History tells us that sesame seed is the first recorded seasoning, dating back to 3000 B.C. Assyria. It grows widely in India and throughout the Orient. The seeds were brought to America by African slaves, who called it benné (BEHN-nee) seed, and it subsequently became very popular in Southern cooking. These tiny flat seeds come in shades of brown, red and black, but those most commonly found are a pale grayish-ivory. Sesame seed has a nutty, slightly sweet flavor that makes it versatile enough for use in baked goods such as breads, cakes and cookies, in confections like the Middle Eastern halvah, and in salads and other savory dishes. The seed is available packaged in supermarkets and can be found in bulk in Middle Eastern markets and natural food stores. Because of a high oil content, sesame seed turns rancid quickly. It can be stored airtight in a cool, dark place for up to three months, refrigerated up to six months or frozen up to a year.
From The Food Lover's Companion, Fourth edition by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst. Copyright © 2007, 2001, 1995, 1990 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.