Sesame Oil: Is It Good for You?

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on January 05, 2024
7 min read

Sesame oil is made from raw or toasted sesame seeds. It's a popular cooking oil in Chinese, Japanese, and Middle Eastern cuisines.

The seeds come from the sesame (Sesamum indicum) plant. The seeds are high in protein and B vitamins, but sesame oil doesn’t contain the protein or many of the essential vitamins and minerals. It does, however, keep the fatty acids and antioxidants, including vitamin E and phytosterols

Sesame seed oil is often used to sauté meats and vegetables or is added to dressings and marinades.

Sesame oil is believed to have some important health benefits, like providing heart-healthy fats, combating inflammation, and protecting skin from sun damage. More research is needed to fully understand the benefits (and the potential risks) that sesame oil offers. 

Toasted sesame oil is made from seeds that have been toasted and pressed. It has a low smoke point and can burn easily, so it's not ideal as a cooking oil. It's best to add it as one of the final steps in a recipe to boost flavor.

Toasted sesame oil vs. sesame oil 

Is toasted sesame oil the same as sesame oil? The basic ingredients are the same, but they are processed differently. The toasted version is darker -- it will appear amber in a bottle. It has a strong sesame smell. 

Sesame oil is lighter -- it appears pale yellow in a bottle. It has a less intense smell. Like soybean, safflower and corn oil, it's high in polyunsaturated fat. 

Regular sesame oil has a medium smoke point. It's good when you want to sauté, but not for when you need high heat. 

A 1-tablespoon serving of sesame oil contains the following:

  • Calories: 120
  • Protein: 0 grams
  • Fat: 14 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 0 grams
  • Fiber: 0 grams
  • Sugar: 0 grams

Sesame oil also contains omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, both of which are polyunsaturated fats. They’re both essential fatty acids that help prevent several diseases, including heart disease and cancer. They also help improve immune function

Is sesame oil good for you? It has healthy fats and amino acids.

Potential health benefits of sesame oil include:

Heart health

Sesame oil has a balanced ratio of omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9 fatty acids. Omega-3 and omega-6 are polyunsaturated, while omega-9 fatty acids are monounsaturated. Research shows that a diet containing these healthy fats lowers your risk of developing heart disease.

Some studies show that consuming sesame oil may help reduce your LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, which play a role in protecting your heart. 

High in antioxidants

One of the helpful substances in sesame oil is the antioxidant sesamin. It's a lignin, a type of compound that forms plant tissue. Antioxidants help your body fight the damage caused by free radicals. They play a key role against heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

May help heal wounds and burns

Animal studies have shown that sesame oil applied to the skin can help injuries such as wounds and burns when combined with ozone. Ozonated water has been used for decades in wound treatment, but it loses its effectiveness quickly. Ozonated oil can be safely stored longer. Scientists believe sesame's antioxidant and antibacterial properties play a role in healing, but more studies are needed. 

Reduced inflammation

Many cultures have used sesame oil in traditional medicine as an anti-inflammatory. Traditional Taiwanese medicine has used it to treat joint pain, toothaches, cuts, scrapes, premenstrual cramps, and more.

While more human studies are needed, some test-tube studies have shown that sesame oil is effective at lowering inflammatory markers. 

Regulated blood sugar levels

Sesame oil may help regulate blood sugar levels. One study found that adults taking sesame oil had reduced fasting blood sugar (your blood sugar after a night of sleep) and hemoglobin A1c (your average blood sugar level over the past 2-3 months).

Hair health

The sesamin and vitamin E in sesame oil may benefit your hair. One study found that a supplement containing the two antioxidants improved hair strength and shine. 

Stress and depression relief

Sesame oil has an amino acid called tyrosine. Tyrosine boosts serotonin, which can help fight feelings of stress and depression. 

Sun damage prevention

Some research shows that the antioxidants in sesame oil may protect skin against UV damage. Sesame oil resists up to 30% of UV rays, while other oils only resist up to 20%.

Research is limited on this subject. While some sources claim sesame oil may be an effective natural sunscreen, you may want to continue using regular sunscreen to protect your skin from sun damage.  

While there are many potential benefits of incorporating sesame oil into your diet, there are a few potential risks to keep in mind. These risks include:

Sesame allergies

Sesame is now the ninth most common allergen. Approximately 0.2% of the U.S. population is allergic to it. Although this percentage might not seem significant, sesame oil is almost as common in foods as the top eight allergens.

Allergic reaction responses range in severity, but they can be serious enough to cause anaphylaxis. A person with a severe allergy to sesame may need to carry an epinephrine auto-injector

Weight gain 

Although sesame oil contains heart-healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, too much oil can lead to weight gain. Sesame oil is high in calories.

Medication interference

Sesame oil may improve your blood pressure and blood sugar levels. But if you’re on medications for high blood pressure or diabetes, it may cause your blood pressure or blood sugar to drop too low. You should speak with your doctor before adding sesame oil to your diet.

Sesame oil, because of its smoke point, is best used at lower heats. If you don't have any on hand and are looking for a healthy substitute for your sauté, sauce, or baking (at low heat), consider these alternatives: 

  • Hemp oil, which has healthy omega-3 fatty acids
  • Pumpkin seed oil, which contains alpha-linolenic acid, another source of healthy omega-3s.

Corn, soybean, and virgin coconut oils all have a similar smoke point to sesame oil. But corn and soybean oil are high in omega-6 fatty acids, which can be unhealthy in high quantities. Coconut oil has lauric acid, which raises your good cholesterol levels. It also raises your bad cholesterol levels, so you should limit it in your diet. 

The flavor of sesame oil, especially the toasted version, gives a boost to uncooked preparations like salad dressings, marinades, and dips. If you don't have sesame oil or are avoiding it, try these substitutes: 

  • Flaxseed oil, which has alpha-linolenic acid, a good source of omega-3 fatty acids
  • Walnut oil, which also has alpha-linolenic acid 
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, which may be the healthiest choice of all. It's good for your cholesterol and has vitamins A, E, D, and K.

Sesame oil is often an ingredient in East Asian and Middle Eastern food. 

Regular sesame oil is best in recipes that don't require high heat. You can use it to sauté, or add it to a sauce at the end of the cooking time. 

Toasted sesame oil works best when its flavor gives a boost to salads, marinades, dips and other uncooked foods. 

Store sesame oil in your pantry or another cool, dark place. If it's refrigerated, that may affect its look, though not the flavor. It may appear cloudy or even solidify. The best way to check whether your sesame oil is still good is to smell it. If you notice a bitter or off-putting odor, don't use the oil. Most oils are best if you use them within 60 to 90 days of opening them. 

Sesame oil is usually found in the Asian food section of the supermarket. It's also available online. 

Sesame oil, a popular ingredient in Asian and Middle Eastern recipes, can add a healthy dash of flavor to your cooking. You can use regular sesame oil, which is pale yellow, for cooking and baking that doesn't require high heat. Toasted sesame oil, which is amber, has a nutty flavor and works best in dips, sauces, and dressings. 

Whichever type you go with, you're choosing an oil with polyunsaturated fats, which are good for your heart. 

Is sesame oil better than olive oil?

For health benefits, olive oil is the best choice. It contains many essential nutrients. Extra virgin olive oil also has one of the lowest oxidation rates among cooking oils. That means you'll get fewer free radicals, chemicals that can damage cells. Sesame oil is a healthy choice, too, but olive oil has the edge. 

Who should not use sesame oil?

Sesame is one of the most common allergies. If you're allergic, exposure to sesame oil could give you hives or even a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction. If you use too much sesame oil, it might hamper your efforts to maintain a healthy weight. If you have high blood pressure or diabetes, check with your doctor before upping your use of sesame oil. 

Should you cook with sesame oil?

Regular sesame oil is good for cooking that doesn't require high temperatures. Toasted sesame oil will smoke quickly when heated. Save it for flavor in uncooked things like dressings and dips.