Toasted sesame oil and sesame oil both come from the same seed, but that’s about where their similarities end. They have different properties that you should understand before you choose one or the other. They are heavily used in Asian dishes, so it’s a good idea to keep both in your kitchen. Below is a SPICEography Showdown that compares their different properties.
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How does toasted sesame oil differ from sesame oil?
The toasting process alters the flavor of the sesame oil. Toasted oil has a stronger and more complex nutty flavor with a hint of bitterness as a result of the Maillard reaction. This is the same reaction that causes browned food to develop different flavors as a result of its exposure to heat.
The nutty flavors can vary depending on how much toasting the seeds have undergone. Different manufacturers have different toasting times, which means that flavors can differ substantially from brand to brand. In comparison, the flavor of sesame oil is only mildly nutty and close to neutral in comparison to toasted sesame oil.
The compounds that give toasted sesame oil its flavor shouldn’t be exposed to too much heat since they have been roasted already. Additional exposure to heat can cause them to burn and give the oil a bitter flavor. In comparison, regular sesame oil that does not have those compounds can be heated. It can be heated to moderately high temperatures making it a versatile oil for high-heat cooking.
Toasted sesame oil can vary in color from pale amber to deep amber. The color varies depending on how long the seeds have been toasted. In all cases, toasted sesame oil will have a darker color than sesame oil. Usually, sesame oil is pale yellow.
The heating process that toasted sesame seeds have undergone extends the shelf life of their oil. Toasted sesame seed oil will last longer than regular sesame seed oil will.
If your recipe calls for one, can you use the other?
Toasted sesame oil won’t be a good sesame oil substitute in many dishes because of its strong flavor. Dishes that require regular sesame oil may be overwhelmed by toasted sesame oil. It also has a lower smoke point, which may be an issue since regular sesame oil is most often used for frying.
Sesame oil ordinarily won’t be a good substitute for toasted sesame oil since it lacks the same intense flavor profile. Without that flavor profile, sesame oil is just another neutral cooking oil and won’t bring any distinctive qualities to the dish aside from its nutritional benefits.
When should you use toasted sesame oil, and when should you use sesame oil?
Use toasted sesame oil for finishing dishes. It is traditionally used as a seasoning rather than as a frying oil. Drizzle a tablespoon or two of it over stir-fries and fried rice the same way you might drizzle extra virgin olive oil over a salad or pasta dish. You can use it to give a nutty flavor to vinaigrettes and as a popcorn topping.
The relatively high smoke point and almost neutral flavor of regular sesame oil make it better suited for use as a frying oil. Use it for stir-frying or deep-frying. It is also a good oil for baking.