Sesame (芝麻, zhīma) has a long history in Chinese gastronomy, dating back over 2,100 years of written history alone. It is considered the oldest oilseed crop in the world, with evidence of domestication spanning over 3,000-4,000 years ago. From the start, it was used for food and oil production in China. Whether seed, oil or paste, sesame is an indispensable ingredient in Chinese kitchens that spans the entire country, not limited to any one region alone.

Sesame oil (芝麻油, zhīmayóu) is made by pressing sesame seeds. Regular sesame oil is fairly neutral and has a high smoke point, making it good for general cooking. Far more popular in Chinese cooking, however, is roasted sesame oil, which, as the name suggests, is made from dark-roasted sesame seeds. It has a strong, nutty flavor and is often used to add flavor and richness to dishes. Roasted sesame oil can be used in both hot and cold dishes, and is commonly used to dress stir-fries and serve in dipping sauces. In Sichuan, the preferred dip with mala hotpot is simply sesame oil with a bit of fresh garlic.

Similarly, Chinese sesame paste (芝麻酱, zhīmajiàng) is made by grinding dark-roasted white sesame seeds into a paste. It has a thick, smooth texture and a nutty flavor. Sesame paste can be used in a variety of dishes, including dipping sauces, spreads and fillings.

About Chinese Sesame Oil (芝麻油, zhīmayóu)

High quality roasted sesame oil is an amber-colored oil with a nutty flavor. Cuizi Small-Mill Sesame Oil (Cuizi Xiaomo Xiangyou) is an example of how heritage brands make sesame oil. It comes from Shandong, the home of China’s best sesame products, and has inherited a 600-year history of producing sesame oil in a very specific way for superior color, fragrance and taste:

  • The company developed its own sesame cultivar and has a planting base in an area certified by China’s Green Food program as pollution-free. They germinate their freshly harvested seeds to promote the production of highly nutritious natural antioxidants such as sesamolin, sesamin and sesamol
  • The highly roasted sesame embryos are ground by small stone mills at low pressure and low temperature, about 140°F, so as to not destroy the aromatic substances and functional nutrients in the sesame oil. (Large-scale oil extraction in metal equipment uses high pressure and temperatures as high as 500°F)
  • The sesame oil is then separated from the sesame solids by a natural, water replacement method versus the chemicals used in standard production
  • Finally, the oil is filtered through a patented technology that uses natural plant fibers for 36 layers of physical filtration to remove any impurities 
Cuizi’s sesame plants are monitored throughout their lifecycle to ensure the highest quality seeds for oil. Image source:
Low temperature, low pressure stone-grinding preserves the flavor of sesame. Image source:

Ruifu Oil Co. Cuizi Sesame Oil

Cuizi’s basic process is attributed to one Cui Zeshi, who invented the water replacement method in 1408, hence the brand name. The Ruifu Oil Co. picked up the mantle and process in 1984 and carries the China Time-Honored Brand designation for the traditional technique of Cuizi sesame oil, which is also recognized as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Shandong Province. Ruifu makes only sesame products, a focus that allows it to produce the very best.

Cuizi Small-Mill Cold-Pressed Roasted Sesame Oil

It took us years to find a Chinese roasted sesame oil that we loved enough to import, but finally we found it. 
You know how sesame oil often has a harsh, bitter taste? That’s because even though sesame oil is made from only the one ingredient, the way that ingredient is grown, ground and filtered makes a huge difference in taste.

Not only did Ruifo Oil Co. develop its own sesame cultivar, it uses germinated seed carefully roasted before being ground by low-pressure, low-temperature stone mills. The oil is separated by natural methods and further filtered through 36 layers of natural plant fibers to remove impurities. The product is superior to any other sesame oil you’ll find in the supermarket.

Non-GMO, Vegan, Gluten-Free

Toasted sesame oil

Sesame Oil Recipes

About Chinese Sesame Seed Paste (芝麻酱, zhīmajiàng)

While similar to tahini, Chinese sesame paste is made from a domestic variety of sesame and is deeply roasted, giving it a much darker color and robust flavor than tahini. It is the only choice for Sichuan dandan noodles, zajiang noodles and sesame noodles as well as Chinese cold dishes, desserts and hotpot dipping sauce. Also unlike tahini, a little goes a long way.

Some Chinese sesame pastes have added, unnecessary ingredients, most notably peanuts and soybean oil. But quality sesame paste should be nothing but roasted and ground sesame seeds. Unlike major-brand peanut butters, which use additives like hydrogenated vegetable oil or palm oil to keep the solids and oil from separating, natural nut butters and seed pastes will separate more and more over time. So one sign of freshness is a jar with only minor separation vs. a jar with 2-3 inches of oil at the top. Separated sesame paste can still be used, it is just more difficult to stir, recombine and portion.

Organic Stone-Ground Chinese Roasted Sesame Paste

The Mala Market’s Pure Chinese Sesame Paste is made from single-origin Chinese sesame seeds, stone-ground without chemicals or heat and with no additives or preservatives. Its pristine supply chain and production have earned it USDA Organic certification—a rarity for Chinese-made products (as most manufacturers don’t pursue that U.S. designation).

Another rarity is that the sesame seeds are not processed with heat and blades but are ground to a paste in a circular motion between two large stones. This centuries-old production method insures that the sesame paste retains both its nutrients and its singular texture and taste.

Non-GMO, Vegan, Gluten-Free, USDA Organic

Sesame Paste Recipes

Cooking and Storage Tips

Sesame Oil: Roasty, toasty, nutty sesame oil is used widely and frequently in China, mostly as a finishing oil for stir-fries or a component of sauces. Store in a cool, dark place.

Sesame Paste: Because natural seed pastes without added coagulators will start to separate soon after they are made, we recommend that you stir the contents thoroughly when you first open the jar, which will make the paste easier to stir each time you use it throughout its life. When cooking, you can dilute with water or sesame oil for a runnier consistency or lighter taste.

Store in a cool, dark place. It is not necessary to refrigerate sesame paste—which will make the paste much harder to stir and use—unless you plan to store it for years.

sesame oil and sesame paste

Starting Your Sichuan Cooking Journey? Get the Complete Sichuan Pantry Collection

Complete Sichuan pantry collection

Stock your shelves with a premium version of every specialty ingredient needed to cook classic Sichuan food, plus nine recipe cards for the most-loved dishes of Chengdu and Chongqing. The core of the collection is the ingredients for creating ma and la, the defining tastes of Sichuan food. ‘Ma’ refers to the tingly, citrusy taste of Sichuan peppercorn. ‘La’ refers to the heat of chili pepper.

This kit further includes the highest quality Pixian doubanjiang (chili bean paste) on the market, handcrafted and aged for three years, plus Sichuan’s other two umami powerhouses: douchi (fermented black soybeans) and tianmianjiang (fermented sweet wheat paste). Other must-haves are Sichuan’s oldest and most esteemed brands of soy sauce and vinegar: Zhongba light soy sauce is naturally brewed for 360 days, and handcrafted Baoning vinegar is aged for 3 years. Like Pixian douban, they are China Time-Honored Brands, in business for centuries, and we are their exclusive U.S. representatives. 

We round out this collection with our own organic, stone-ground sesame paste and Yibin suimiyacai, a fermented mustard pickle used in many classic dishes.

All How to Cook With Sesame