FoodUnraveling the ancient allure of black sesame soup. A fascinating journey from traditional Chinese medicine to your dessert bowl

Unraveling the ancient allure of black sesame soup. A fascinating journey from traditional Chinese medicine to your dessert bowl

Black Sesame Soup
Black Sesame Soup
Images source: © Getty Images | vanillaechoes

12:56 PM EST, December 31, 2023

Sesame is one of the oldest crops cultivated by humans. Though it likely originated from Africa, ancient peoples in Asia quickly adopted it— the Babylonians even referred to it as the "spice of the gods". According to ancient legends, the world's creators imbibe an extract from these seeds. Moreover, archeological research shows that sesame seeds were cultivated in the Indus Valley nearly 5,000 years ago, owing to their drought resistance and ability to thrive on infertile soils.

The beneficial properties of sesame seeds were uncovered early on, as demonstrated in the Ebers papyrus, an ancient Egyptian document about diseases and treatments dating back to approximately the 15th century BC. Ancient physicians recommended both the seeds and their oil for aiding digestive disorders. In China, sesame seeds have long been recognized for their positive effects on the spleen, pancreas, and stomach. They are also heralded as an aphrodisiac.

Particularly in southern China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, the black variety of sesame, known for its bold, nutty taste with a sweet touch, is especially favored. It features prominently in numerous local dishes, including a dense soup named zhi ma hu, served as a dessert or afternoon snack. But how is it prepared?

Nutritional values of black sesame

Black sesame is laden with nutrients, notably calcium—a mineral integral to the health of our bones, teeth, and overall functioning. Without it, both the muscle and heart systems underperform. Calcium also works to fend off osteoporosis. 3.5 ounces of sesame seeds provide about 0.042 pounds of calcium, compared to 0.00026 pounds in the same portion of cow's milk and about 0.0013 pounds in yellow cheese.

The abundant magnesium in these seeds helps alleviate stress, promote mental equilibrium, and soothe nerves. With their high zinc content, black sesame seeds should feature in the diet of men keen to maintain prostate health.

The protein in sesame seeds is nearly as valuable as that in eggs. They are also a rich source of vital vitamins: A (nurtures vision, skin, nails, and hair), E (a potent antioxidant that counters damaging free radicals), and B (strengthens the immune system, promotes mental wellbeing, supports the brain, and aids protein transformation).

Additionally, sesame seeds contain phytosterols and plant sterols that can lower the "bad" LDL cholesterol, guard against heart disease, and deter prostate cancer. Sesamol and sesamin, unique components in sesame, are natural antioxidants. The spice offers a bounty of unsaturated fatty acids, which elevate energy levels, boost resilience, and assist immune system functioning. Due to its high lecithin content, sesame can enhance mental proficiency.

Black sesame soup recipe

The primary ingredient of black sesame soup is rice, preferably the long-grain variety (1 cup), which needs to be soaked in cold water for 3-4 hours. Next, the black sesame seeds (1 cup) are dry roasted in a pan for 2-3 minutes and then cooled.

The soaked rice is drained and blended with water (3 cups) until a smooth mixture is achieved. The roasted sesame seeds are ground using a mortar or coffee grinder and then mixed with water (1 cup) to create a smooth paste. This is added to the rice blend and blended again. The mixture is poured into a pot, and water (3.5 cups) and cane sugar (almost 1 cup) are added. Rather than cane sugar, some recipes suggest rock sugar, a type of large-crystal Thai sugar available in oriental specialty stores.

Black Sesame Soup
Black Sesame Soup© Getty Images | Meitu

The soup is brought to a boil, then heat is lowered to simmer for 10-15 minutes until the desired thickness is reached. Another round of blending gives the soup a silky consistency, and voila! The dish is ready to be served.

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