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How to Substitute for Sesame Seeds (7 Options)

Sesame seeds are widely utilized in recipes around the world. Whether sprinkled on top or cooked into a dish, they’re always enjoyed for their mildly nutty taste and delightful crunch. 

In this article, we’ll explore the exciting ways these seeds are employed in cooking, the health advantages they might provide, and offer some alternatives to sesame seeds in case you run out of this versatile ingredient.

What are Sesame Seeds?

Sesame seeds come from the Sesamum indicum plant, and are relatively small. The sesame plant is widely cultivated in tropical regions around the world, and has come to be prized for its edible seeds and the oil they yield. 

Sesame was once thought to hold mystical powers. It still possesses a magical aspect, as heard in the phrase “open sesame,” which we may be familiar with from the Arabian Nights story “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.”

Historical records of sesame seeds date back to ancient Babylonians pressing the seeds for oil, the Egyptians utilizing them as grain flour, the Romans creating a spread with sesame and cumin, and the Chinese using sesame oil as early as the Tang dynasty.

Sesame seeds are a fantastic ingredient if you want more nutrients in your diet. Although small, they are rich in magnesium, manganese, selenium, copper, calcium, iron, and zinc. They’re an excellent source of dietary fiber, protein, and healthy fats, as well as nutrients like calcium, vitamin E, and vitamin B. 

sesame seeds on soy-free general tso’s chicken

A quarter cup of sesame seeds has more calcium than an 8-ounce glass of cow’s milk. Additionally, they contain phytosterols, compounds that can help lower cholesterol levels. The seeds are available in a range of colors from white, golden, yellow, red, and black. with the latter offering the most benefits

Each black and white sesame seeds have distinct flavors. The white ones have a delicate, nutty flavor, and are frequently toasted before use, while the black ones have a slightly more bitter flavor. Black sesame seeds are unhulled, and so aren’t usually used in cooking, mostly just for their aesthetic appeal. 

Your food may taste a little bitter if you use the black unhulled sesame seeds in it. Conversely, hulled sesame seeds will impart a bittersweet flavor to a meal, if that’s what you are going for.

Some say that the nutrients from sesame seeds are best absorbed by the body in powder form, but these tiny seeds make a great addition to many dishes in other forms. They may be eaten raw or cooked by toasting, roasting, or baking, to unleash a nuttier flavor. 

Both raw and cooked sesame seeds are packed with amazing essential nutrients. They are a great source of energy and can be used in a variety of sweet and savory dishes. Continue reading to find out how to use these versatile seeds in your cooking.

How to Use Sesame Seeds?

Sesame seeds are prevalent in many cuisines around the world. They are commonly used in Asian dishes such as Japanese sushi and maki, Korean banchan, Chinese stir-fries and sesame balls, Philippine rice cakes and turon, and assorted meat skewers. It’s also the only ingredient in tahini, a paste made from hulled sesame seeds, often used in Middle Eastern cuisine. 

Sesame seeds can be used as a spice or garnish, or pressed for their oil. You can also make dairy-free milk from sesame seeds, and utilize sesame seed butter as a spread or as a flavoring for salad dressings like this one

Some dishes use both sesame oil for cooking and the seeds as a garnish & flavoring. Korean side dishes like marinated spinach (Sigeumchi Namul) and bean sprouts are generously drizzled with premium sesame oil and roasted sesame seeds. 

Sesame seeds provide an excellent crunch as a topping to salads, bread, and pastries. Most often they’re simply sprinkled over bread loaves or rolls before baking. 

Here are some other recipes where you can enjoy the nutty taste of sesame seeds:

black and white sesame seeds

7 Best Sesame Seed Substitutes

While the health benefits of eating sesame seeds may be the main reason we include them in our cooking, most of us simply enjoy the delightful crunch and nutty flavor they impart. 

When you’re out of sesame seeds but still want a nutty flavor in your meal, sesame oil is the best alternative to sesame seeds. Consider these other types of seeds and sesame products in their place.

Sesame Oil

Sesame oil is derived from the sesame seeds. It’s full of antioxidants, vitamin E, vitamin K, and heart-healthy fats that help reduce the risk of chronic diseases. One of the most distinctive, fragrant, and flavorful oils you’ll come across is sesame oil, whose flavor is made sweeter and nuttier by toasting premium, carefully selected seeds.

If the texture of sesame seeds is not necessary for your recipe, you can substitute sesame oil to give your food the same flavor. Sesame oil is a fantastic option for salads, stews, and stir-fries, though it tends to burn more quickly than other oils, so it’s not meant for frying but rather to lightly pour over food before serving.

Although sesame oil lacks the crunchy texture of sesame seeds, it tastes exactly the same. When using this sesame substitute, a trickle over your favorite foods makes all the difference to enhance the flavor. Start with a half teaspoon for every teaspoon of sesame seeds.

Poppy Seeds

Poppy seeds are obtained from the opium poppy plant (Papaver somniferum). 

These tiny seeds are legally grown and sold in stores all over the world, especially in Europe and Asia, as they themselves contain no psychoactive components. Most commonly the seeds are used whole or ground to top various pastries and bread. Poppy seeds have a mild bitter flavor, closer to black sesame seeds than white, and are smaller than most sesame seed types.

These kidney-shaped seeds can be used in place of sesame seeds because they have a similar nutty flavor and crunchy texture. Since they are frequently used as a topping for baked goods, and are another part of everything bagel seasoning, they can serve similar purposes. Use in a 1:1 ratio.

poppy seeds in a glass bowl

Sunflower Seeds

The most widespread sesame seed substitute is sunflower seeds. A superfood with many health advantages, sunflower seeds contain copper, magnesium, selenium, proteins, fiber, and phytochemicals, among other minerals. This is the way to go if you need more vitamin E in your diet, because sunflower seeds are one of the richest sources available, though make sure to choose the unsalted variety.

While they have a different texture and flavor, sunflower seeds may be used in place of sesame seeds in a 1:1 ratio. Consider adding some to bread, baked goods, salad dressings, and more. You’ll enjoy the mild flavor, because it highlights without overshadowing the main dish.

Hemp Seeds

Hemp seeds or hemp hearts are technically nuts. These mild, nutty-tasting seeds can be consumed raw, cooked, or ground into dishes. Hemp oil is produced by cold pressing the seeds, and contains a lot of unsaturated fatty acids. It supports your immune system and helps to regulate your metabolism, among many other positive health effects. 

You can even make hemp milk out of hemp seeds. When looking for a sub for sesame seeds, you can safely use hemp seeds because they resemble sesame seeds in size and appearance. Use them in a 1:1 swap for a bit of extra protein or as a garnish on baked products, salads, yogurt, breakfast foods, and other foods. They can also be added to cooked foods to offer a light nutty flavor.

Flax Seeds

Flax seeds, also known as linseeds, are small, brown, tan, or golden-colored seeds that pack a whole lot of nutrients. This plant-based food provides healthy fats, antioxidants, and dietary fiber to aid in constipation, improve digestive health, lower cholesterol, and help reduce the risk of heart disease. 

Flax seeds even resemble sesame seeds, but flax seeds have an even milder nutty flavor with a tinge of sweetness. Use them in a 1:1 ratio when you’re all out of sesame seeds in foods like cereals, oatmeal, fresh juices, smoothies, healthy bowls, and baked goods.

chia seeds in a spoon

Chia Seeds

Chia seeds are small round seeds from the Salvia hispanica, a flowering plant native to Mexico. These tiny seeds can be black, gray, brown and white, and are rich in vitamins and nutrients. They possess a similar nutrient profile as the other sesame seed alternatives mentioned above, but chia seeds also contain significant amounts of antioxidants, magnesium, and zinc.

Chia seeds are used in baked items, raw foods, yogurt and smoothie bowls, and other prepared dishes. Sprinkle a pinch of chia seeds onto your meal as a direct replacement for sesame seeds, but stay away from them if your dish contains liquid. When exposed to moisture, chia seeds frequently grow by a factor of two.


This is another word for hulled, toasted, and ground sesame seeds, long been used in Mediterranean cuisine to make sauces and even desserts. However in recent years it’s become popular as an alternative to peanut butter and a binder for on-the-go snacks. Tahini can provide you with the same health benefits as a sesame seed substitute. A fantastic source of fiber, protein, and heart-healthy fats, using tahini can also help control blood sugar levels.

If your dish would benefit from a nutty sesame flavor, use tahini when you’re out of sesame seeds. Although tahini is smoother than sesame seeds, once mixed in they work just as well in noodles, tolerated breads, on soups, in stir-fries, and even topping your favorite stews. It can be utilized directly in the same manner as sesame seeds.

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