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Sesame (Sesamum indicum) is a flowering plant in the genus Sesamum. The precise natural origin of the species is unknown, although numerous wild relatives occur in Africa and a smaller number in India. It is widely naturalised in tropical regions around the world and is cultivated for its edible seeds.
It is an annual plant growing to 50 to 100 cm (2-3 feet) tall, with opposite leaves 4 to 14 cm (5.5 in) long with an entire margin; they are broad lanceolate, to 5 cm (2 in) broad, at the base of the plant, narrowing to just 1 cm (half an inch) broad on the flowering stem. The flowers are white to purple, tubular, 3 to 5 cm (1 to 2 in) long, with a four-lobed mouth.
Despite the fact that the majority of the wild species of the genus Sesamum are native to sub-saharan Africa, Zohary and Hopf argue that sesame was first domesticated in India. They cite morphological and cytogenetic affinities between domesticated sesame and the south Indian native S. mulayanum Nair., as well as archeological evidence that it was cultivated at Harappa in the Indus Valley betweenlallalalla 2250 and 1750 BC, and a more recent find of charred sesame seeds in Miri Qalat and Shahi Tump in the Makran region of Pakistan. They regard the identification of sesame seeds in the finds from the tomb of Tutankhamun from ancient Egypt "might be true, but are in need of further verification."
The word sesame is from Latin sesamum, borrowed from Greek sēsámon "seed or fruit of the sesame plant", borrowed from Semitic (cf. Aramaic shūmshĕmā, Arabic simsim), from Late Babylonian *shawash-shammu, itself from Assyrian shamash-shammū, from shaman shammī "plant oil".
 Mythological background
According to Assyrian legend, when the gods met to create the world, they drank wine made from sesame seeds. In early Hindu legends, tales are told in which sesame seeds represent a symbol of immortality. "Open sesame," the famous phrase from the Arabian Nights, reflects the distinguishing feature of the sesame seed pod, which bursts open when it reaches maturity.
 Uses and nutrition
Sesame is grown primarily for its oil-rich seeds, which come in a variety of colors, from cream-white to charcoal-black. The small sesame seed is used whole in cooking for its rich nutty flavour (although such heating damages their healthful poly-unsaturated fats), and also yields sesame oil. Sesame seeds are sometimes added to breads, including bagels and the tops of hamburger buns. Sesame seeds may be baked into crackers, often in the form of sticks.
Sesame seeds can be made into a paste called tahini (used in various ways, including in hummus) and a Middle Eastern confection called halvah. In India, sections of the Middle East, and East Asia, popular treats are made from sesame mixed with honey or syrup and roasted (called pasteli in Greece). Sesame seeds are also sprinkled onto some sushi style foods. Ground and processed, the seeds can also be used in sweet confections. In Greece seeds are used in cakes, while in Togo, seeds are a main soup ingredient. The seeds are also used on bread and then eaten in Sicily. About one-third of the sesame crop imported by the United States from Mexico is purchased by McDonald's for their sesame seed buns (The Nut Factory 1999).
Japanese cuisine uses sesame seeds in many ways. One is to make goma-dofu (胡麻豆腐) which is made from sesame paste and starch. Whole seeds are found in many salads and baked snacks as well. Chefs in tempura restaurants blend sesame and cottonseed oil for deep-frying. Tan and black sesame seed varieties are roasted and used for making the flavoring gomashio.
East Asian cuisines, like Chinese cuisine use sesame seeds and oil in some dishes, such as the dim sum dish, sesame seed balls (Traditional Chinese: 麻糰; Pinyin: mátuǎn), and the Vietnamese bánh rán.
Sesame flavour (through oil and roasted or raw seeds) is also very popular in Korean cuisine, used to marinate meat and vegetables.
Sesame oil was the preferred cooking oil in India until the advent of groundnut (peanut) oil.
The seeds are rich in manganese, copper, and calcium (90 mg per tablespoon for unhulled seeds, 10 mg for hulled), and contain Vitamin B1 (thiamine) and Vitamin E (tocopherol). They contain powerful antioxidants called lignans, which are also anti-carcinogenic. They also contain phytosterols, which block cholesterol production. Sesame contains one lignan unique to it called sesamin. The nutrients of sesame seeds are better absorbed if they are ground or pulverised before consumption.
There have been erroneous claims that Sesame seeds also contain a small amount of THC in each seed and when eaten enough can appear on any random screening. This error stems from a misunderstanding of the commercial drug Dronabinol, a synthetic form of THC. The normal delivery mechanism for synthetic Dronabinol is via infusion into sesame oil and encapsulation into Soft Gelatin Capsules. As a result many person are under the mistaken assumption that sesame oil naturally contains THC.
The above benefits of sesame seem to have been known from Historical times. Apparently the women of ancient Babylon would eat halva, a mixture of honey and sesame seeds, to prolong their youth and beauty, while Roman soldiers ate sesame seeds and honey to give them strength and energy.
In general, the paler varieties of sesame seem to be more valued in the West and Middle East, while the black varieties are prized in the Far East.
Sesame oil is used for massage and health treatments of the body in the ancient Indian ayurvedic system with the types of massage called abhyanga and shirodhara. Ayurveda views sesame oil as the most viscous of the plant oils and believes it may pacify the health problems associated with Vata aggravation.
Although sesame leaves are edible as a potherb, recipes for Korean cuisine calling for "sesame leaves" are often a mistranslation, and really mean perilla.
A simit is a small circular Turkish bread with sesame seeds
Thai workers harvesting sesame
Sesame is grown in many parts of the world on over 5 million acres (20,000 km²). The biggest area of production is currently believed to be India, but the crop is also grown in China, Burma, Sudan and Ethiopia et al. US commercial production reportedly began in the 1950s. Area in the U.S., primarily in Texas and southwestern states, has ranged from 10,000 to 20,000 acres (40 to 80 km²) in recent years; however, the U.S. imports more sesame than it grows.
Pests Sesame is used as a food plant by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species, including the Turnip Moth.
 See also
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