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.
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. Check out how to introduce this ubiquitous food to babies!
Kalani, 7 months, eats hummus spread on a teething rusk.
Julian, 13 months, eats spinach with white sesame seeds
Callie, 15 months, eats toast with tahini and black sesame seeds
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. 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.
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. 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. 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.
★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.
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.
Yes, sesame is classified as a global priority allergen by the World Health Organization. Sesame is an increasingly common food allergen. In Southwest Asia and North Africa, studies have found it to be a common cause of anaphylaxis. For example, in Israel, sesame is the third most common food allergen. In the United States, sesame is now the ninth most common food allergen.
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 small 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 contain sesame. Be sure to read ingredient labels each time you purchase a product, as ingredients may change without warning. As regulatory agencies have started mandating sesame labeling, some food manufacturers and restaurants have elected to deliberately add sesame flour as a minor ingredient into many baked goods, in an effort to bypass stringent regulations designed to prevent contamination and avoid recalls of their products. This means that some sesame-allergic individuals have experienced reactions to foods that were previously well-tolerated.
No. Sesame oil tends to have small and inconsistent levels of sesame protein, the compound that triggers an allergic reaction in sensitive individuals. This makes sesame oil a less-than-ideal option for maintaining sesame exposure in the diet for the purposes of allergy prevention. For those seeking to maintain regular exposure in the diet, sesame-based foods with larger and more consistent amounts of seed protein are better choices, including sesame flour, sesame milk, and sesame tahini.
Every baby develops on their own timeline, and the suggestions on how to cut or prepare particular foods are generalizations for a broad audience.
Sprinkle ground hulled 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 (see recipe) which you can either serve on its own for hand scooping, or spread atop cucumbers, thin rice cakes, or whole-grain toast.
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!
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.
Stressed about introducing allergens? See our Video Library for more resources.
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