sesame seeds

Substitutes for Sesame Seeds – What Can I Use Instead?

Sesame seeds are a food that has been exploited by humans since as far back as 3000 B.C., and for good reason. The range of uses for sesame is seemingly endless. It can be used as a topping for breads and bagels, it can be pressed in order to manufacture oil, and they are even sprinkled atop of sushi and used in the manufacture of desserts!

They come in a broad range of different types; there’s black, brown, red, and white, which can all be packaged in either hulled or un-hulled form. However, generally speaking, of these varieties, most recipes tend to make use of the white, hulled sesame seed. Thankfully, these are also the type that you are most likely to come across in your local store. In fact, they seem to be available pretty much everywhere by now.

How do I toast sesame seeds at home?

Sesame seeds can be toasted on either the stovetop or in the oven. For the oven, simply preheat to 180 Celsius, then spread a thin layer of sesame seeds on some parchment paper. Within a few minutes you will begin to notice that they are developing a nice golden brown colour. Take them out and wait until they have cooled to sprinkle them over your salad.

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On the stovetop: heat a clean, dry pan to medium heat. Add a thin layer of seeds and keep them moving with a wooden utensil until they are evenly toasted throughout.

Can I be allergic to sesame seeds?

Sesame seed allergies are more common than you may think, and the symptoms can be quite severe. These range from hives, rashes, to difficulty breathing. Estimates suggest that up to 300,000 Americans may be allergic to sesame.

4 Sesame Seeds Substitutes

Because of the fact that the white sesame seed is the most commonly used, our list below will focus on what to do if you happen to find yourself short of that specific ingredient. Though it may seem like a small and insignificant part of a dish, leaving it out entirely can have a drastic effect on your recipe.

In a drastic example, you won’t be able to make tahini without sesame seeds. What you are more likely to find a solution for here is for the absence of sesame seeds in a stir-fry or as a garnish where they provide a nice crunch and a distinct nutty flavour. There are plenty of reasons you might need to substitute for sesame seeds. These range from simply not having them to hand, to having an allergy to them. In either of these events, our list of substitutes below has you covered!


1. Hemp Seeds

hemp seeds

Hemp seeds, though still not available everywhere, have seen a massive increase in popularity in recent years. There is a simple reason for this: they are absolutely jam-packed full of delicious, nutty flavour. As a result, they have a tendency to simply disappear if left unattended for too long. They are practically addictive. Though they come from the same plant as marijuana, they do not contain any THC, so there is zero chance of intoxication from consuming these.

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In terms of their value as a substitute for sesame seeds, these seeds can do almost anything that sesame can do. In fact many people prefer using these seeds in their garnishes and European and Middle Eastern dishes. That being said, they simply will not substitute well with sushi as they neither look nor taste right in this context. Where their main strength lies is as a garnish or in baked goods.


2. Poppy Seeds

poppy seeds

When it comes to the crunch, few substitutes have what it takes to compete with sesame seeds. That is not the case here, as, if anything, poppy seeds deliver more crunchiness. They also have the benefit of naturally looking very similar to black sesame seeds so fill in quite well as a garnish.

Where these seeds begin to differ from sesame seeds is in terms of flavour. They just don’t have the same umami-laced nuttiness that is so present in sesame, and so won’t make a great substitute in case where sesame seeds form an integral part of the recipe.

3. Black Sesame Seeds

black sesame

Black sesame seeds are undoubtedly the best substitute for white sesame seeds out there. Unfortunately though, they simply aren’t as commonly found as their white counterparts. They possess the same umami-rich flavour profile and a very similar texture. Because of this, they can be substituted relatively easily at a 1:1 ratio if you happen to have them.

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In every case then, providing that your black sesame seeds are hulled, they should fill in perfectly for savoury and sweet dishes alike. However, it is also worth noting that black sesame seeds do have a slightly stronger taste. This is not necessarily a bad thing if you are already quite keen on the flavour. There are several good examples of black sesame seeds out there.


4. Sunflower Seeds

sunflower seeds

Sunflower seeds come in in last position in this list of substitutes for sesame seeds. This is not because they should only be used in a case where there are no other available options though. They actually are one of the stronger candidates in some cases, but… they simply just don’t really look like sesame seeds, do they? They are large and flat, whereas sesame is significantly smaller and oval.

However, in their unsalted form, they do possess very similar umami and nutty tones. Because of this, they do make a reasonable substitute for sesame in baking and as a garnish, but they won’t quite do the job in rice dishes or in sushi.


We hope that you found this guide to substituting for sesame seeds to be an invaluable and informative source as you embarked on your quest for an alternative option. As you can see, there are several decent substitutes out there – one or more of which may already be lurking in your kitchen as you read this!

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