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Why is Ali Baba’s spell “Open Sesame”?

Why is Ali Baba’s spell “Open Sesame”?

Why is Ali Baba’s spell “Open Sesame”?
Sesame seeds are encased within a seed capsule.
There are 8 rows of seeds and about 70 seeds per capsule.
The capsules split open when once they are ripe, and that is believed to be the origin of the phrase "Open Sesame", meaning unlocking of treasures.

From a nutrition perspective, sesame is indeed one of many treasures we inherited from our ancestors, who first started cultivating this crop thousands of years ago. Sesame seeds are rich in healthy unsaturated fats, consisting about 85% of total fatty acid content. In addition, it is also a good source of dietary fibre and protein for our meals.

Tryptophan (/ˈtrɪptəfæn/) is one of the essential amino acids present in sesame seeds, which are limited in some vegetables such as soya1. Tryptophan cannot be synthesised by our body and must be obtained through our diet. It plays important roles in several metabolic functions. Tryptophan is the sole precursor of peripherally and centrally produced serotonin, a neurotransmitter which modulates a wide array of functions of our body including sleep, control of appetite, temperature, mood, and cognition. Serotonin synthesis occurs in the periphery within the gut neurons and enterochromaffin cells and centrally within the neurons of the raphe in the brain stem. In order for the central serotonin production to occur, tryptophan first needs to cross blood-brain barrier (BBB) to reach the central nervous system . BBB is formed by highly selective endothelial cells to prevent toxins or pathogens being circulated into the brain, while allowing the access of vital nutrients. The tryptophan uptake mechanism is not yet fully understood; however, it is believed that most of our tryptophan is bound to plasma albumin. In addition, free tryptophan must compete with other amino acids for the “transportation system” to the brain. Hence, the amount of tryptophan available for central serotonin synthesis is limited. Studies show that low dietary tryptophan intakes could result in depressed mood2 and increase in irritability or aggressive behaviour3.

Tryptophan and serotonin are associated with another important molecule melatonin in our body. Certain human trials indicated that a tryptophan-rich breakfast and bright light exposure during the daytime promoted melatonin secretion at night, which could contribute to better sleep quality4.

Despite the difference in the colour of husks among different sesame varieties, hulled sesame seeds are all off-white colours. This is because the colour pigments are only in the sesame husks and the embryos are in off-white colour.

As you can see from the sesame global production map, sesame plants thrive in tropical and subtropical regions, due to the need of high temperatures (25 – 35°C) during the life cycle.

Emma Basic sesame seed raw materials are carefully selected all over the world, and follow the EU and UK’s requirements on pesticides residue. Once arrived at the manufacturer, the sesame seeds are passed through a series of machines to remove foreign bodies, such as tree branches, stones, etc. After washing and cleaning, the sesame seeds enter the roasting stage. There are 1/3/5/7/9 rated degrees of roasting in the industry. Too slightly roasted sesame seeds do not have sufficient aroma, while a high degree of roasting produces a bitter taste. Hence, a roasting degree between 3 and 5 is chosen by the skilled roasting masters for Emma Basic sesame seeds to achieve the balance of aroma and taste.

Sesame Global Production Map

Main producing countries or regions:

Asia: China, India, Myanmar, Pakistan.

East Africa: Ethiopia, Sudan, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Tanzania, Mozambique and Uganda.

Central and South America: Mexico, Guatemala, Paraguay, Bolivia.

India, China, Sudan and Myanmar are four major sesame-producing countries in the world. These four countries account for more than 65% of the world’s output.

The total sesame production of the 15 main producing countries or regions above accounts for about 70% of the total global sesame production.


Mostly planted in Henan, Hubei and Anhui province. The sesame production in these three provinces in normal circumstances accounts for more than 70% of the China’s total output.

These regions have a mild climate, sufficient sunlight and abundant rainfall. The soil types mainly include black and fluvo-aquic soil, which are suitable for growing sesame. Hence, the sesame seeds produced in these regions are featured by high oil content, pure white colour, thin seed coats and great taste.


In Myanmar (also known as Burma), Magway, Mandalay and Sagaing province located in the central of the country are the major production areas, accounting for about 90% of the country's total planting area. Sesame crop can double or triple cropped during each calendar year in Myanmar, and the biggest harvest season starts mid-August. There are several sesame varieties for export: white, black, red and brown sesame seeds.


India is the world's largest producer of sesame seeds, with the largest planting area and total yield in the world. Especially, the yield of white sesame can reach 250,000 to 350,000 tons each year. However, the monsoon rain in certain years can lead to extreme inconsistency in sesame yield. This is because seeding is delayed if the southwest monsoon rains are late. Also, drought or excessive rainfall makes sesame plants vulnerable to diseases and pests, particularly in the early stage of plant growth. This results in low quality produce. In addition, low yield often happens during the rainy season. Hence, the annual production volume fluctuates significantly between years. Nevertheless, the advantage of Indian sesame seeds is the relatively low price due to high yield.


Sesame crops are mostly cultivated in Asia, Africa, central and south America. Nearly 55% of the world's sesame seeds are produced in Africa, from more than 20 African countries including Sudan, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Mali and Nigeria. The total yield in 2019 was approximately 1.5 million tons. Sesame crop is resilient to drought and extremely hot conditions, requiring very little effort for farming. These attributes have made sesame a valuable cash crop in many African countries with the encouragement from local governments. Hence, Africa is becoming the world’s fasting growing region of sesame production, and the sesame farming area continues to expand each year!

Sudan is one of the few countries that implement sesame production with crop rotation, and one of the world’s largest sesame producers. 40% of its produce is harvested mechanically. There is land in southern Sudan with plenty of rainfall, which has great potential to grow sesame crop. The largest sesame-producing area in Sudan is famous for its high-quality white sesame seeds.


  1. Fasuan, T. O., Gbadamosi, S. O., & Omobuwajo, T. O. (2018). Characterization of protein isolate from Sesamum indicumseed: In vitro protein digestibility, amino acid profile, and some functional properties. Food science & nutrition6(6), 1715–1723.

  2. Jenkins, T. A., Nguyen, J. C., Polglaze, K. E., & Bertrand, P. P. (2016). Influence of Tryptophan and Serotonin on Mood and Cognition with a Possible Role of the Gut-Brain Axis. Nutrients8(1), 56. 

  3. Young, S. N., & Leyton, M. (2002). The role of serotonin in human mood and social interaction. Insight from altered tryptophan levels. Pharmacology, biochemistry, and behavior71(4), 857–865.

  4. Fukushige, H., Fukuda, Y., Tanaka, M., Inami, K., Wada, K., Tsumura, Y., Kondo, M., Harada, T., Wakamura, T., & Morita, T. (2014). Effects of tryptophan-rich breakfast and light exposure during the daytime on melatonin secretion at night. Journal of physiological anthropology33(1), 33.
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