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What is brown sesame?

December 18, 2011

‘Sesame’ (Sesamum orientale, Pedaliaceae) is ‘nga‘ in central Thai. Right now in the northern Thai markets you find a third ‘sesame’, ‘nga mon’ in northern Thai language. The seeds look more like large poppy seeds, and they have no sesame flavour. What is it?

It is Perilla frutescens (Lamiaceae). In other words, it is more related to basil and mint than to sesame. This is another example where a dictionary will confuse everything – you need to see the plant and you need a flora to get the proper name. Perilla is native to northern Asia and has been introduced to the Thai mountain valleys where it is used in many ways.

Yesterday Ketsanee and I got a lesson by ‘jai Khum‘, an elderly lady in Mae Kanin Tai near Chiang Mai. She said they have grown perilla in their valley as long as she can remember. She pounded a handful of seeds in a stone mortar, added some salt and then she mixed it with sticky rice. A delicious side dish resembling bread dough in flavour, rich in essential omega-3 fatty acids (alpha linolenic acid, ALA) which may act against depression and cardiovascular disease. Another simple way of eating perilla was to mix the perilla seed paste with cubes of dried cane molasses (‘nam oi’, boiled and dried sugar cane juice). This was a sweet, fruity and nutty dessert! Normally perilla is grown in the rainy season, but at Dokmai Garden we shall try some seeds now with irrigation.

To the left an old inflorescence of perilla. In the middle perilla seeds. Top left: cubes of dried cane molasses. Top right: a dessert of perilla seed paste and dried cane molasses. Bottom right: sticky rice. Bottom left: sticky rice mixed with salt and perilla seed paste.

Text & Photo: Eric Danell

2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 19, 2011 7:40 AM

    There is another spice that I see for sale in the markets here and cannot identify. It looks exactly like a dried catkin. Can you tell me what it is?

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