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Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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sesame Sesamum indicum, one of the first oil-yielding plants to be taken into cultivation, in Egypt or the Near East. Wild species, with one exception, are African; but there is a secondary ‘source of diversity’ in India, where sesame was introduced in very early times. The name sesame is one of the few words to have passed into modern languages from ancient Egyptian, in which it was sesemt.

Sesame is an upright annual herb, up to 2 m (6') tall and bearing its seeds inside small, sausage-shaped pods about 3 cm (1.25") long. The pods of primitive strains have a tendency to split abruptly open when ripe, allowing the seeds to scatter. This may account for the command ‘Open sesame’ in the tale of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.