Lament for Sesame

in Soy & Seed
Published: August 27, 2010

At the same time, there was no sesame, of course, there was sesame everywhere. At every friend’s lunch and in every restaurant, sesame was much more in evidence than I’d ever suspected. I would become familiar with the work of a young Spanish scientist, Estibalitz Orruno, at the University of Leeds. Under a grant from the Basque government, she undertook a doctoral degree studying sesame allergy.

And what a spectacular seed sesame was found to be: 42 to 54 per cent oil, 22 to 25 per cent protein, full of folic acid, niacin, calcium, phosphorus. The cost: cheap. In addition to taste, sesame also won’t go rancid. Orruno examined sesame’s proteins and sought to isolate ones that might cause the allergic reaction; she documented sesame’s world dominance in terms of use, and its fast rise as a source of allergic reactions.

The irony of the purpose of the proteins is not lost. Their role is to promote germination and continue the lineage. Yet at the same time, increasing numbers of people have life-threatening reactions to these very same proteins.

Little lingering seeds. There has been an evolution in the seven years since my son’s diagnosis. A pamphlet is now available from Health Canada – “Sesame Seeds: One of the 10 most common food allergens,” and every Canadian bakery slaps on a “may contain” warning about sesame. Our bread maker does overtime.

We travel within Canada and to the United States, but foreign travel, to the exotic places where sesame is prevalent, is avoided for now. Instead we hope for scientific breakthroughs that will allow the wonderful world that sesame inhabits and represents to open to us again.

Janice Paskey is a writer and editor who lives in Calgary.