diseases.
Take a look at any skin care products you might have at home. You’ll probably see vitamin E on most of them. Vitamin E deeply nourishes your skin all the way down to the capillary supply making it much stronger. The more blood flowing to your skin, the healthier and more radiant it looks. It also acts as a moisturizer to help keep your skin hydrated. And since it gets rid of free radicals and also improves your skin’s elasticity, it guarantees your skin will look years younger than it really is.
What about inflammation? Who hasn’t had red, itchy, irritating skin? Especially after too much exposure to the sun. Vitamin E, along with vitamin C, can act as powerful anti-inflammatories that help relieve the swelling and irritation. It has natural healing powers which come in handy if you get sunburnt or have acne or eczema. It speeds up your skin cell division and promotes regeneration to get you skin back to normal. This can be especially useful for scars, stretch marks and wrinkles as well.
Your skin is important to you. But your hair, that’s probably top priority. Vitamin E works on your hair as well. Just like sun rays can cause free radicals to appear in your skin, the environment can do the same to your hair. So vitamin E comes to the rescue and picks up all the harmful free radicals. Throw in its moisturizing effect as well and there you go: the key to silky, lustrous hair.
These are superficial. Vitamin E also plays a role in your body’s systems. It works on your endocrine system to balance your hormones. This can help elevate your mood, prevent acne, relieve PMS symptoms, lose weight, clear allergies and make you actually feel healthy. For PMS symptoms, try taking vitamin E a couple days before and after a menstrual period. You’ll immediately notice improvements in the pain, cramps, mood swings, cravings and even the amount of menstrual blood. It helps keep your cycle in check and as smooth as possible.
Sesame oil contains 3 important types of fatty acids: linoleic, oleic and linolenic acids, along with two others that are less important: stearic and palmitic acids. The first three are absolutely vital to your healthy. First of all, these fatty acids are divided into two categories. Essential and non-essential. The essential ones, linoleic and linolenic acids, are vital to many body functions. Unfortunately, your body can’t synthesize them so you have to include them in your diet, hence the name “essential”. The rest are non-essential fatty acids meaning your body CAN synthesize them, but still needs you to help out and include a bit in your diet. Luckily for you, sesame oil has all of them in one place.
Linolenic acid is an omega-3 fatty acid that plays a role in cholesterol regulation. It helps lower your bad cholesterol which is called LDL (low density lipoprotein). At the same time, it helps increase your good cholesterol, HDL (high density lipoprotein). By doing this, it protects you from coronary heart disease and heart attacks. Linolenic acid not only lowers cholesterol, but blood pressure, as well. Many studies have shown its effect in reducing the blood pressure of hypertensive people to an acceptable range. With strong anti-inflammatory properties on top of all these benefits, omega-3 is definitely a must-have in your diet.
Linoleic acid is an omega-6 essential fatty acid. Sure, it also has anti-inflammatory activity but its effects are more prominent in the brain. For children, it’s absolutely essential that they get the right amount of omega-6 to allow their brain to develop properly. Insufficient amounts of linoleic acid can lead to retarded growth and development as well as impaired cognitive and behavioral abilities. Since it works on strengthening attention and cognition, omega-6 is used to help children with ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder).
Women have also greatly benefited from omega-6 fatty acids. They’ve reported improvements in night sweats and hot flashes that occur quite frequently after menopause. As for PMS symptoms, several studies have shown that omega-6 can help with depression, painful cramps and fluid retention. It also helped reduce breast pain and tenderness associated with not only PMS, but several other diseases.
Oleic acid is a non-essential omega-9 fatty acid. It’s about 35-50% of sesame oil. And that’s a good thing because this acid works on the right parts of your body. Just like omega-3, this fatty acid keeps your HDL to LDL ratio in check. It also prevents your arteries from getting clogged up with too much fats or becoming atherosclerotic. This all goes in favor of your heart. So heart, check. What else? Your brain. It helps improve your memory and cognitive skills. And while it’s in there, it helps elevate your mood and get rid of depression or anger.
Sesame oil is one of the richest plant-based sources of zinc on Earth. You can find zinc in hundreds of beauty products and cosmetics, especially sunscreens. It has the ability to increase skin elasticity and suppleness which helps with age spots, wrinkles and stretch marks. It’s added to sunscreens because it’s basically a sunscreen itself, acting as a protective layer against harmful sun rays.
In addition to zinc, copper and calcium are also found in sesame oil. Together they help give your bones the minerals they need to grow and maintain their proper density. In case of fractures, they can help speed up the healing process. And let’s not forget osteoporosis, which is extremely common among women. These three minerals can help reduce the bone density loss that results in osteoporosis.
You can probably tell by now why sesame oil has been around for millennia. People have acknowledged the number of health benefits it has even before they knew of its components. Whether it’s toasted, refined or unrefined, whether you call it sesame or Gingili, it’s an absolute necessity to your daily diet. So go out and get some. Your heart, skin, hair and every part of your body will thank you.