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Cooking with Sesame Oil – How to Use the Oil Well

Cooking with Sesame Oil

The best way to describe sesame oil is ‘amazing in small doses’. The oil is a fantastic way to add flavor to food. But, add too much and you’ll ruin whatever dish you’re creating.

This makes cooking with sesame oil a little complex.

You don’t want to just add the oil in on a whim when you’re cooking and hope for the best.

So, in this post, we’re highlighting ways to take full advantage of the oil.

What You Can Expect

Sesame oil has a roasted flavor, one that adds intensity to many meals. You’ll also hear it described as smoky or having an umami flavor. It’s normally used in small quantities – like a tablespoon or less in an entire recipe.

This also means you rarely cook with just sesame oil (unlike you do with coconut oil or olive oil). Instead, sesame oil offers a way to add in extra flavor and to make your meal taste much more interesting.

Sesame oil is also perfect if you’re cutting down on salt. It helps to make sure your food still tastes good, without increasing your sodium intake.

How to Cook with Sesame Oil

Soba noodles with sesame oil

Sesame oil has some interesting quirks. It works well as a garnish or in cooking, as long as you make good decisions.

Use low temperatures

Sesame oil has a low smoke point, so you need to be careful with cooking. This means you can’t directly use it to fry food with. It isn’t good for deep frying either.

Instead, you need to focus on low temperatures for cooking.

Adding the oil in too early also diminishes the flavor. This could mean that your meal cooks fine but doesn’t retain the characteristic flavor of sesame oil.

Add the oil in afterward

The most common way around the smoke point is to use sesame oil after the fact. For example, you might stir fry your meat and veggies then turn the temperature down and add the oil.

This still gives you the flavor of the oil, without ruining your meal.

Mix it with another oil

Mixing sesame oil with another type of oil is a good way to make cooking easier. If you pick a relatively mild oil with a higher smoke point – you’ll end up with a blend that still tastes like sesame oil but is less likely to burn.

Use multiple oils

You don’t need to literally mix your sesame oil either. Many recipes use multiple types of cooking oil – with sesame oil being one of them. As The Perfect Pantry explains, it’s common to see sesame oil used in a recipe but not as the main type of oil.

Follow a recipe

The way an oil behaves will vary depending on what you’re cooking with it. This makes recipes particularly powerful.

The authors have already figured out the best quantities, techniques and temperatures to make sure the meal tastes perfect. All you need to do is follow their instructions.

If nothing else, it’s worth using a recipe to get started. This can help you get accustomed to sesame oil and figure out new ways to use it effectively.

Use sparingly

Most recipes will tell you precisely how much sesame oil to use. But, if you’re not following one, be cautious with your sesame oil. It does have an intense flavor and can quickly overwhelm a dish.

You might just start off with a few drops and go from there. You can always add more in if you need to.

Amazing Sesame Oil Recipes

Sesame chicken stir fry

There are many sesame oil recipes out there. Some use the oil as an integral part of cooking. Others add the oil once the cooking process is finished. The list below highlights some of our favorites.

There are also some great sauces and dips that use sesame oil.

Lydia from The Perfect Pantry talks about a combination of three ingredients that acts as a base for many different recipes, including stir-fries.

Most recipes will use sesame oil sparingly. It does have an intense flavor and you can ruin a dish by adding too much. But, there are exceptions. For example, Bulgogi recipes will often use multiple tablespoons of sesame oil (like in the video below).

Other Ways to Use the Oil

Of course, cooking isn’t your only option. Many people simply add sesame oil to already prepared meals. Some examples include the following:

  • Mix sesame oil into a cooked stir-fry
  • Add a little sesame oil to a package of cooked ramen. This is an easy (and cheap!) way to make the ramen taste so much better
  • Drizzle a little on top of fried rice, tofu, soup or salad
  • Use the oil as part of a marinade for a meal
  • Brush meat with sesame oil before cooking. This creates a wonderful flavor without much effort
  • Toss the oil through cooked vegetables

The site CookingLight also has a list of ways that you can use the oil, including pictures of many stunning recipes.

How Much Should You Use?

If you’re not following a recipe, finding the best amount of sesame oil may seem confusing.

It’s often best to start with just a few drops, which you mix into your food. You can then adjust based on flavor. After all, everyone has their own taste preferences.

Types of Sesame Oil

Sesame oil

Sesame oil normally comes in two types – toasted and untoasted.

Toasted Sesame Oil

Toasted sesame oil is the most common. It’s often used in Asian meals and is perfect in stir-fries and similar recipes.

This version also has a darker coloring, making it easy to distinguish.

Untoasted Sesame Oil

In contrast, untoasted sesame oil tends to have little flavor and has lighter coloring. It does have a higher smoke point and can be used for high-temperature cooking.

And, as the company Kadoya points out, sesame oil doesn’t oxidize quickly. So, frying with it won’t harm your health, providing you don’t burn your food in the process.

Beyond the smoke point, untoasted sesame oil doesn’t offer many advantages. 

Intermediates

Some brands create lighter versions of sesame oil. These might involve extra ingredients to dilute the taste somewhat or using an intermediate level of toasting.

But there’s no real benefit. The main advantage of sesame oil is the flavor. If you don’t like that, there are plenty of other oils to choose from.

Which is Best?

Most of the time, you’re going to want toasted sesame oil. This is the version that offers the unique flavor and works so well in recipes.

Buying Sesame Oil

Sesame oil

Sesame oil isn’t nearly as common as canola or olive oil. But, there are still multiple places that you can find it.  

  • Sesame oil is common enough that you’ll find it at grocery stores without too many problems
  • You can also try local Asian food stores. These may have more authentic products and could have a better selection
  • Amazon is another option. It’s always easier to find exactly what you want when you shop online

Many people recommend Kadoya Pure Sesame Oil. This is a popular brand locally and online, so it should be easy to find.

Some authors (like Maggie from Omnivore’s Cookbook) recommend aligning the brand with the meal you’re making. So, if you’re cooking a Chinese recipe, find a Chinese brand of sesame oil.

As she points out, processing techniques vary. This can mean the oils often taste dramatically different from one another.

Sesame Oil Storage

Recommendations for storing sesame oil differ. Many people keep it in the cupboard or the counter without experiencing any rancidity. However, others recommend that you store it in the fridge.

Keeping the oil in the fridge won’t do any harm, making it a safer option – especially if you use the oil slowly.

But, there’s clearly little risk if you leave the oil out periodically. In fact, authors like Lydia from The Perfect Pantry find that their sesame oil keeps fine at room temperature for roughly a year.

Final Thoughts

Sesame oil is a different type of cooking option. You’re never going to use it as frequently as alternatives like coconut oil, olive oil or even avocado oil. It’s also not strongly associated with health benefits (although Mercola does highlight some advantages).

Instead, sesame oil is mostly a way to add more flavor to meals. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, the oil is a perfect way to make healthy meals more enjoyable.

Turmeric Smoothie

Want to Improve Your Health?

Turmeric Smoothie

Better health starts in the kitchen, with the food that you eat and the meals you prepare. Getting the best outcomes involves making good choices about the food and the ingredients that you use. 

Check out my recommended products to see where you can get started. 

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