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
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.