History of Sesame (100 CE to 2022)

William Shurtleff, Akiko AoyagiISBN: 978-1-948436-71-7

Publication Date: 2022 Feb. 16

Number of References in Bibliography: 2200

Earliest Reference: 100 CE

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Brief Chronology/Timeline of Sesame

Sesame seed is considered to be the oldest oilseed crop known to humanity, domesticated 3,000 to 4,000 years ago. Sesamum has many species, most being wild and native to sub-Saharan Africa. Sesamum indicum, the cultivated type, originated in India. It tolerates drought conditions well, growing where other crops fail. S. orientale is the other main species. Sesame has one of the highest oil contents of any seed. With a rich, nutty flavor, it is a common ingredient in cuisines around the world.

126 BCE – At the zenith of Han dynasty power in China, during the long reign of Han Wudi (Wade-Giles: Wu Ti, "Martial Emperor"), which lasted from 141 to 87 B.C., during the Former / Western Han dynasty. This emperor sent Zhang Qian (W.-G. Chang Ch’ien) on a mission to the west. Zhang actually led two expeditions along the Silk Road. He returned in 126 BCE. He is credited with introducing a number of foods to China including sesame (huma, modern zhima or mazi) Bray 1984, p. 516). Wilkinson (2000, p. 639, 743).

100 CE – The earliest known reference to sesame is said to appear in the Shennong Bencao Jing [Classical Pharmacopoeia of Shennong, the Heavenly Husbandman]. Thereafter sesame is mentioned in many early Chinese documents cited herein.

150 CEShiming [Expositor of Names] by Liu Xi. The Shiming discusses different types of pasta (both non-filamentous and filamentous) including one with sesame seeds (huma) sprinkled over it (p. 468, 472s,

480, 484).

160 CE – Simin Yueling [Monthly Ordinances for the Four Classes of People] by Cui Shi. 2nd month: On the day of the spring equinox [March 20], thunder will be first heard. One can plant spiked millet, soybean (dadou), female hemp (which does not yield fiber), and sesame (huma; “foreign hemp”). One can sell millet, panicled millet, soybeans, hemp, and wheat seed.

3rd month: When it rains, it is time to plant hemp and sesame.

544 CEQimin Yaoshu [Important Arts for the People’s Welfare] by Jia Sizie. Book 2 gives the best time to plant sesame seeds. Using green manure is the best thing to do. The best preceding crops for plowing under as green manure are Dolichos beans (lüdou) or azuki beans. The next best crops are hemp, foxtail millet (su; Setaria italica), or sesame seeds. Harvest dates are given for azuki beans and sesame seeds.

840 CE – In Japan, each feudal domain (kuni) is encouraged to plant millet, barnyard millet, barley, wheat, soybeans, azuki beans, and sesame seeds (Akio Saito. 1985. Daizu Geppo. Jan. p. 12-14.

980 CEWulei Xianggan Zhi [Treatise on the Mutual Responses of Things according to Their Categories] by Lu Zanning (Su Shi). Perilla oil was used in cooking and that, as a cooking oil, it was inferior to sesame oil but superior to hemp seed oil.

1000 CE – Tilopa (988-1069), the first human guru of the Kagyü lineage in India, achieves complete enlightenment through pounding sesame seeds (til). From the Sanskrit word til his name derives (Source: The Rain of Wisdom, 1999, p. 309, 324-25).

1226Kitab al-Tabikh [A Baghdad Cookery Book] is the earliest known book to mention sesame seeds. Sesame oil is called for in nine recipes, but olive oil is considered to be of better quality. Sesame seeds are called for in 3 recipes (p. 77, 78, 86).

1373Kitab Wasf al-at’ima al-Mutada [The description of familiar foods] is the 2nd earliest document seen that mentions sesame. Written in Arabic, it mentions tahineh [tahini].

1510Zerzalino, the first of many Anglo-Indian words for sesame, is cited by Varthema (p. 86) – in Hobson-Jobson by Yule & Burnell (1886, p. 285-86).

1586Foure Bookes of Husbandrie, by Heresbach and Googe. Earliest English-language document seen that mentions “Sesamum,” or “Sesamo.”

1597The Herball: or, Generall Historie of Plantes. 2 vols., by John Gerard. Contains a chapter titled “Of the Oylie Pulse called Sesamum.” It is the earliest to mention “Sesamum seedes,” to give the Greek name for sesame (which today is “sesamon”), to list ailments for which sesame is a remedy, and to have an illustration of a sesame plant.

1640Theatrum Botanicum:The Theater of Plants or an Herbal to a Large Extent, by John Parkinson. Contains a chapter titled “Sesamum: The Oyly Purging Pulse Sesamum.” It is the earliest to mention “Sesama” or “Sempsem.”

1704 – The terms Ajonjoli or “oil of Ajonjoli” are first used to refer to the Spanish name for sesame seeds (Fernandez Navarrete, p. 251-52).

1762-63 – The 2nd edition of Species Plantarum by Linnaeus gives the Latin name of sesame as Sesamum Orientale. It adds:English names: English names: Oily grain. Observations: Propagated in the Levant [countries of the eastern Mediterranean] for oil, which does not soon grow rancid by keeping.”

1769A Description of East-Florida, with a Journal, Kept by John Bartram of Philadelphia, Botanist to His Majesty for the Floridas; upon a journey…, by William Stork of England is the 2nd to contain the term Sesamum Orientale, the scientific name of sesame.

1772 – An article by John Ellis, titled “A catalogue of such foreign plants as are worthy of being encouraged in our American colonies for the purposes of medicine, agriculture, …” is published in the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society [Philadelphia], 1:259.

1774 May 25 – The word “benny” is first mentioned in the United States in an article in the Georgia Gazette (Savannah). Samuel Bowen (of soybean fame) exported them and apparently grew them.

1775 – In A Concise Natural History of East and West Florida, Bernard Romans says of sesame: “XI. Sesamen or oily grain, This was introduced by some of the Negroes from the coast of Africa, into Carolina, and is the best thing yet known for extracting a fine esculent oil; it will grow in any sandy ground, even luxuriantly, and yields more oil than any thing we have as yet knowledge of: Capt. P. M'Kay of Sunbury in Georgia, told me that a quantity of this seed sent to Philadelphia, yielded him twelve quarts per bushel; incredible as this may appear, i have the greatest reason to believe him; the first run of this oil is always transparent, the second expression, which is procured by the addition of hot water, is muddy, but on standing it will deposit a white sediment, and become as limpid as the first; this oil is at first of a slightly pungent taste, but soon loses that and will never grow rancid even if left exposed to the air; the Negroes use it as food, either raw, toasted, or boiled in their soups and are very fond of it, they call it Benni.

“All the culture it requires is to be sown in drills about eighteen inches apart and by frequent hoeings to be kept clean.”

That Negroes from the coast of Africa first introduced it to the colonies is first stated here.

1801 – The word “gingely” and the term “gingely oil” are first used in English (Moor 1801, p. xxxv).

1804 – The word Sessamum is first used in English (Barrow 1804, p. 546, 575).

1809 – The words Jugoline, Jugeoline, Wangal, and Sesamum Indicum are first used in a long, excellent article in the Natchez Weekly Democrat (Mississippi), titled “Communication respecting the Benni,” by A Planter.

1820 – The word “sesame,” so widely used today, is first used in The Pharmacopoeia of the United States of America, by Lyman Spalding (p. 250).

1826 – The word “gingilie” and the term “gingilie oil” are first used in English (Ainslie, p. 255-57).

1830 April 24 – The term “Sesame seed” is first used in English (Leeds Mercury, West Yorkshire, England, p. 4).

1832 – Two species of sesame seeds are listed under Sesamum (p. 81): (1) Sesamum orientale. Its vernacular names are Tila (in Sanskrit) and Til (in Bengalee and Hindi); (2) Sesamum Indicum. Its vernacular name is Krishna-til in Hindee (English Index to Plants of India, by Henry Piddington).

1836 – The term “sesamum oil” is first mentioned (The Chinese, by John Francis Davis, vol. 1, p. 303).

1840 – The term “sesamum seed” is first used (Travels in the Burman Empire, by Howard Malcolm, p. 56).

1850 – The term “sesamum plant” is first mentioned (The Natural Productions of Burmah, by Francis Mason, p. 176).

1852 Oct. 20 – The terms “suffed-til,” “kala-til,” and “tillee” are first used (The Morning Post {London, England}, p. 9, col. 3).

1854 – Sesame or teel, Sesamum orientale, S. indicum, Gingellie oil or suffed-til, Behens oil, Siriteh, bennie seed, wanglo, gingelly teel, or sesame seed, sesame oil, black til, and gingelie oil (The Commercial Products of the Vegetable Kingdom, by Peter Lund Simmons, p. 533-34).

1856 Dec. 4 – “Gingilly” is first used to refer to sesame oil (Bradford Observer, West Yorkshire, England. p. 2, col. 4).

1857 Jan. 12 – “Benniseed” is first used to refer to sesame seed (Liverpool Mercury, England. p. 2).

1857 Oct. 23 – “Tilseed" is first used to refer to sesame seed and "gingeli" to refer to sesame oil (The Morning Post, London, p. 2).

1869 Nov. 26 – The terms “gingilie” and “gingilie seed” are first used to refer to sesame seed (Sydney Morning Herald {New South Wales, Australia}, p. 4, col. 5).

1869 – The term “Gingelli-seed Oil” is first used to refer to sesame seed oil (Chamber’s Encyclopedia).

1874 – The long section in Pharmacographia, by Flueckiger and Hanbury is worth quoting: The section titled “Sesameæ,” has the subtitle “Oleum Sesami.” The line below that reads: Sesamé Oil, Gingeli, Ginyili or Jinjili Oil, Til or Teel Oil, Benné Oil; F. [French] Huile de Sésame; G. [German] Sesamöl.”

Contents: Botanical origin. History. Production. Description. Chemical

composition. Commerce. Uses.

“History: Sesamé is a plant which we find on the authority of the most ancient documents of Sanskrit, Greek, and Roman literature, has been used by mankind for the sake of its oily seeds from the earliest times. In the days of Pliny, the oil was an export from Sind to Europe by way of the Red Sea, precisely as the seeds are at the present day. "During the middle ages the plant, then known as Suseman or Sempsen, was cultivated in Cyprus, Egypt and Sicily. In later times, sesamé oil gave way to that of olives, yet at present it is an article which, if not so renowned, is at least of far greater consumption.

“The word Sesamé is derived from Simsim, the Arabic name of the plant. The Indian languages have their own terms for it, the Hindustani Til, from the Sanskrit Tilaha, being one of the best known.*

Footnote: * “We know not the origin of the word Gingeli, which Roxburgh remarks was (as it is now) in common use among Europeans. No such name occurs in the copious lists collected by Moodeen Sheriff and published in the Supplement to the Pharm. of India. The word Benné is, we believe, of West African origin, and has no connexion [sic] with Ben, the name of Moringa.”

1879 – The word “goma,” the Japanese word for sesame, is first used. The cake (goma kasu) and oil (“extensively used in cooking”) are both mentioned (Japan, by Kinch).

1880 – The word “tili” is first used to refer to sesame in India (Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency. 12:152).

1884 – In Origin of Cultivated Plants, Alphonse de Candolle has a long, scientific and very interesting entry on “Sesame – Sesamum indicum and S. orientale. It belongs to the order Pedalineæ.

1886 – A long, superb entry titled “Gingeli, Gingely, &c.” in Hobson-Jobson by Yule and Burnell (p. 285-86).

1888 June 22 – “The bakers of Mexico have petitioned the government of the federal district to be permitted to use an oil made from a seed called ajonjoli instead of lard in the manufacture of bread.” “Ajonjoli oil” is also mentioned (Galveston Daily News {Texas}. p. 6).

1893 – In A Dictionary of the Economic Products of India (vol. 6:2), by George Watt, the section titled Sesamum (p. 502-42) contains superb, detailed information on Sesamum Indicum D.C. [de Candolle], sesame with emphasis on "Gingelly or sesame oil, English; Benné, huile de sésamé, French; Sesamoel, German." Contents: Vernacular names (Many Indian vernacular names in various languages are given, including til, tir, gingli, gingili, tilmi, tili, tilmin, sumsum, etc.). Perhaps 100 new words related to sesame are introduced.

1904 – In Chemical Technology and Analysis of Oils, Fats, and Waxes. 3rd ed., Julius Lewkowitsch devotes pages 538-44 to “Sesamé oil, gingilli oil, or teel oil.”

1912 Dec. 3 – A British Patent applied for by Fritz Goessel is the earliest English-language document seen that mentions a milk made from “sesame or teel seeds.” The patent was accepted in June 1913.

1935 May 12 – The term “sesame butter” is first used to a food resembling peanut butter. It was brought back from Kurdistan by Jocelyn Crane (Daily News {New York, NY}, p. 49, cols. 3-4).

1935 Aug. 1 – The term “sesame seed butter” is first used. It is sold at Allen’s Market in Salem, Oregon (Statesman Journal {Salem}, p. 7).

1938 May 24 – The word “Tahini” and the term “Sesame Tahini” are first used to refer to sesame butter (Nashville Banner, p. 10).

1950 May – The word “tahina” is first used to refer to tahini by Elizabeth David in A Book of Mediterranean Food (p. 146).

1955 – The term “sesame paste” is first used to refer to tahini by Elizabeth David in A Book of Mediterranean Food (p. 158-59).

1956 – The term “sesame tofu” is first used to refer to a product resembling silken tofu but made from sesame seeds via steaming and without a coagulant (Japanese Cooking of All Kinds, by Chieko Sato).

1962 – The word “gomashio” is first used in an English-language document to refer to sesame salt (The Art of Japanese Cookery by Masaru Doi, p. 24-25).

1965 Oct. – The word “gomasio” is first used (spelled incorrectly and imitated by many later macrobiotic writers) in an English-language document to refer to sesame salt (You Are All Sanpaku, English version by William Dufty).

1974 Sept. – The “Trade price list / order form” from Harmony Foods in London is the first to offer “Tahini sesame cream.” That may well be the same as Tahini.

1974 – The term “Goma dofu” (Japanese) is first used in English to refer to sesame tofu (The Art of Just Cooking. With Nahum Stiskin, by Lima Ohsawa).

1989The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., edited by Simpson and Weiner, has a marvelous, long entry for “Sesame. Also: Sesamine, sesamoid.”

The earliest entry is: ca. 1440. Palladius on Husbandry x. 67 “Sysane in faat soil & grauel is sowe.”

Followed by 1551 (sesam), 1562 (sesama), 1600 (Sesama), 1601 (Sesama), 1682 (Sesami), 1736 (Sesama... sesame), 1744 (Sesamo), 1785 (Sesame), 1877 (sesame).

2018 – Sesame: Current Status. World production in 2018 was 6 million tonnes, with Sudan (981,000 tonnes), Myanmar (768,858 tonnes), and India (746,000 tonnes) as the largest producers (Source: Wikipedia).

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