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Description | Overview | History | Cultivation pattern | Sesame seed producing countries | Indian sesame seed market | Major trading centers

Sesame is an East Indian flowering plant that comes from the family of Pedalliaceae and the genus Sesamum. The plant is a tropical annual herb having white and purple flowers. It is renowned for its seeds, which are a source of very useful sesame oil and are also used as a flavoring agent. It is an erect herb that bears tiny, flat, nutty flavored seeds that are oval in shape. Moreover, the seeds come in several colors like red, white, black, yellow etc depending upon the variety of the seeds. As a condiment, the seeds had added a slight crunchy flavor to the preparations since ages, as it was one of the earliest flavoring agents known to man.


Sesame seed has ever been known for the various uses it offers. The seeds of the sesame plant have been used as a flavoring agent since the ancient times. Sesame seeds are rich in proteins, fats, carbohydrates, fibers and other minerals and vitamins. In many of the cuisines over the world especially in Middle Eastern countries, it plays a quite significant role as many of the dishes are totally based on its crunchy flavor. Sesame seeds offer a high level of oil i.e. around 55% of its total mass. The oil derived is needed for a number of purposes, some of the domestic purposes are cooking purposes, preparation of salads, and the other industrial applications may be listed as in the production of margarine, soaps, pharmaceuticals, paints and lubricants. The residue left after the crushing of the seeds to obtain oil is known as the oil seed cake and that forms part of the feed for livestock.

The total global production of sesame seed sums up to around 30 lakh tons annually, China being the highest seed producer. The production of the seeds is somewhat concentrated in the Asian and African continents and the topmost five countries indulged in the production of sesame accounts for the majority of share in the total production. The production as well as consumption of sesame seeds has been in the up trend since the last decade and both the figures are rising steadily.

World trade figures in sesame seeds are 5 to 6 lakh tons annually. As already mentioned that the production of this condiment is concentrated in a few countries, it has resulted in for the concentrated exports also. Only the major producing countries dominate sesame seed exports and the major exporters are listed below

  • India

  • China

  • Mexico

A large number of countries import sesame seeds to fulfill their domestic consumption demand. Japan leads the list with an importing figure of around 165000 tons of seeds every year followed by Egypt with around 86000 tons. The list of the major sesame importing nations is

  • Japan

  • Egypt

  • South Korea

  • United States of America

  • Netherlands

  • China

  • Syria

  • Saudi Arabia

  • Greece

  • Israel

  • Mexico

  • Germany


Sesame seed is one of the oldest condiments the human race has ever known. The sesame plant had been grown since ages in various tropical areas of the world since prehistoric times and had been used as a flavoring agent. Though the origination of the sesame is a topic that is subject to controversy, some of the historians believe that the plant originated on the lands of Indian subcontinent as the earliest references regarding this plant and the flavoring agent are given in the early Hindu legends. Also, some legends also describe the origination of sesame in their own way. One of those legends mentions that when the world was to be created, the gods consumed wine prepared from sesame seeds.

Initially sesame seeds were only known for the use of condiments and for oil and wine. Its other uses as medicine or perfumes were discovered much later with time. The sesame traveled to the Middle East from India with the help of ancient traders and wanderers. It still forms a significant part of their culture and cuisine. The earliest use of sesame oil was traced back to around 3000 BC in the Middle East. The Europeans encountered the seed when it was imported from India in the 1st century AD. The use of sesame seeds in baked foods was started by the early Egyptians. It became popular world over even before the beginning of the 16th century and the Africans introduced it into America in the 17th century.

Cultivation pattern

Sesame plant is one of those plants that thrives in the tropical conditions and are easily adaptable to the environment. That is why it is mostly found in the countries lying in the tropical belt of the world. Sesame is a drought resistant annual plant and yields maximum when grown at temperatures 25 to 27 degree Celsius. Sandy loam, well-drained soil type with alkalinity ranging from 5.5 to 8 is required for the efficient performance of the plant but the crop can be grown on the various other soil types also. Many a varieties of the plant are multi branched and the other less branched and it gains a height of 20 to 60 inches. White to pale-rose, bell shaped flowers begin to occur in 6 to 8 weeks of plantation and the leaves are generally variable in size. The sesame seeds are derived from the fruit of the plant, one fruit containing 50 to 100 seeds. Most of the harvesting is done manually making it basically a commercial crop the cost being quite nominal.

The plant does not survive water logging or wet conditions. In India, sesame is available throughout the year as it is grown both in the winter as well as summer season, most of it cultivated as kharif crop. Northern part of the country produces its entire sesame yield as khariff crop while the southern part of the country produces the same as both khariff and rabi. 

Sesame seed producing countries

Sesame is produced in around 65 countries of the world. The production of sesame seeds in the world is dominated by a few countries that lie in the African and Asian continents. All the major producers of the seed produce a total of around 30 lakh tons annually. China produces the maximum out of them all sharing approximately 25% share in the total world’s production. The 5 topmost producing countries contribute to around 70% of the total production done in the world. The production level has grown steadily over the last decade and is still rising the same way. The list depicting the most important sesame producing countries with their production figures in the year 2005 is mentioned below

  • China (725470 metric tons)

  • India (680000 metric tons)

  • Myanmar (550000 metric tons)

  • Sudan (300000 metric tons)

  • Uganda (110000 metric tons)

  • Nigeria (75000 metric tons)

  • Pakistan (68000 metric tons)

  • Ethiopia (65000 metric tons)

  • Bangladesh (50000 metric tons)

  • Central African Republic (42800 metric tons)

  • Thailand (42000 metric tons)

  • Tanzania (41000 metric tons)

  • Egypt (37000 metric tons)

  • Guatemala (35049 metric tons)

  • Chad (35000 metric tons)

  • Paraguay (33300 metric tons)

  • Iran (28000 metric tons)

  • Senegal (24130 metric tons)

  • Turkey (23000 metric tons)

  • Mexico (22593 metric tons)

Some time ago, India was enjoying the topmost position in the list but china’s improvement in the production and India’s slow steady growth allowed china to take over the lead from India.

Production of sesame seed in India

India had been a dominant and one of the oldest producers of sesame in the world. Sesame seed provides a traditional source of oil for many communities in India. The country produces around 680000 metric tons of sesame seed annually and stands at the second place in terms of production. The country also ranks 1st in the context of the area covered under the cultivation of the crop. The states, Gujarat and West Bengal account for the maximum production in the country producing 2 lakh tons sesame seeds every year. The list of all the major sesame-producing states in India is shown below

  • Gujarat

  • West Bengal

  • Rajasthan

  • Tamil Nadu

  • Orissa

  • Madhya Pradesh

  • Andhra Pradesh

  • Maharashtra

  • Uttar Pradesh

  • Punjab

  • Karnataka

India produces a wide variety of sesame seeds differing in colors, size, oil content etc. the eastern part of the country generally produces seeds of inferior quality in colors like red and black. But the western part of the country produces a much superior quality sesame seeds mostly white in color. The production figure of sesame in the country is a highly variable figure as the production is largely dependent on the monsoon and the rainfall level.

Indian sesame seed market

The sesame plant owes its origin to the Indian subcontinent and that’s why the crop has a vital link with the country. The uses that the crop offers were spread through out the world from India only. Various Hindu legends tell about how the seeds were used as flavoring agents and as a source of oil in the ancient time. The weather conditions in India also suit the crop and that is why the country is one of the largest producers of sesame. The country is positioned at the second place in the list of largest sesame seed producing countries. India’s annual average production hovers around 680000 metric tons contributing around 22% in the world’s total production. Gujarat and West Bengal are the major producers. In context of consumption of the crop, India again is one of the major sesame consuming countries of the world having sesame oil consumption figures 1.6 lakh metric tons in 2004-05.

In the world market for sesame, India has a reputation of being a net exporter. The country is one of the largest exporters of sesame exporting around 5.4 lakh metric tons sesame annually. As the production in India is sufficient to satisfy the domestic consumption demand, the left over sesame i.e. around 25% of the total production is exported to various importing nations of the world. The countries that forms part of the market for Indian sesame are

  • Germany
  • Turkey
  • Netherlands
  • United States of America
  • Greece
  • Hong Kong
  • Israel
  • China
  • United Kingdom
  • United Arab Emirates

In India the seeds are valued on the basis of their color. The seeds having whitish color are considered to be of good quality and having high oil content and the seeds of different color are considered to be of inferior quality.

Major trading centers of sesame seed

The major trading center in India where sesame seed is traded is the Saurashtra region of Gujarat. The major states where sesame seed oil is traded are Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

Also, sesame seed is traded in the Indian Commodity exchanges namely, Multi Commodity Exchange of India ltd, National Commodity & Derivatives Exchange ltd, National Multi Commodity Exchange of India ltd.

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