Sesame oil is made from raw, pressed sesame seeds and, for ages, both professional chefs and home cooks alike have used it as cooking essential in all types of dishes; especially in Chinese, Korean, and Indian cuisines.
It has become a cult favorite for cooking enthusiasts as it provides a distinctively nutty taste to each dish and is widely used in salad dressings and marinades.
As it may not always be available or affordable, the question is ‘Is there a good substitute for sesame oil?’ Turns out, you can use a number of alternatives in case you ever run out of sesame oil.
Sesame oil contains antioxidants that help reduce cell damage caused by free radicals. Traditional Taiwanese medicine has long employed sesame oil for its anti-inflammatory properties, using it to treat joint inflammation, toothaches, and scrapes.
A well-established body of research shows that a diet rich in unsaturated fats (sesame oil comprises 82% unsaturated fatty acids, mainly omega-6) is good for the heart health . Research also suggests that sesame oil may support healthy blood sugar regulation.
A variety of oils can substitute sesame oil depending on the dish. In fried rice, for instance, the substitute can be a vegetable oil, canola, and even olive oil. Olive oil and sesame taste almost the same and are rich in unsaturated fats. Sesame oil has a low smoking flame and comparatively has a strong taste.
Let’s enlist some of the sesame oil alternatives and explicate how they differ from or resemble it.
Grapeseed oil as a substitute for sesame oil
Grapeseed oil is processed from the seeds of grapes, which are a byproduct of winemaking. Like sesame oil, it is very high in polyunsaturated fats, mainly omega-6- which makes it unsuitable for high-heat cooking, such as frying. It doesn’t have any of the nutty taste you find in sesame oil though. So, health wise, it is a very good substitute for sesame oil, but taste wise, not so much.
Coconut oil as a substitute for sesame oil
Coconut oil, or copra oil is an edible oil extracted from the kernel or meat of matured coconuts harvested from the coconut palm. Coconut oil is high in healthy saturated fats that have different effects than most other fats. Because of the way it is made, it has a higher smoke point (400 degrees), making it great for sautéing, stir-frying and baking. Plus, the neutral flavor makes it ideal for recipes where a coconut flavor isn’t desired. Sesame oil and coconut oil are quite different in composition and taste (coconut oil has a tropical coconut scent), and are rarely used interchangeably.
Avocado oil as a substitute for sesame oil
Being rich in monounsaturated fats, avocado oil has slowly been gaining traction when it comes to healthy, everyday cooking. While it does not offer the same nutty taste sesame oil provides- it has a mild grassy flavor-, its versatility in high heat and amenability to deep-frying make it a worthy sesame oil substitute.
Canola oil as a substitute for sesame oil
Canola oil is a genetically modified version of grape seed oil, and has a light, neutral flavor. It is high in omega-3s and vitamin E and has the lowest levels of saturated fats and trans-fats of any other cooking oil, but what’s best about it is its neutrality. It can be used as a medium for all kinds of mixes, including sesame oil. It is also quite affordable, making it a great choice for recipes that require a lot of oil.
Olive oil as a substitute for sesame oil
Although both seem very different in composition, olive oil is a popular alternative for sesame oil because both are considered to be extremely healthy. Many nutritionists believe that if you were to use sesame oil solely for its health benefits, then you can use olive oil interchangeably. Both oils are perfect as salad dressings or as a seasoning that is drizzled on top of dishes.
Peanut oil as a substitute for sesame oil
Nut oils, such as peanut oil, are very good alternatives to sesame oil. Both have similar health benefits, high heat tolerance and a naturally rich, nutty flavor. Although peanut oil is, by nature, milder tasting, with the right amount, it can spice up any dish as much as sesame oil can. It has a smoke point of 227°C and doesn’t absorb the flavor of foods you cook with it, meaning you can fry many ingredients at once without tainting them.
Walnut oil as a substitute for sesame oil
Although a bit on the pricier side, walnut oil is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, making it a relatively healthy option in the oil spectrum. Much like sesame oil, walnut oil’s rich, nutty flavor is perfect for salad dressings and marinades for fish and steaks, to mix in pasta, and to spice up desserts. Made from pure ground walnuts, this oil is packed with omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and polyunsaturated fats, and is rich in both texture and flavor.
Sunflower oil as a substitute for sesame oil
Sunflower oil is extracted from the pressed seeds of sunflowers. It is virtually flavorless and can withstand temperatures up to 230°C. Because of this, it is a great oil for recipes that require cooking at high temperatures, such as pan-fried and deep-fried dishes. Sunflower oil is nutrient-rich, containing vitamin E and antioxidants like choline and phenolic acid. It is also trans-fat free and is effective at lowering LDL cholesterol levels. It does not have the same nutty taste as sesame oil, but it certainly is equally healthy.
Tahini as a substitute for sesame oil
Tahini is a paste made from toasted ground sesame seeds. It is most often used in dishes throughout the Mediterranean, North America and the Middle East. Tahini is creamy, nutty, slightly bitter to taste, and can be used on its own as a condiment or added to salad dressings and marinades. It has the same health benefits and taste as sesame oil (though it is creamier), so it is perhaps the best alternative to sesame oil.
While sesame oil matches with any type of dish, and is one of the healthiest one available, it does not last as olive oil. It has a shelf life of six months to one year depending on how it is stored.
Does sesame oil go bad?
In an unopened bottle, sesame oil should easily last about a year before it goes rancid, contingent on factors like the quality, how it was stored, and so on. An opened bottle of oil should retain good quality for at least 6 months if stored in the pantry and a year if it sits in the fridge.
When this oil gets cold it crystallizes and looks cloudy & clumpy, but when it warms up, it looks clear & fine again and tastes just as good. However, freezing sesame oil at an extremely low temperature isn’t a good idea. At about -4 degrees C (or -25 F) it becomes butter-like inconsistency: that’s no good because you won’t be able to pour it without warming it up first. It ought to be kept refrigerated, but not at a freezing temperature.
In summary, while only a few nut oils and sesame based extracts have the same nutty taste as sesame oil, a number of oils provide similar health benefits. The sesame plant’s nutritional qualities have inspired some to dub its oil the “Queen of Oilseeds”, and rightly so. But if you are running low in sesame oil or are just averse to its taste, do you have any worthy alternatives? You certainly do.