You can find sesame seeds in everything from Japanese dishes to American bagels and hamburger buns. It is sprinkled over salads to enhance their crunch and used to make Middle Eastern tahini paste. The versatile sesame seed is useful because of its texture and its nutty flavor. If your recipe requires it and you don’t have any on hand, try a sesame seeds substitute from the list below.
Your best bet: Poppy seeds
Poppy seeds are a sesame seeds substitute that comes from the opium poppy grown in the Middle East and Asia. The seeds have none of the narcotic qualities of the plant from which they come. The seeds also have little or no flavor until they are baked or toasted. Baking or toasting brings out nutty and spicy notes that are like those from sesame seeds. As a result of the similar flavors, poppy and sesame seeds are often used in similar applications. Both are used in breads, cakes and candies.
You can use poppy seeds as a 1:1 replacement for sesame seeds in most recipes. The main difference will be cosmetic as hulled sesame seeds are white and poppy seeds are black. White poppy seeds taste similar to the black ones and are closer in appearance to sesame seeds; however, they are not as widely available.
A decent second choice: Flax seeds
Flax seeds come from the flax plants that provide the raw material for linen fabrics. Flax seeds are known for their nutritional value as they are high in Omega 3s and protein. In addition to their high nutritional value, they provide the same nutty notes that you would get from sesame seeds. Like sesame seeds, you can sprinkle them onto a wide variety of foods for enhanced texture and flavor.
Note that flax seeds should be ground for maximum nutritional benefit as they are difficult to digest whole. Add to pastries and other baked goods, just like sesame seeds. Note, too, that ground flax seeds have a somewhat different appearance and texture when compared to whole sesame seeds. They may not be suitable for all dishes that require sesame seeds. Use the same amount of ground flax seeds that your recipe requires for sesame seeds.
In a pinch: Sunflower seed kernels
Both sunflower seeds and sesame seeds are loaded with healthy oils as well as protein and carbohydrates. Sunflower seed kernels are slightly larger than sesame seeds, but have a similar mild nutty flavor. They will also provide a satisfying crunch to dishes just like sesame seeds. Add them to your desserts and pastries or sprinkle them over your salad. You can use sunflower seed kernels in most dishes that require sesame seeds. While the kernels are slightly larger and have a different shape, they will provide a close approximation of sesame seeds’ flavor and texture.
Shelled hemp seeds are similar in size and appearance to sesame seeds, and provide a similar flavor when toasted. They can be used in almost all dishes and baked goods that require sesame seeds. Like flax seeds, they are a rich source of multiple nutrients. While hemp seeds are not a common ingredient yet, you may be able to find them in some health food stores.
An equivalent quantity of chopped peanuts can be an effective alternative to sesame seeds if you are looking for a nutty flavor and are not too worried about appearance. Peanuts have the added benefit of being very easy to find.