Sesame seed

Sesame seed
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Sesame (Sesamum indicum) is a flowering plant in the genus Sesamum. The precise natural origin of the species is unknown, although numerous wild relatives occur in Africa and a smaller number in India. It is widely naturalised in tropical regions around the world and is cultivated for its edible seeds.

It is an annual plant growing to 50 to 100 cm (2-3 feet) tall, with opposite leaves 4 to 14 cm (5.5 in) long with an entire margin; they are broad lanceolate, to 5 cm (2 in) broad, at the base of the plant, narrowing to just 1 cm (half an inch) broad on the flowering stem. The flowers are white to purple, tubular, 3 to 5 cm (1 to 2 in) long, with a four-lobed mouth.

Despite the fact that the majority of the wild species of the genus Sesamum are native to sub-saharan Africa, Zohary and Hopf argue that sesame was first domesticated in India. They cite morphological and cytogenetic affinities between domesticated sesame and the south Indian native S. mulayanum Nair., as well as archeological evidence that it was cultivated at Harappa in the Indus Valley between 2250 and 1750 BC, and a more recent find of charred sesame seeds in Miri Qalat and Shahi Tump in the Makran region of Pakistan. They regard the identification of sesame seeds in the finds from the tomb of Tutankhamun from ancient Egypt “might be true, but are in need of further verification.”[1]

The word sesame is from Latin sesamum, borrowed from Greek sēsámon “seed or fruit of the sesame plant”, borrowed from Semitic (cf. Aramaic shūmshĕmā, Arabic simsim), from Late Babylonian *shawash-shammu, itself from Assyrian shamash-shammū, from shaman shammī “plant oil”.

In India, where sesame is cultivated since the Harappan period, there are two independent names for it: Sanskrit tila [तिल] (Hindi/Urdu til [तिल, تل]) is the source of all names in North India and In contrast, most of the Dravidian languages in South India feature an independent name for sesame exemplified by Tamil and Kannada ellu [எள்ளு, ಎಳ್ಳು].

From all the 3 roots above, words with the generalized meaning “oil; liquid fat” are derived, e.g., Sanskrit taila [तैल]. Similar semantic shifts from the name of an oil crop to a general word “fat, oil” are also known for other languages, e.g., “olive” has given rise to English “oil”.

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