HU plant scientist makes sesame seeds a growth area in global food production

Dr. Zvi Peleg wins Kaye Innovation Award for recognizing ancient crop’s ability to feed a hungry world.

June 15, 2015 10:52
1 minute read.
Sesame Seeds

Sesame seeds are considered to be the oldest oilseed crop known to humanity. (photo credit: INGIMAGE)


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Sesame seeds are not just tehina to add to your hummus.

New strains developed in a technique innovated by a Hebrew University plant geneticist will make it possible to increase the yield of sesame crops – until now many unfit for human consumption and of low nutritional quality – to help feed the world.

Sesame has traditionally been unprofitable and difficult to harvest, because it produces a low yield, says Dr.

Zvi Peleg, a senior lecturer at the Hebrew University’s Robert H. Smith Institute of Plant Sciences and Genetics in Agriculture in Rehovot.

By screening more than 100,000 sesame seed variants, Peleg has found a way to develop a new elite sesame cultivar with enhanced yield and seed quality suitable for modern agricultural practice.

For some 5,500 years, sesame has been grown as a drop to produce oil in the Far East and Africa. In Israel and some other Middle Eastern countries, where falafel is a culturally iconic food, tahini (or tehina) sauce made from sesame is an essential condiment.

In recognition of his finding, Dr. Peleg has been awarded the Kaye Innovation Award for 2015.

Peleg’s innovation facilitates the use of sesame as part of a farmer’s crop rotation between cereal crops, while at the same time making it high yield. As a result, it contributes to more sustainable agriculture and helps prevent the development of weeds resistant to herbicide.

Sesame seed contains about 20 percent protein, along with healthy oils and carbohydrates.

It is one of the highest oil content crops, broadly ranging from 34 to 63 percent. Sesame seeds are rich in essential nutrients such as iron, zinc, and calcium.

Peleg’s innovation could improve the bio-availability of these essential nutrients and therefore hold health benefits for consumers.

Global production of sesame totals 4.4 million tons, with an annual projected growth value of between five percent and 10%. “The increase in global demand for sesame products as a health food has turned this highly domestic consumption item into an important export commodity for Israel,” said Peleg.

The Kaye Innovation Awards have been awarded annually since 1994 by England’s pharmaceutical industrialist Isaac Kaye, who established the awards to encourage HU faculty, staff and students to develop innovative methods and inventions with good commercial potential that will benefit the university and society.

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