Ingredient Spotlight: Black Sesame Paste

updated May 2, 2019
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

If you’re a fan of Asian desserts, you’re probably familiar with black-sesame-flavored sweets. And perhaps occasionally while nibbling on a slice of black sesame cake, you’ve wondered just how the bakery got such a deep toasty flavor and inky color into its cake. It was always a mystery to us, until we discovered the secret ingredient.

Black sesame paste is a thick, tar-black puree of pure roasted black sesame seeds. Sold in jars at Asian grocery stores, it is powerful stuff; just a few tablespoons can transform regular vanilla cake batter into a dark gray, deeply flavored black sesame cake. We’ve used it to make cupcakes, shortbread cookies and ice cream, always with much better results than using crushed black sesame seeds alone. In Asia it is mixed with sugar or honey and used as a spread for toast, or stirred into soy milk for a tasty drink.

Because the seeds have such a high oil content, the paste should be stored in the refrigerator once opened. If you are wondering about the difference between Asian black sesame paste and black tahini, it is that these sesame seeds are roasted before they are ground, which gives the paste a toastier, richer flavor.

We’ve had the best luck finding black sesame paste at Japanese markets, although we’ve also seen it at Chinese markets. Have you ever used this ingredient?