Sesame

Food Type:
Age Suggestion: 6 months +
Nutrition Rating:How nutritious a food is with a focus on the specific nutrients babies need for optimal growth. The more nutritious a food, the more stars it will have.
Prep Time:How much time a food takes to prepare safely for a baby. The more time-consuming a food is to prepare safely, the more clocks it will have.
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Common Allergen: Yes (
  • Sesame
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May cause allergic reactions.

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a pile of white sesame seeds before being prepared for babies starting solids

When can babies eat sesame?

Sesame may be introduced as soon as a baby is ready to start solids, which is generally around 6 months of age. Start small by serving a scant amount at introduction, as sesame is increasingly recognized as a common food allergen.1

Open sesame! That magical phrase opens the door to a cave filled with hidden treasure in the book of folktales, One Thousand and One Nights. It also pays homage to the sesame plant’s pod-like fruits, which burst when ripe to reveal an abundance of oil-packed seeds. Since ancient times, humans have put the tiny seeds to use as food, medicine, and oil for lamplight in Asia, where historians believe the sesame plant was first cultivated. 

Sesame cultivation has resulted in many varieties that come in a range of earth-toned colors, from cream to gold to red to brown, each with nuanced flavor. For example, white sesame seeds taste less nutty than black sesame seeds and less bitter than benne, an heirloom African variety of sesame seeds that enslaved people brought to the United States and grew as a staple food on the Carolina islands.

Sesame is used worldwide in cooking. The tiny seeds are sprinkled on bagels, burger buns, salads, sushi, and all sorts of dishes as a condiment; combined with aromatics to make seasonings like gomasio and za’atar; blended into pastes like tahini and sauces like mole; stirred into soups and stews as a thickener; and baked into breads and desserts like halvah, pasteli, and til ke laddu. They are also roasted and pressed to make cooking oil and delicate finishing oil. Read on to learn how to introduce this ubiquitous food to babies!

Kalani, 7 months, eats teething rusks with hummus.
Julian, 13 months, eats spinach with sesame seeds.

Is sesame healthy for babies?

Yes. Sesame is a powerhouse of nutrients that babies need to thrive, including B vitamins, folate, and important minerals like copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and selenium. As one of the most oil-rich seeds available, sesame is also filled with healthy fats like lignans and phytosterols that hold antioxidant, anti-cancerous, and anti-inflammatory powers.2 3  The tiny seeds also offer plenty of fiber and protein and are a good source of calcium, iron, and zinc, which are often low in infant and toddler diets.4

The nutritional benefits of sesame are most accessible when the tiny seeds are ground into paste or powder, making it easier for the body to absorb.5 Consuming sesame oil is another excellent way to enjoy the benefits of sesame. Aside from the delicious flavor, it has an added superpower in its high smoke-point. That means you can use the oil for high-heat cooking without it becoming rancid.6 7

★Tip: If budget and access allow, buy organic sesame to minimize pesticide exposure. Pesticide use on sesame plants appears to be low in areas where pests are not a problem, but in other areas where pests are rampant, pesticides are the go-to management tool to keep the plants alive.8 9

Is sesame a choking hazard for babies?

No. Sesame seeds are not a choking hazard, but tahini (sesame paste) can be. To reduce the risk, thin tahini with water, applesauce, breast milk or formula or mix into other foods before serving to baby. Never serve tahini on its own to baby. As always, make sure to create a safe eating environment, stay within an arm’s reach of baby during meals, and check out our age-appropriate serving suggestions below.

For more information on choking, visit our section on gagging and choking and familiarize yourself with the list of common choking hazards.

Is sesame a common allergen?

Yes. Sesame is an increasingly common food allergen. In Southwest Asia and North Africa (previously referred to as the Middle East), studies have found it to be a common cause of anaphylaxis. For example, in Israel, sesame is the third most common food allergen.10 In the United States, sesame is now the ninth most common food allergen.11

When introducing sesame for allergen introduction, it’s best to use ground sesame seeds or sesame paste (commonly sold as tahini). This is because whole sesame seeds are often not chewed well enough to expose the baby to the proteins within the seed. When choosing tahini for allergen introduction purposes, look for tahini made from unhulled sesame seeds, which will have a higher protein content and may expose baby to a wider variety of allergenic proteins (thereby allowing baby to develop tolerance to all these proteins). 

As you would do with all new allergens, introduce sesame by serving a scant quantity (such as 1/8 teaspoon of tahini mixed into applesauce) and watch closely. If there is no adverse reaction during the first few servings, gradually increase the amount over future meals.

★Tip: Read the fine print on labels when purchasing packaged products, as sesame is often used to thicken and flavor foods. For example, hummus contains tahini (sesame paste), which may not be advertised as an allergen on the label, but instead hidden in the ingredient list and many breadcrumb varieties, including Progresso, also contains sesame.12

How to cut sesame for babies with baby-led weaning?

6 to 12 months old: Sprinkle ground sesame seeds on other food, such as avocados, warm cereal, or yogurt or mix in tahini to applesauce, warm cereal or yogurt. This is also a great age to introduce hummus (recipe below) which you can either serve on its own for hand scooping, or spread atop cucumbers, thin rice cakes, or whole-grain toast.

12 to 18 months old: Time to dip! Toddlers love to dip foods into sauces, and this is a great time to introduce baby to hummus and simple tahini sauces. Change up the dipping vehicles—from cucumbers to bell peppers to fruit. Sesame noodles are sure to be a hit, too!

18 to 24 months old: Continue to sprinkle ground sesame seeds and sesame oil on foods for an added nutritional boost such as on eggs, meats, and tofu, and use tahini as you like in your cooking. This is a great age to introduce energy balls, and almost all energy ball recipes can be made with tahini in addition to, or in lieu of, nut butters.

Continue to sprinkle sesame seeds and sesame oil on foods for an added nutritional boost such as on eggs, meats, and tofu, and use tahini as you like in your cooking. This is a great age to introduce energy balls, and almost all energy ball recipes can be made with tahini in addition to, or in lieu of, nut butters.

★Tip: Store sesame seeds and/or tahini in the refrigerator to preserve freshness. Store sesame oil away from heat. In general, consistent, controlled temperatures keep sesame from going rancid and preserve its shelf-life. 

For more information on how to cut food for your baby’s age, hop over to our section on Food Sizes & Shapes.

Recipe: Sesame Hummus

Yield: 2 cups (2 adult-sized and 1 child-sized serving)

Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups cooked chickpeas (about equal to a 15-ounce can, ideally BPA-free)
  • 2 tablespoons sesame tahini
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons cold water
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 pinch ground cumin (optional)
  • ½ teaspoon toasted sesame oil (optional)

Directions

  1. Rinse the beans to remove excess sodium.
  2. Peel the garlic.
  3. You need a high-powered food processor or blender to make creamy, smooth hummus. If you don’t have one, make a chickpea mash by smashing and mixing the chickpeas, tahini, garlic, lemon juice, and oil until mostly smooth. A little texture is okay as long as there are no clumps or whole chickpeas. Otherwise, blend chickpeas, tahini, garlic, lemon juice, oil, water, tahini, and seasoning in the food processor or blender until creamy and smooth. If the hummus is too thick, blend in another splash or more of cold water to loosen the mixture as needed.

To Serve: Scoop some hummus into a baby bowl. Exact serving size is variable. Let baby’s appetite determine how much is eaten. Drizzle sesame oil on top of the hummus, stick in a baby spoon, and serve with cucumber spears or squash spears. Let baby self-feed by scooping with hands and trying to pick up the food. If baby needs help, pass a pre-loaded spoon or a spear in the air for baby to grab.

To Store: Hummus keeps in an air-tight container in the fridge for 1 week.

Variations: Thin hummus with more olive oil for a different consistency. Add color and nutrition by blending in arugula, spinach, or your favorite green, or cooked root veggies like beets or carrots. Swap chickpeas for any legume—black beans, white beans, lentils, and more!

This recipe contains an allergen: sesame. Only serve to a child after this allergen has been safely introduced.

Flavor Pairings

Sesame has a rich, nutty flavor that is versatile. Try pairing sesame with creamy foods like avocado, black-eyed peas, cannellini beans, butternut squash, ricotta cheese, sweet potato, and yogurt. Add a hint of earthy flavor by sprinkling sesame seeds on tangy fruits like pineapple, pomegranate, strawberry, and tomato, or drizzling sesame oil on bright, grassy veggies like broccoli, edamame, garden peas, or green beans. Use sesame seeds as a thickener in stews with collards, kale, spinach, and other greens. Or try blending sesame paste into your next smoothie!

Reviewed by:

Jamie Truppi, MSN, CNS

Venus Kalami, MNSP, RD

Kimberly Grenawitzke, OTD, OTR/L, SCFES, IBCLC, CNT

Sakina Bajowala, MD, FAAAAI. Board-Certified Allergist & Immunologist (allergy section)

Rachel Ruiz, MD Board-Certified General Pediatrician & Pediatric Gastroenterologist

  1. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. (2019, February). Sesame Now The Ninth Most Common Food Allergen In The United States. [Press release]. Retrieved February 2, 2021
  2. Wu, M.S., Aquino, L.B.B., Barbaza, M.Y.U., Hsieh, C.L., Castro-Cruz, K.A., et al. (2019). Anti-Inflammatory and Anticancer Properties of Bioactive Compounds from Sesamum indicum L.-A Review. Molecules, 24(24), 4426. DOI:10.3390/molecules24244426. Retrieved February 2, 2021
  3. Woo, M., Han, S., & Song, Y. O. (2019). Sesame Oil Attenuates Renal Oxidative Stress Induced by a High Fat Diet. Preventive nutrition and food science, 24(2), 114–120.
  4. Beluska-Turkan, K., Korczak, R., Hartell, B., Moskal, K., Maukonen, J., et al. (2019). Nutritional Gaps and Supplementation in the First 1000 Days. Nutrients, 11(12), 2891. DOI:10.3390/nu11122891. Retrieved February 2, 2021
  5. Pathak, N., Rai, A.K., Kumari, R., Bhat, K.V. (2014). Value addition in sesame: A perspective on bioactive components for enhancing utility and profitability. Pharmacognosy reviews, 8(16), 147–155. DOI:10.4103/0973-7847.134249. Retrieved February 2, 2021
  6. Pathak, N., Rai, A.K., Kumari, R., Bhat, K.V. (2014). Value addition in sesame: A perspective on bioactive components for enhancing utility and profitability. Pharmacognosy reviews, 8(16), 147–155. DOI:10.4103/0973-7847.134249. Retrieved February 2, 2021
  7. Center for Functional Medicine. A Guide to Cooking With Fats and Oils. Retrieved February 2, 2021.
  8. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. Sesame. Retrieved February 2, 2021
  9. Gebregergis, Z., Assefa, D. Fitwy, I. (2018). Sesame sowing date and insecticide application frequency to control sesame webworm Antigastra catalaunalis (Duponchel) in Humera, Northern Ethiopia. Agriculture & Food Security, (7)39. DOI:10.1186/s40066-018-0190-4. Retrieved February 2, 2021
  10. Adatia, A., Clarke, A.E., Yanishevsky, Y., Ben-Shoshan, M. (2017). Sesame allergy: current perspectives. Journal of asthma and allergy, 10, 141–151. DOI:10.2147/JAA.S113612. Retrieved February 2, 2021
  11. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. (2019, February). Sesame Now The Ninth Most Common Food Allergen In The United States. [Press release]. Retrieved February 2, 2021
  12. Food Allergy Research & Education. (2020, December 9). U.S. Senate Passes FASTER Act, Brings Sesame Labeling One Step Closer for Food Allergy Community. [Press release].Retrieved February 2, 2021