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Kitchen Shrink: Open Sesame! 13 reasons to love this seed

The delightful proverb, “good things come in small packages,” so aptly describes the diminutive yet mighty sesame seed. Whether pressed into an oil of healing liquid gold, pulverized into a rich multi-purpose paste (tahini), incorporated into a blissful confection (halvah), or used as its seedy self to add cachet and flavor (not to mention nutrition) to hamburger buns, bagels and bread sticks, dial up stir fries, salads, sushi, grilled fish or chicken – sesame is the king of seeds.

Sesame is one of the oldest crops grown and cultivated for its rich oil supply, especially by the people of Babylon, circa 4000 B.C. who blended it in cakes, wine and brandy. The ancient Egyptians revered the oil for its healing properties. In the folk tale, “Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves,” the magic password to unseal the bandits’ den of treasures was “Open Sesame!” perhaps because when sesame seeds are ripe they burst out of their pods with a shattering visual and auditory extravaganza.

These precious petite seeds are one of the most nutrient-dense crops on the planet. They are blessed with an abundant store of protein (5 grams per ounce), amino acids and fiber, along with vitamins and minerals, including copper, magnesium, calcium, folate, zinc, iron, Vitamin B6 and phosphorous. This translates to more than a dozen benefits to amp up your health — and as an added bonus, your good looks and sex life! Here’s why:

1. Sesame seeds have a motherlode of zinc that boosts collagen production for youthful elasticity. The oil also helps prevent ultra-violet sun damage, which means fewer wrinkles and incidents of skin cancer. Sesame also provides a soothing balm for burns and other epidermal disorders.

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2. Both the seeds and oil have heart protective effects by preventing atherosclerotic lesions, along with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits.

3. The seeds put the skids on cancer (especially colorectal) with the effective duo of magnesium and the powerful compound phytate.

4. Their zinc and calcium content dial up bone density and bone health, helping to ward off osteoporosis.

5. The high-fiber seeds aid in digestion and maintaining a healthy, regular colon.

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6. Sesame’s magnesium has been found to boost respiratory health and prevent airway spasms particularly in asthmatics.

7. The magnesium and phytonutrients have been linked to preventing type 2 diabetes.

8. Thanks to the phytosterols, especially in black sesame seeds, cholesterol production is blocked, lowering vital levels.

9. A rich source of copper makes sesame seeds and oil a mighty foe against arthritis and achy, creaky joints, also boosting bone and blood vessel strength.

10. A good source of iron, (especially in the black seeds) this mineral helps defend against anemia.

11. Loaded with stress-busting calcium and magnesium, B6, along with tryptophan and thiamin to amp up serotonin levels sesame helps elevate mood and lessen anxiety. Also having a soporific effect it provides some uninterrupted zzz’s.

12. Sesame oil has been used like a mouthwash (swishing and rinsing) by Ayurvedic healers for many millennia to hike oral health, including reducing plaque and bad breath, repairing gums and whitening teeth by a practice called “pulling.”

13. Packed with zinc, the high-octane sesame seed has been credited with boosting testosterone levels and sexual energy in men.

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– RECIPE: The Mediterranean Goddess’ Hummus –

Slather liberally on sandwiches in sesame-bunned burgers, stuff in pitas or use as a smooth and delicious dip for crunchy and roasted veggies. The recipe is graciously shared by my friend, Cemile Coopersmith, aka, ‘The Mediterranean Goddess.’ Serves 4-6.

■ INGREDIENTS:

1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

4 tablespoons lemon juice

4 garlic cloves

2 tablespoons tahini

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4 tablespoons hot spring water

3 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/8 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

■ METHOD: Combine chickpeas, lemon juice, tahini, hot water, salt, garlic, cumin and cayenne pepper in a food processor or blender. Process for two minutes until a smooth consistency forms. Spoon into a bowl, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with paprika and parsley. Refrigerate for up to one week.