The Oldest Oilseed Crops
iPhoneOgraphy – 07 Oct 2016 (Day 281/366)
Sesame (Sesamum indicum) is a flowering plant in the genus Sesamum, also called benne. Numerous wild relatives occur in Africa and a smaller number in India. It is widely naturalized in tropical regions around the world and is cultivated for its edible seeds, which grow in pods or “buns”. The world harvested 4.2 million metric tonnes of sesame seeds in 2013, with India and China as the largest producers.
Sesame seed is one of the oldest oilseed crops known, domesticated well over 3000 years ago. Sesame has many species, most being wild and native to sub-Saharan Africa. Sesame indicum, the cultivated type, originated in India and is tolerant to drought-like conditions, growing where other crops fail.
Sesame has one of the highest oil contents of any seed. With a rich, nutty flavor, it is a common ingredient in cuisines across the world. Like other nuts and foods, it can trigger allergic reactions in some people.
The word “sesame” is from Latin sesamum or Greek sésamon – “seed or fruit of the sesame plant”. From the roots above, words with the generalized meaning “oil, liquid fat” are derived. Sesame names vary among numerous languages.
Sesame seed is considered to be the oldest oilseed crop known to humanity. The genus has many species, and most are wild. Most wild species of the genus Sesamum are native to sub-Saharan Africa. Sesame indicum, the cultivated type, originated in India.
Charred remains of sesame recovered from archeological excavations have been dated to 3500-3050 BC. Fuller claims trading of sesame between Mesopotamia and the Indian sub-continent occurred by 2000 BC. Some reports claim sesame was cultivated in Egypt during the Ptolemiac period, while others suggest the New Kingdom.
Records from Babylon and Assyria, dating about 4000 years ago, mention sesame. Egyptians called it sesemt, and it is included in the list of medicinal drugs in the scrolls of the Ebers Papyrus dated to be over 3600 years old. Archeological reports from Turkey indicate that sesame was grown and pressed to extract oil at least 2750 years ago in the empire of Urartu.
The historic origin of sesame was favored by its ability to grow in areas that do not support the growth of other crops. It is also a robust crop that needs little farming support—it grows in drought conditions, in high heat, with residual moisture in soil after monsoons are gone or even when rains fail or when rains are excessive. It was a crop that could be grown by subsistence farmers at the edge of deserts, where no other crops grow. Sesame has been called a survivor crop.