Sesame oil is one of the most important cooking oils for cuisines from all over Asia and the Middle East. While it is best known for its role in Chinese cooking, different varieties of sesame oil are used in many Korean and Indian dishes as well. The nutty flavor profile can also enhance non-Asian dishes. That said, it can be tricky to use the various sesame oils properly if you are unfamiliar with them. Below is a look at some of the dos and don’ts of cooking with sesame oil.
Do be aware of the different kinds of sesame oil and their characteristics.
The two kinds that are most easily found in the West are the light and toasted varieties. Light sesame oil is sometimes referred to as refined sesame oil. There is also an unrefined and untoasted variety that is less common.
Do use light sesame oil for frying and sautéing.
It works just like any other neutral-tasting oil and can be used as a substitute for canola oil. You can even deep-fry with this kind of sesame oil. Light sesame oil has a high smoke point and milder nutty flavor than toasted sesame oil, which has a strong nutty flavor and fragrance.
Light sesame oil is — as its name suggests — paler than dark sesame oil, which has an amber color. Blended sesame oils are made by combining sesame oil with other vegetable oils like soybean oil.
Do store toasted sesame oil in the refrigerator to extend its shelf life.
It has a short shelf life and goes rancid quickly at room temperature. The cold temperatures can make it slightly thicker but won’t affect the flavor. Light sesame oil has a longer shelf life, so refrigeration is usually not needed, but you can still store it in the refrigerator to make it last even longer.
Do use blended sesame oil if you are watching your budget and need a sesame oil with a higher smoke point.
The soybean oil typically used to dilute sesame oil has a high smoke point and low cost. Pure sesame oil can be expensive to cook with, diluting it allows you to maximize the benefits you get from it.
Do use toasted sesame oil if you need a strong nutty flavor in your food.
It works well as a substitute for walnut and hazelnut oils. It pairs well with strongly flavored ingredients that it will complement rather than dominate.
Do use toasted sesame oil in small amounts.
Its intense flavor and aroma allow a small amount to go a long way.
Do use toasted sesame oil if you are cooking classic Chinese dishes.
Its nuttiness is a key element in the flavor profiles of many Chinese dishes like potstickers and sesame noodles. One of its key uses is as a finishing oil that you drizzle overcooked dishes. Using it at the last minute maximizes the flavor that it adds to the dish.
Don’t use toasted sesame oil for cooking.
It has a much lower smoke point than the other kinds of sesame oil. The low smoke point is why it is best reserved for use as a finishing oil. The sesame seeds that were pressed to make it were toasted, and heating the oil again can burn it and give it a bitter note.