Following last year’s unique opportunity to speak with Tetsutaro Iwai, CEO of Iwai’s Sesame Oil - the man who "can't stop talking about sesame seeds!” - we decided to visit Iwai's sesame seed museum where you can learn everything about sesame seeds: starting from the traditional methods and tools for making sesame oil, to dried and cultivated sesame seeds. They also offer factory visits, which were unfortunately closed during our visit due to the Coronavirus, but are recommended for when you visit Yokohama.
Iwai’s Sesame Oil was founded in Chiba and moved to Yokohama in 1893, where it has grown by specializing in sesame oil. Since 99.9% of sesame seeds in Japan are imported, from regions in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Central and South America, they chose Yokohama because of the access of handling sesame oil near a port.
There are two ways of producing sesame oil: the extraction method, used by mass producers with the help of chemicals, and the pressing method, a traditional technique used by Iwai’s Sesame Oil where sesame oil is squeezed out from sesame seeds under pressure. Since the characteristics of sesame seeds, such as the thickness of the skin, moisture content, flavor, etc., can vary greatly depending on the region and season, Iwai’s skilled craftsmen check the sound, color, and taste of the crushed sesame seeds during the roasting process to ensure that they produce the same quality product consistently throughout the year.
Sesame oil is the most difficult of all oils to oxidize, and contains a special ingredient calledgomarignan (sesame phytochemicals also known as lignan), which is attracting a great deal of attention from a health perspective.
In addition, vegans worldwide are using sesame oil in sweets, while mixing chickpeas with kneaded sesame is popular, especially among Arabs, for dipping or spreading on bread. In the US, one may be familiar with it as it is also used in poke bowls.
President Iwai's recommendation for using sesame oil is to enjoy it as is. He also recommends adding it on friedgobo (burdock root) sprinkled with salt, or on vanilla ice cream.
We featured Iwai’s furikake sesame oil in our November 2021 Kanagawa Care Package. It has a richer flavor than regular sesame oil, making it perfect for "sprinkling"!
"I have the impression that there are more people who don't know how to use sesame oil than I thought, even though the percentage of households that use it regularly is as high as that of olive oil. I would like to go back to the basics and do more to show people how to use sesame oil and to share recipes.” says President Iwai.
Iwai Sesame Oil's Sesame Seed Museum