How are sesame seeds harvested?

Sesame–Production Guide

Sesame Production Guide

Sesame oil is used as a salad or cooking oil and in shortening, margarine and soap. It is often considered the “queen” of vegetable oils. The outstanding characteristic of sesame oil is its stability and keeping quality as well as resistance to rancidity. Also, sesame oil is used in paints, soaps, cosmetics, perfumes and insecticides. Annually, over 8000 tons of sesame oil is imported into the United States. Whole seed condiments is the primary use of the sesame grown by producers in the United States. The largest use is on top of buns and in snack foods.

Description/Agronomic Characteristics:

Sesame (Sesamum indicum) is a broadleaf summer crop that belongs to the Pedaliaceae plant family which has bell-shaped flowers and opposite leaves.

Sesame is an erect annual plant that can reach 4 -7 feet in height when planted early under high moisture conditions. In West Texas, it is generally 3 – 6 feet.

Flowers appear about 38 – 45 days after planting with 2 flowers per stem per day for about 35 – 40. Some varieties have 6 flowers per stem per day for 25 – 40 days. Sesame is indeterminate in that it does not have a capsule on the last node. In some parts of the world, the plants will continue blooming until cut. However, sesame varieties grown in the United States will stop blooming based on its cycle. It is not dependent on a frost to stop flowering. The cycle is dependent on heat units and availability of moisture and fertility. Higher heat units will accelerate maturity. In dry weather or under low fertility the plants will stop blooming sooner.

Most capsules split open at maturity but the indehiscent capsule will not. Indehiscent, seamless, and shatter resistant lines will not have the seed drop out when the plant is inverted. There are approximately 50 to 80 seeds per capsule. With the first capsule located 1 to 2.5 feet from ground, depending on moisture, fertility, variety, and temperatures.

Sesaco has developed several varieties of shatter resistant sesame for direct harvest. Shattering varieties are used in countries where sesame is harvested manually. In the United States, shattering types are used to attract wildlife, particularly doves, quail, and pheasants.

It is highly drought resistant and grows best in areas where cotton does well. It will grow in all parts of Texas, but frost may injure it on the North Plains (when planted late). Sesame is a very leafy plant that terminates and self-defoliates without a frost.

Sesame ranks sixth in the world production of edible oil seeds–3,312,986 million tons, see Table 1. Sesame ranks twelveth in world vegetable oil produced–907,440 million tons, see Table 2. (Latest data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) for 2005 ().

Table 1: World production of edible oil seeds (2005)

Oil crops Production
(Million tons)
Soybeans 213,976,284
Oil Palm Fruit 172,840,720
Seed Cotton 67,803,392
Coconuts 54,254,232
Rapeseed 48,907,026
Groundnuts in Shell 37,228,389
Sunflower Seed 30,595,462
Sesame Seed 3,312,986
Linseed 2,900,587
Castor Beans 1,392,592
Safflower Seed 717,778
Mustard Seed 592,026
NOTE: Although Palm and coconuts are not strictly oil seeds, they are raised specifically for vegetable oil, and so some people put them in the same tables as oilseeds. Note that FAO still does not recognize the differentiation between rapeseed and canola.

Reference: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) for 2005

Table 2. World production of vegetable oil (2005)

Oil type Production
(million tons)
Oil of Palm 34,363,946
Oil of Soya Beans 33,363,365
Oil of Rapeseed 14,142,430
Oil of Sunflower Seed 10,244,873
Oil of Groundnuts 5,483,050
Oil of Cotton Seed 4,362,875
Oil of Palm Kernels 4,016,969
Oil of Coconuts 3,265,829
Oil of Olive 2,565,305
Oil of Maize 2,028,814
Oil of Rice Bran 1,613,164
Oil of Sesame Seed 907,440
Oil of Linseed 672,670
Oil of Safflower 126,581
Oil of Mustard Seed 67,182
Reference: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) for 2005

Specific Areas of Adaptation:

Soil preference

Sesame is adapted to fertile, well-drained soils and is not salt tolerant. Medium textured soils are most favorable. Sesame prefers neutral to slightly alkaline pH, with moderate fertility. Sesame does not like heavy clay soils or irrigation water containing high concentrations of salt.

Length of growing season

Because sesame is of tropical origin, it performs best in areas where temperatures remain high throughout the growing season of 110 to 150 frost-free days. Seed do not germinate well when soil temperatures are below 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and plant growth is retarded by cool temperatures even after the stand is established. Growth and fruiting are favored with average daily temperatures in the range of 86 to 92 degrees Fahrenheit. Early literature indicated that capsule set is usually poor during periods of extremely hot weather when maximum temperatures exceed 105 degrees Fahrenheit. However, sesame was grown in Yuma Arizona between 1978 and 1992 where the night temperatures were above 100 degrees Fahrenheit and in years such as 1990 there were 21 days that temperatures exceeded 120 degrees Fahrenheit and no problems were encountered with capsule set in those high temperatures. The plant will shed blooms if it is stressed for moisture. If it has been stressed for moisture and is irrigated late, some varieties will shed blooms for several days.

Sesame leaves are killed by temperatures slightly above the freezing point. A hard freeze may impact green plants with a high moisture content. A hard freeze occurred in Kansas several years ago when the plants were still green and the seed moisture content was high. The seed harvested from these green plants after the hard freeze appeared correct in shape and color, but in subsequent weeks the seed became rancid. What type of hard freeze causes the problem is still needing answered. Is it the length of the hard freeze, or the temperature, or both? Sesaco has not had any experience with hard freezes on green sesame, but have had a lot of experience with hard freezes on dry sesame. Dry sesame harvested after a hard freeze has not had any problems with germination or rancidity. One experiment conducted by Sesaco showed no reduction in sesame seed germination when planting seeds were placed in a freezer for seven days.

Sesame varieties grown commercially require 90 to 110 days from planting to reach physiological maturity. The upper limit is for areas where there are lower heat units accumulated during the growing season such as the areas north of Lubbock. Another 20 to 40 days are needed to allow the plant to dry down for harvest. A good rule of thumb is not to plant until at least a month after the last killing frost in the spring. However, soil temperature is a better indicator of when to plant. For good germination plant after the soil temperature at the eight inch depth at 8:00 a.m. averages 68 degrees Fahrenheit for ten days.

As indicated above, approximately five frost-free months are needed for sesame production. Once the plant reaches physiological maturity, a frost will not hurt it, and it will actually help it in that the plants will go to drydown quicker. Most of the sesame on the High Plains of Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas is not dry before the first frost. The only caveat is that light frosts kill some plants and not others which delays harvest. Late plantings mature in less time than early plantings, however, 95 days prior to 45 degree nights and 110 days prior to frost is needed to make full yield.


Shattering varieties (i.e. Blanco, Cal Beauty, Eva, Dulce, Llano, Margo, Oro, and UCR3) are found primarily in research nurseries. The shattering varieties have seed capsules that pop open when dry and allow most of the seed to be lost due to shattering.

Shatter resistant varieties were developed for mechanical harvest, of these SESACO 11, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23 and 24 – have been phased out and replaced with improved varieties of SESACO 25, 26, 28 and 29. These improved shatter resistant varieties have capsules that opens slightly at maturity but do not lose much of the seed prior to harvest. The SESACO 29 variety will be the primary variety planted in 2007.

NOTE: Shatter resistant and non-shattering are not synonymous terms. Kinman used non-shattering sesame for the homozygous indehiscent gene discovered by Derald G. Langham in 1943. Another type of closed sesame was discovered by Derald G. Langham and D. Ray Langham in 1986 and is homozygous for the seamless gene. The two types of non-shattering genes prevent the capsule from opening at drydown. In the later years, modifier genes were added that allowed these capsules to open slightly. The indehiscent and seamless genes were abandoned for commercial sesame because even with the slight capsule opening, it was too difficult to get the seed out in the combine without extensive damage.

Sesame produces about one-third as much seed as sorghum under ideal conditions; however, it produces more than one-third as much as sorghum under poor growing conditions. Another method of estimating sesame yields before planting is based on the fact that sesame produces approximately the same number of pounds of seed as cotton. For instance, if cotton makes a bale per acre (1,350 pounds of lint and seed per acre), sesame would make about 825 pounds of seed per acre under the same conditions. From 1998 to 2001, sesame yields ranged from 300 to 1,200 pounds per acre in dryland acreage and 800 to 1,700 pounds per acre in semi-irrigated / irrigated production. Some commercial field in Arizona had yields as high as 2500 pounds per acre. Production problems that resulted in poor plant stands impacted yields with some acreage yielding as low as 100 to 150 pounds per acre.

Key Production Requirements:

Seedbed Preparation

Sesame requires a warm, moist, mellow, weed-free seedbed. Raised beds are preferred to allow for good soil moisture while providing a method of keeping the moisture off of the stems. Generally, the seedbed preparation used for cotton is satisfactory for sesame. Because sesame is a late-planted crop, one or more crops of weeds can be killed by shallow cultivation before planting.

Sesame seeds need to be planted into good moisture and covered shallow. However, very limited success have occurred from watering up (furrow irrigation or pivot).

Row Width

A row spacing of 27 to 40 inches has shown to be adequate for sesame production. Seldom is a drill used in Texas for planting purposes because of difficulty in getting a stand and having enough moisture. In Oklahoma where producers are using modern drills with depth bands, thousands of acres have been successfully planted. Problems with marginal moisture and drills without depth control are still a concern. To get the desired distance between drill rows the farmers will need to plug off portions of the planting unit.

Planting is the most critical aspect of growing sesame. A farmer can do nothing to improve yield on poor stands except replant.

In dryland production it is highly recommended that 15 to 50 gallons of water per acre be placed in the seed line to help insure uniform emergence in irregular soils. If soil moisture is high, the gallons of water per acre in the seed line has been successfully lowered to 10 gallons of water per acre.

A sesame seed is small and has less energy for emergence than a larger seeded crop. The sesame seed is planted from 0.75 to 1.5 inches deep. The seed will need to remain in moist soil for 3 to 5 days. The planting depth and soil compaction should be kept at a minimum.

A planting rate of 3 pounds per acre (25-35 seeds per foot) is recommended for sesame planted on a 40 inch row spacing.

The planting rate should be increased if the seeds are planted deep, soil moisture is limited, soil temperature is cool, or the soil is compacted, cloddy, or trashy.

The planting rate should be reduced if seed bed are well prepared and have adequate soil moisture.

Planting Dates

Do not plant until all danger of cool weather is past. Planting dates may be as early as March 15 in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and as late as early June in the Panhandle. In general, Sesame is planted 2 to 3 weeks later than cotton or grain sorghum. In areas with long growing seasons and adequate summer rainfall or irrigation water, plant sesame in June or July. August or early September plantings have been successful in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

A good rule of thumb is not to plant until at least a month after the last killing frost in the spring. However, soil temperature is a better indicator of when to plant. For good germination plant after the soil temperature at the eight inch depth at 8:00 a.m. averages 68 degrees Fahrenheit for ten days.

Sesame is small seeded and can be drilled or row planted. Planters adapted for vegetable seeds may work best while small grain planters must be adapted for low planting rates. Stand establishment is sensitive and a good firm moist seedbed is best.

Sesame varieties grown commercially require 90 to 110 days from planting to reach physiological maturity. The upper limit is for areas where there are lower heat units accumulated during the growing season such as the areas north of Lubbock. Another 20 to 40 days are needed to allow the plant to dry down for harvest.

Approximately five frost-free months are needed for sesame production. Once the plant reaches physiological maturity, a frost will not hurt it, and it will actually help it to drydown quicker. Most of the sesame on the High Plains of Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas is not dry before the first frost. The only caveat is that light frosts kill some plants and not others which delays harvest. Late plantings mature in less time than early plantings, however, 95 days prior to 45 degree nights and 110 days prior to frost is needed to make full yield.

Planting Method

With certain adjustments, adapt available farm machinery to planting and cultivating sesame. The major adjustment necessary is in the planter box. Sesame seed are small and easily crushed, clogging the planter plates. Do not fill planter boxes above 6 to 8 inches to avoid churning seed.

A cotton planter can be modified using low rate “dryland” milo plates/cups or raw sugar beet discs or drums for air planters. Cotton planter modifications include:

  • International 186: Plate C-Sorg 00-30, Ring CFR- 1
  • International 386: Plate C-Sorg 00-30, Ring CFR-1
  • John Deere 71 Flex: Plate B-Sorg 00-30, Ring BFR-1
  • John Deere 800: Plate B-Sorg 00-30, Ring BFR-1
  • John Deere 80: JD Cups and shim set “Dryland sorghum” JD part #B31298 Feed cup spacer, B31205 32 Cell Feed Cup, B31300 Thrust Washer
  • John Deere Max-emerge: A25081 Shim, A36323 Plate, and AA253 19 bowl AA25319 set. One set per row.
  • JD Max-emerge II vacuum planter: using either a 45 cell H136445 “Raw sugar beet disc” or 45 cell A43066 “Small milo disc” Also need “Knocker Assembly” #AH129125 for each plate.
  • IHC 800, 900 air planter: IHC part #1546936C1 “Small seed drum” (Must shrink vent holes by hammer blows.)
  • NOTE: There have been mixed results with the IHC 800/900 air planter. It is difficult to plant enough seed per foot.
  • NOTE: Plates can be ordered from Lincoln AG-Products Company, Lincoln, Nebraska at (402) 464-6367. Cups and discs should be available at your local John Deere Dealer.

Cultural Practices

Always plant pure seed of the same variety and type. Mixing varieties results in stands of uneven height, maturity and seed quality. Your contractor should assist in variety selection on your farm.

Production in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s was hampered by excessive shatter problems, however, the shatter resistant types of sesame available to producers today greatly reduce these losses. Disease and insect problems appear minimal and the relatively dry summer weather makes sesame production possible.

Sesame grows slowly at first and does not compete well with weeds. Cultivate sesame to control weeds before rapid growth begins at 4 to 5 weeks after emergence (seedling height about 3 to 4 inches). Early cultivation causes seedlings to grow faster, possibly because of improved soil aeration. If the soil becomes compacted by excessive rain, cultivation may be needed to aerate the soil. Sesame plant color change from yellowish to green has been noted by several producers after plowing compacted soils; some indicated that color change was visible within six hours.

Sesame is highly drought resistant. Areas with adequate rainfall for the production of dryland sorghum or cotton usually have enough moisture for sesame production. Highest yields of sesame reported in the United States have been from experiments grown with irrigation in desert areas. Sesame uses approximately 50 percent less water than cotton, 66 percent less water than grain sorghum and 75 percent less water than corn. Researchers have found sesame reduces nematode populations.

Problems caused by volunteer sesame in cotton produced the next season has been minimized when producers planted Roundup Ready cotton and applied the herbicide in a timely fashion. Volunteer sesame has not been a problem in corn, sorghum, or wheat.

Lift off packer wheels from planting line or put as little pressure on as possible. Sesame seeds are too weak to break through much crust–even a light one. Scratching sometimes helps if timing is right. Most of the time with a crust, a replant is required.

Fertilizer Requirements

Sesame is not a poor-land crop. Applying a balanced commercial fertilizer at planting time is required for satisfactory production on soils of low to moderate fertility. Fertilizer rates and ratios are similar to those recommended for cotton on the same soil. Sidedressing with a nitrogen-bearing fertilizer may be necessary when growing plants are unthrifty and light green in color.

Sesame will require approximately 40 to 80 pounds of nitrogen per acre on irrigated production and 25 to 60 pounds of nitrogen per acre on dryland production, see Table 3. A large amount of the nitrogen is taken up by the plant during flowering and the crop responds well to foliar feeding. Apply phosphorus and potash according to soil test. High phosphorus levels in saline soils may decrease sesame yields. Present recommendations for nitrogen are:

Table 3. Nitrogen requirement of sesame based on available moisture.

Rainfall and Irrigation
(inches of water received)
Pounds of Nitrogen
needed per acre
Dryland, under 28″ of rainfall in soil profile 25-35 units of N
Dryland, over 27″ of rainfall in soil profile 30-60 units of N
Full irrigation, 12 inches additional water applied to full soil profile 60-80 units of N
Semi-irrigation, 6 to 8 inches of additional water applied to full soil profile. 40-60 units of N

Water-Irrigation Needs

Sesame is one of the most drought tolerant crops in the world and should do well in areas of 16 to 18 inches of annual precipitation. It will respond to irrigation if applied properly. It prefers fast, light irrigations (i.e., short runs or some slope).

Excessive moisture is not beneficial and extended periods of rainfall and/or high humidity may cause leaf diseases. Plants standing in water for more than a few hours may be killed.

Watering should be discontinued when flowering stops (70 – 80 days depending on variety).

If a dry period occurs prior to planting plan on heavy pre-irrigation. Then follow with the next irrigation 4 to 5 weeks later (watering up or watering back to help a poor stand seldom works). Two to three additional irrigation may be needed; application should be made every 7 to 12 days unless there is rain. When the plants show leaf droop by 2 PM, the sesame will benefit from an application of water in the next few days (dependent on soil texture).

Pest Management:

Major insect pests and their control

Green peach aphid, (cotton aphid does not affect sesame), thrips, grasshoppers, cutworms, and white fly are the most common insects attacking sesame. When these insects are bad, plants may not set sufficient capsules. Grasshoppers generally do their damage to areas of the field adjacent to rangeland. See linked information on sesame from U.S.D.A. (

Major disease pests and their control
Diseases do not cause much commercial damage on sesame, but they may increase when acreage increases. Bacterial leaf spot is most likely to cause trouble. Fusarium wilt can be a serious problem in South Texas on fields previously planted in sesame. The current sesame varieties have tolerance to Fusarium. Farmers have planted sesame on fields with serious cotton root rot problems and never seen the problem. However, there is a root rot (Phytophtora parasitica) that does attack sesame. Verticillium wilt also attacks sesame. See linked information on sesame from U.S.D.A. (

Major weeds and their control

There are no herbicides or pesticides labeled for sesame.

Herbicides, such as trifluralin (Treflan), are commonly used and incorporated prior to planting. Rates of 0.75 ai/A, 0.50 ai/A and 0.35 ai/A are recommended for trifluralin on clay, silt and sandy-loam soils.

Shallow cultivation may be an acceptable method of weed control. Several shallow tillage operations kill early germinating weeds before planting, with between-the- row cultivation after emergence.

Keep fields as clean as possible of Johnsongrass, wild cucumber, sunflower, and ground cherry. These seed are difficult to clean out of sesame. Sesame delivered with these seed are subject to price discounts.

Sesame is very sensitive to herbicide bands in cool or wet weather. Sesame tolerates Dual, Fusilade, Poast, Select and some Prowl/Treflan. Sesame does not tolerate Atrazine, Caparol, Paraquat, Pursuit, Roundup, Cadre, and 2-4D. In some years sesame can follow Cadre in peanuts, but in dry years there has been carry-over effects on sesame.

There have been mixed results with wheat herbicides such as Amber, Gleen, Ally, Finesse, and Assert. Some farmers have planted after using these herbicides with results ranging from little effect to complete eradication of sesame.

Preparation for harvest

Harvest from September 15 to December 15, dependent on planting date, variety, and climate.

Sesame is ready for harvest when the stalk dries down where it will be cut. For best yields, sesame must be harvested as soon as the crop is ready. The present shatter resistance varieties of sesame will hold the seed through 6 weeks of rain. The current problem is not with the shattering but rather with the deterioration of the plant which may result in lodging.

Clean all harvest machinery and trucks for food crop.

Harvest equipment

The color of combine is not as important as the settings. Combine settings should allow for minimum seed damage. Since sesame seed is 50 percent oil, high broken seed reduces the grade. A slow cylinder speed with loose concaves are necessary for quality harvest. Check the combine bin often to determine the number of broken seed, a maximum of two broken seed per 100 is acceptable.

The rate of feeding, cylinder concave surface and speed, setting of the cleaning sieve and air blast must be in “balance” to do an efficient job of threshing without excessive seed damage.

Do not clean the seed completely with a combine, but run the seed through a processing machine for cleaning. It is easy to clean sesame seed and remove the trash with standard seed-cleaning equipment.

Most combines can do an excellent job when set up properly. Broadcast headers can work efficiently. Small grain concaves and sieves usually clean well enough for good seed grades. A 5/32″ punched hole bottom screen cleans better (alfalfa screens look like they will work in the shop, but do not work well over time – they will plug!). Do not use a punched hole screen unless screens are cleaned with each dump, or yield will decrease as the screens get clogged up.

“Screening in” the back of the platform saves additional seed while allowing operator visibility.

Modified air headers and some Lynch (Heston) attachments work. Generally maize and Brittain fingers do more harm than good.

For tall (6 foot or over) sesame or lodged crops a JD #50 series all crop header is recommended.

Protect seed from rain and dew in combine and trucks. Wet seed can heat up faster than most seed.

Drying/storage/transit requirements

Oil content (when seed are pressed for oil) and seed condition are important in the sesame industry. Oil percentages of less than 50 percent are not acceptable. Most sesame varieties today yield 50 to 55 percent oil.

Some sesame varieties are grey or brown in color and a specialized sesame, black in color, is sold in Japan, Korea, China, Vietnam, Thailand, and Myanmar. The black seed coat color is important since the color can bleed into the seed and the dehulling process will not remove the color. Sortex machines are used to remove the dark seed prior to use.

Whole seed condiments is the primary use of the sesame grown by producers in the United States. The largest use is on top of buns and in snack foods.

Main Limitations to Adoption and Acceptance in District:

Lack of post harvest handling facilities

Until a regular marketing system for sesame seed develops, establish a definite market before planting. Marketing concerns interested in processing sesame seed may find it to their advantage to contract for a desired acreage before the planting season.

Currently, contract prices to growers is $27 per hundred weight (27 cents per pound). Premiums for high quality sesame are available and can earn producers an additional 1 to 4 cents per pound. Two buyers are known at this time: Sesaco, (Paris, TX (800) 527-1024) and Arrowhead Mills, Hereford, TX (806) 364-0730 (organic only).

Sesaco Representatives in Texas include:


I want to thank D. Ray Langham for reviewing the information contained and for his many useful suggestions.

Additional information on sesame is available from:

Sesaco Corporation



Jefferson Institute


Sesame Production Information Posted January 29, 2007

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PHOTO: Hemera/Thinkstockby Jessica Walliser September 29, 2016

Growing your own sesame seeds is not just easy, it’s surprisingly fun! These tiny, flavorful seeds are served sprinkled on everything from stir-fries and breads to sushi and hamburger buns. They’re also pressed to make sesame oil or processed into tahini paste.

Sesame plants (Sesamum indicum) are actually quite beautiful. They have attractive dark-green leaves and tubular flowers that can be white or pale pink. Mature plants can grow 3 to 6 feet tall, depending on the variety, and the seeds are collected from the dried seed pods at the end of the growing season.

Growing Sesame Seeds

Dinesh Valke/Flickr

To grow your own sesame crop, select an area in full sun with well-drained soil. You can sow the seeds directly into the garden as soon as the danger of frost has passed if you live in a southern region with a long growing season. In the North, start seeds indoors under lights four to six weeks before transplanting the seedlings out into the garden after the danger of frost has passed. Sesame plants prefer warm air and soil, so wait until the daytime temps are regularly in the 70s before moving your seedlings outdoors. Sesame plants grow surprisingly large, so place plants 2 to 3 feet apart at a minimum.

Sesame plants require between 100 and 130 growing days before the seeds are ready to harvest. After pollination, flowers will develop into narrow 1- to 1½-inch-long seed pods. Seeds are ready for harvest when the pods turn brown and begin to crack open slightly. The seed pods at the bottom of the plant will often be ready to harvest while the flowers toward the top of the plant are still in bloom, necessitating multiple harvests toward the end of the growing season.

Harvesting Sesame Seeds

Manual harvesting of homegrown sesame seeds is best done by carefully plucking the seed pods off the plants. Place the pods on newspapers to dry. Once the pods are brittle and fully dried, crack them open gently to release the seeds. You can separate the chaff by sifting the seeds through a colander or running a fan over the seeds to blow off the dried seed pod pieces.

Using Sesame Seeds

Store completely dried sesame seeds in sealed glass jars in a dark cupboard. You can also freeze sesame seeds for longer storage.

Sesame seeds can be eaten raw or toasted in an ungreased skillet for a few minutes. To make tahini paste for your next batch of homemade hummus, toast 1 cup of sesame seeds in a dry skillet over medium high heat, stirring frequently until they’re golden brown. Let the seeds cool a bit before putting them in the food processor. Add 3 tablespoons of high quality olive oil, and process the seeds and oil into a paste, adding more olive oil until the paste is thick but still easy to pour. Store the tahini paste in a sealed jar in the fridge until you’re ready to make hummus or top some falafel.

Sesame seeds for planting can be purchased from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds or through the store at Monticello.

Sesame (Sesamum indicum) is one of the oldest spices, dating from 1600 BC. Its exact origin is not yet known, but this is still to be determined after many DNA tests. However, it appears to originate in India, from where it subsequently spread to Africa and Asia. The cultivation of these seeds in areas of Greece and Asia Minor has been mentioned in the Naturalis Historia natural sciences book written by Pliny the Elder. Also, Teofrast and Herodot mention in their writings the cultivation of sesame seeds.

Sesame is an oily plant, as the seeds contain 55-60% oil and 24% protein. The cold extracted oil has a very refined taste, being used in the food industry, for confectionery and pastry. The resulting sesame cakes are rich in protein and fat, being used in confectionery or forage.

The largest sesame areas are grown in Asia, especially in India, which holds about 2.5 million hectares, and in China, with 900,000 hectares. Other important sesame producers are Myanmar, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Tanzania and Sudan. However, the most productive sesame farms are located in Greece, where largest productions per hectare were recorded in 2013.

On the other hand, the largest sesame seeds importing countries are Japan, China, Turkey, South Korea and Israel.

As a crop, sesame has important agricultural attributes. It adapts easily to temperate and tropical conditions, it grows well in soils with good soil moisture with minimal rainfall or irrigation. It produces good yields under high temperature and the resulting seeds have a high market value.

Usage of sesame seeds

Sesame seeds are commercialized in various forms. Most of them are used to produce oil, but the seeds are also suitable for various bakery products and other goods of the food industry. Raw or roasted sesame seeds are high in demand on the bio/organic food market.

Technical details about sesame growing

Sesame is part of the Pedaliaceae plant family and the species Sesamum indicum is usually grown. The plant has a pivotal, slightly branched root. The stem is straight, 50-150 cm high, covered with bristles. The leaves are long and covered with small bristles. The flowers, 1-3 in number, are found at the base of the leaves and have various colors, from white to purple. The fruit is a 4 cm long dehiscent capsule. The seeds are small, oval and also have different colors.

The plant grows best in hot climates, as during the vegetation period, which lasts 78-85 days, it needs thermal constant and temperatures higher than 0° C. Seeds germinate at 15-16° C and cannot withstand temperatures below + 5° C, and at temperatures below + 15° C the plant doesn’t grow. Sesame likes moisture and it’s not resistant to drought. Best productions are obtained on fertile soils, with medium texture and deeper groundwater.

To select the most suitable soil for sesame growing, look into the following characteristics:

  • The soil should be well drained, but not water logged;
  • Valley bottoms and depressions should be avoided;
  • Fertile land with sandy loam soil, free from concretions is the most suitable;
  • Sesame can be grown in rotation, following crops such as corn, sorghum, millet or cotton, or it can be grown as a mixed crop with millet sorghum and other types of cereals.

There are usually two types of sesame seeds used for farming – the white seeds suitable for the bakery industry and the brown or mixed sesame seeds for oil production. However, it’s not recommended to mix different types of seeds because the harvest seed quality will be uneven.

How to plant sesame

Sesame grows slowly in the early stages of vegetation, which is why the soil must be free of weeds. It can be planted in soils that were previously used for legumes, autumn cereals and industrial plants fertilized with manure. Regarding the fertilization of sesame, it’s important to know that about 70% of the nutrients are consumed after the flowering period, which is why fertilization is necessary during vegetation.

Soil preparation aims at creating a loose, graded and leveled ground. Basic soil preparation techniques used are weeding, ploughing and harrowing. Weeds are cleared manually, mechanically or by using herbicides. Ploughing should be carried out after the first rainfall, to ensure that the soil is soft enough to allow the penetration of elements.

Sesame is sown later, usually with specialized machinery, at a distance of 35-45 cm between the rows, 2-3 cm deep using 7-8 kilograms of seeds per hectare. If the soil is dry, it is advisable to roll slightly after sowing. As maintenance work, weeding is required.

Regarding fertilization, sesame requires nitrogen, phosphate and potash. Compost and farm manure is also recommended.

During the early stages of vegetation, sesame grows slowly and it can’t compete with weeds. This is the main reason why the soil should be properly cleared of weeds before the sesame is sown.

Waterlogging is the main culprit for root and stem diseases, but high humidity can also damage sesame cultures.

How to harvest sesame

The harvesting takes place when the fruit at the base are ripe, the seeds from the fruit get the color specific to the variety, and the leaves at the base of the stem have fallen. Sesame is usually ready for harvesting between 90 to 130 days after planting.

On small surfaces sesame is harvested with the sickle and then bounded into bundles, where it continues to dry without losing its quality. After drying, the bundles collapse to the ground. On larger surfaces it is harvested in two phases. First, it’s cut with a windrower and left in the swaths which, after drying, are collected with a combine harvester.

How to store sesame seeds

Poor storage conditions can decrease the quality of sesame seeds. Dirt, sand or stone can easily mix with the small sesame seeds, so it’s important to ensure the quality of the harvested seeds.

The harvested seeds are laid in a thin layer and shaken from time to time until they reach 9% humidity. Approximately 1,500 kilograms per hectare can be obtained. The seeds must be threshed without having further contact with the soil, to avoid any possible contamination that affects their quality.

Sesame is left to dry in the field and stored only when there is about 6% moisture. Moist seeds lead to low yields, especially for oil production and they can also clog parts of the machinery used for oil pressing. In addition, moist seeds are prune to fungal infestation; therefore, ensuring that the seeds are dry enough before storing them into containers is critical.

Storage recommendations:

  • Store unshelled sesame seeds in dry conditions, protected from rain, humidity and vermin. The seeds must have 10% moisture content.
  • Bagged seeds should not be placed directly on concrete floors because of the high risk of dampness.
  • Sesame can be stored for maximum 5 years in proper conditions so they don’t lose their viability.
  • For long-term storage, the sesame seeds should be clean have moisture content of no more than 6%, in spaces with cool temperatures and a humidity of approximately 50%.


A blooming sesame plant at the UF/IFAS Plant Science Research and Education Unit in Citra, FL. UF/IFAS.

Ready for something new? Growing an ancient crop like sesame in your home garden allows you to explore new flavors and ideas in your cooking while connecting with the past.

Sesame (Sesamum indicum) attracts a wide range of pollinators, making it a favorite plant for bumble bees and other insects. And don’t forget aesthetics; this plant is good-looking, with an upright growth habit and showy bell-shaped flowers.


As far as cooking goes, there’s more to sesame than just decoration for burger buns. Sesame seeds are used as a condiment, mild spice, in nutritive pastes, and in the production of sesame oil. Tahini, an ingredient used in humus and other recipes, is made from crushed sesame seeds. It’s even used in desserts, like the Greek dessert pasteli, made with sesame and honey.

Sesame has been cultivated for a very long time; 4,000 years ago it was a highly prized oil crop in Babylon and Assyria, and the Chinese burned sesame oil for light. African slaves were the first to bring sesame seeds, which they called benne, to America.

If you were to look for benne seeds today, know that benne is an heirloom sesame; the difference is comparable to an heirloom tomato versus modern tomatoes. Benne seeds have a stronger, slightly more bitter taste than modern sesame. Additionally, the benne seeds are brown as compared to the usually white sesame seeds.

In America, benne plants were first grown in slaves’ gardens. Benne seeds were used as a fat and protein source and the leaves were cooked as greens. When the leaves are pounded prior to cooking they act as a thickener the same way okra does.

Sesame plants usually grow to 2 feet tall, although they can reach heights of 4 feet. Tubular, bell-shaped flowers are light purple, rose, or white in color. Older cultivars have smooth and flat leaves while newer cultivars (referred to as “non-shattering”) have cupped leaves. Grooved seedpods develop after the flowers and each pod can contain more than 100 seeds. Once they mature, the seedpods burst open (or “shatter”) and spill the seeds. Because of the shattering characteristic, sesame seeds were often harvested by hand. A shatter-resistant variety that retained its seeds during harvesting was first developed in the 1940s.

Planting and Care

The biggest challenge to growing sesame in Florida is that our summers, when sesame is grown, are wet. As a drought-tolerant crop, sesame doesn’t perform well when soils are too moist. When selecting cultivars for planting be aware that the most drought-tolerant cultivars fair poorest in Florida’s humid climate.

Seed pods, not ready for harvesting, at the UF/IFAS Plant Science Research and Education Unit in Citra, FL. UF/IFAS.

Sesame is planted from seed and grows best in full sun. Plant sesame when soil temperatures are above 68 degrees. Seeds are tiny; they should be planted ½ inch deep.

Make sure there is good soil-to-seed contact and sufficient moisture to ensure good germination. It may take up to 5 months for plants to sprout, flower, and produce seeds. Sesame is self-pollinating.

Seeds can be harvested when the top parts of the stalk dry out. While harvesting, be careful not to shatter the pods which would cause the seeds to spill out onto the ground.


  • Open Sesame: The Pollinator of Sesame Plants–UF Entomology Blog

UF/IFAS Publications

Sesame Indicum White Sesame Seeds

Packet of 50+ freshly harvested home grown seeds!

Grown for many many thousands of years as a source of food and oil, the humble sesame has one of the highest oil contents of any seed, up to 50% at times, which is more than double that of Soy.

Not only lots of great oil, but it is a very healthy form, and very stable, meaning its natural shelf life surpasses the others too. It contains the natural antioxidants sesamin, sesamolin, and sesamol which are only found in Sesame seeds, and are the main cause of its longevity.

Great little plant, very productive and very healthy.
We use it all the time in everything from noodles, salads, tapas, for frying, spreads like tahinni, dips, marinades, you name it, sesame is a perfect match.

More than 4000years of documented use and it is one of the hardiest of all high energy crops. Forget the wheat and corn, if SHTF, sesame is what you want to grow, especially in a hot dry climate like Australia!

You might be wondering why not just buy a couple hundred grams from the store to get you started?

I thought the same thing, but after buying many different brands and varieties in bulk or food size packets, from health food shops, supermarkets, Asian grocery stores, and online, both here and all over the world, I have come to the conclusion that the store stuff must have been heat treated when sorted/graded, and just doesn’t grow?

Never had one seed strike off many millions of seeds, in many many different growing conditions and seasons over a couple years.

I bought these special seeds specifically to grow after all those failures, and had instant success.
Been growing my own ever since and now I finally have enough to sell a few packets myself.

Oh yeah, you might also be wondering about the color and the odd dark seed in my packs? The internet tells me>>>

“After harvesting, the seeds are usually cleaned and hulled.
Once the seeds have been hulled, they are passed through an electronic colour-sorting machine that rejects any discolored seeds to ensure perfectly coloured sesame seeds. This is done because sesame seeds with consistent appearance are perceived to be of better quality by consumers, and sell for a higher price. Immature or off-sized seeds are removed and used for oil production. The world traded over a billion dollars worth of sesame seeds in 2010. The trade volume has been increasing rapidly in the last two decades.”

There you have it, the humble sesame. I am sure you guys must have heard and tried it before, so why not have a crack at growing it?

Has a really great flower and grows a straight stem loaded with pods, up to about a meter high. Each pod contains about a big spoonful of seeds and each plant has HEAPS of pods.

Grown by me and the Mrs organically, no chems, no nasties, no dramas!!!

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Many farmers in northern Tanzania struggle to harvest enough crops to support their families. Some are surviving on 2,800 shillings a day – less than £1.

In northern Tanzania, unpredictable rainfall, droughts and outbreaks of pests and plant diseases make farming extremely difficult. Farmers often don’t have access to high-quality seeds to plant, and aren’t aware of the best agricultural techniques. This means that their harvests can be small – or even fail completely.

Farmers like Clara (pictured), were struggling to provide for their families: “Sometimes we would have to sell all of our crops, so we would have nothing to eat ourselves.”

But when Clara joined Farm Africa’s Sesame Project, she gained skills that helped her change her life.

A little seed can go a long way

Farm Africa chose to focus on growing sesame as it is drought tolerant, unlike maize and many of the other traditional crops grown in northern Tanzania.

The Sesame Project is not only helping farmers learn the best ways to plant and harvest their sesame, but also how to sell it for the best possible price

In the time it takes for a sesame seed to grow it really is possible to train farmers in all the skills they need to become successful entrepreneurs. However, Farm Africa’s work is only possible with your support.

Our impact: five steps that help farmers thrive


Farm Africa provides training in sesame production – including the importance of using high-quality seeds and agricultural techniques such as land preparation, spacing, and how to intercrop peas with sesame.


Farmers also learn how best to harvest their sesame and how to sort, clean, dry and package it for sale.

Adding value

We help farmers learn how to turn sesame into products such as snacks and flour, that can sell for higher prices than selling the seeds alone.

Assessing the wider market

Farm Africa helps farmers store their harvests together to sell in bulk. We also link them to large-scale buyers who will pay a fair price for their sesame seeds.

Passing on knowledge

Successful farmers are selected to become ‘Community Entrepreneurs’ who provide training for other farmers and help them sell their sesame for a good price.

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