Forget Charcoal: Black Sesame Is the New Hot Ingredient

Use it to make all your favorite foods extra spooky, just in time for Halloween!

October 25, 2019
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Photo by: dashu83


Halloween is almost here and so are the year’s most-creative desserts. Peeled grapes resembling eyeballs, bowls of polarizing candy corn and foods dyed black are suddenly back in style.

Charcoal may be the trendy solution for coloring, but given its shaky safety status, using black sesame to achieve that spooky, pitch-black look is the way to go. Here’s everything you need to know about this dark, delicious and tried-and-true ingredient.

What Is Black Sesame?

Said to be one of the world’s oldest condiments, this inky-colored seed grows inside pods in tropical climates around the world. It’s similar to its counterpart, the beige-colored sesame seed, but differs in taste. Black sesame has a stronger, nuttier flavor with a hint of bitterness. This makes it a favorite for chefs around the world, particularly in Asia, where it is mainly produced.

Head chef and owner of Bali’s Room 4 Dessert Will Goldfarb says, “Black sesame is mild and pleasantly bitter with an aroma of slightly burnt toast. It’s kind of a diet black truffle.”

How It’s Used in Food

This incredibly versatile ingredient is often used in marinades for meat throughout Korea and Japan. It can be seen coating a roll of sushi, sprinkled on your bagel or in salad dressing. But its most popular use is in slightly sweet desserts throughout Asia.

In Japan, black sesame or kurogama, is used to flavor and color their famous soft-serve ice cream. It’s also used to coat and flavor mochi, a glutinous rice cake popping up in dessert aisles of American supermarkets.

At Baglioni Resort Maldives, a new five-star hotel in the South Asian slice of paradise, they use black sesame at all three of their dining options, especially their overwater Japanese restaurant, Umami. “As an Italian resort, we use it in our bread and mostly in our Japanese dishes. We use sesame oil and sesame paste often. It’s quite popular in Asian cuisine,” says Michele Mingozzi, Executive Chef at Baglioni Resort Maldives.

Nearby in India, the world’s largest producer of black sesame, its sometimes used in laddu, a ball made of sweet chickpea flour, sugar and ghee (clarified butter). Chikki, a popular after-dinner snack made from peanuts, ghee and sugar, also gets dyed black for those looking to add a healthier spin on the classic.

Tangyuan, a Chinese dessert served on special occasions, is a rice flour dumpling filled with black sesame seeds swimming in a broth of water and sugar. In Hong Kong, you can also find ominous-looking black sesame rolls, a gelatinous, sweet dessert perfect for a Halloween shin-dig. There’s also black sesame soup, known as Hakzimaawu, a rich and nutty dessert, whose pitch-black color isn’t for the faint of heart. More trendy, modern-day bakeries are making black sesame pudding, panna cotta, cheesecake and tarts.

At Goldfarb’s Bali-based 21-course dessert restaurant, it’s a favorite. “We love to use black sesame at Room 4 Dessert. For example, in the glaze for our false vanilla pod in our Planifoglia dessert, the combination of sesame and kluwak (fermented fruit from Southeast Asia) is very romantic,” says Goldfarb.

How to Use It at Home

For those with a sweet tooth, you can use black sesame powder to dye neutral colors, like cupcake batter, frosting or meringue. For an even easier use in your own kitchen, Goldfarb says, “They are great simply ground and sprinkled over ice cream.”

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