Gomashio is a popular table condiment in Japan. Most of the time, it is sprinkled over rice, especially over the sticky rice with red azuki bean called ‘Sekihan’ that I absolutely love! The super glutinous rice has a naturally sweet tone, as do the azuki beans, and when you eat it with a sprinkle of salty gomashio (also spelt ‘gomasio’), I feel deep-down happiness because it conjures the memories of eating this rice on happy occasions with my family.
The sekihan isn’t something you eat on a daily basis, it’s served on special occasions (the red colour symbolises happiness), so I sprinkle gomashio over my usual brown rice, and also whenever I make onigiri rice balls for my daughter’s bento, to make the rice taste slightly salty, nutty, and aromatic. Cold rice need a helping hand like that because it could taste bland. Other than using it as a rice seasoning, it can be uses to add pizazz on salads and boiled vegetables, and it could make a great salt replacement that make the salt consumption become more modest in your diet.
There are two ways to make gomashio sesame salt.
One type is a simple mixture of sesame and salt. No cooking involved, it’s literally sesame and salt pounded in to semi-powder in a mortar, that’s it.
And the other type is the sesame that’s ‘coated’ with salt, which is my preferred method, and what the recipe below is for. This method is still very straightforward to make: we simply chuck in the sesame, water and salt in a pot and cook them down until the water completely evaporates. I guess the only trick is to really evaporate the water, so that by the end of it, the sesame seeds are toasting at the bottom of the pan. They’ll turn a perfect golden colour and award us with sweet roasted aroma.
This coating method has a surprisingly softer saltiness. I wonder if it’s because the salt is covered with the oils from the sesame, that our taste perception gets fooled. – Yet still, these gomashio with the pared down amount of salt still goes a long way to be effectively salty. I imagine that the cooking process makes the particle size of salt significantly smaller than before, and as smaller sized salt increases our perception of saltiness, the delivery rate of sodium is faster on our tongues. But hey, I’m no scientist afterall, so please take this info ‘with a grain of salt’.
Should we use hulled or unhulled sesame seeds?
Unhulled! We ought to eat our foods whole, and that includes eating hulls, husks and peels, so long as they are the edible kind obviously, as plenty of minerals and vitamins can be found in those parts.
Philosophically too, there is a Japanese saying called “一物全体” (pronounced Ichibutsuzentai) which means eat the whole thing to be truly balanced. Alternatively, the English quote “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” has a similar meaning and is a great way to describe this thinking. It means taking various individual parts only has certain inherent value, rather, when kept as a whole (in this case, eaten as a whole), those individual parts become much more potent and valuable.
Should we use black or white sesame seeds?
Normally gomashio is made using black sesame. The black sesame and the white salt brings about an eye-catching contrast over the mono-coloured rice. But wether to choose black or white is really a personal choice and we shouldn’t be constricted by what is ‘normal’, right? (In anything!) The gomashio that I make is with white sesame for example. I prefer it because it has an easy-to-use taste and an elegant scent that matches anything. I find the black sesame tend to have a more pronounced nutty aroma that linger in the mouth longer. Other times, I sometimes might do a batch with both coloured sesame if that is how I feel like doing.
Gomashio is a staple macrobiotic condiment:
Brown rice is at the core of macrobiotic eating, and gomashio supplements the rice with high quality protein, minerals and vitamins that the brown rice lacks. Gomashio helps you digest the brown rice too. If you want to really get with the classic macrobiotic way, using black sesame is suggested to be better. The dark black sesame with the light coloured salt has a better balance of ying and yang which will re-align the body.
How long does gomashio last?
This gomashio recipe doesn’t pound or grind the seeds in to powder like the other gomashio recipes you see online. Why? That is because keeping the seeds whole and un-ground somewhat slow down the oxidation of the sesame seeds while storing, thus making your batch stay fresh longer. If you prefer the sesame ground, try grinding it just before serving instead: you’d be awarded with the gorgeous freshly ground aroma this way (the same principle as how people prefer their coffee beans freshly ground just before brewing).
Gomashio doesn’t bode well with big batch cooking. It’s better to make small amounts and just cook often, so that it is always fresh because they quickly lose a ton of fragrance, and the freshly roasted crunch. Gomashio is not to be used a lot, so let’s start with a small amount, make as little as possible at one time, perhaps make enough to eat in a week or up to a month. Besides, if you cook a lot in one go, it’ll take too much time to evaporate the water. It’s better to spreads a small amount thinly on a frying pan so it cooks quickly.
About the ratio of sesame to salt:
The ratio in the recipe below is sesame 6 to salt 1. But how much salt to use is a personal preference so please change the proportion according to your needs. If you are concerned about the salt quantity and want to eat more sesame, you may want to increase the proportion of sesame. In macrobiotic speak, people who are ying may need more salt than those who are yang who may not need much salt. Try the recipe in different proportions to find out what ratio you feel is delicious for you.
Any specific type of Salt?
Try to get your hands on whole unrefined sea salt, to enjoy the all-round completeness created by the salt from the sea and the sesame from the land. If you can, using local hand harvested sea salt would be awesome, because usually hand harvest diminish industrial processing probability, and eating food from the same environment to where you live would be harmonious for your body. – Just stay away from table salt – it typically contains some amounts of chemical additives to keep it free-flowing. It is also devoid of any natural minerals.
Japanese gomashio (gomasio) recipe
6 parts of white or black sesame seeds
2 parts of water
1 part of salt
Non-teflon frying pan such as stainless steel or cast iron
Container that has air tight lid
1. Put the sesame, salt, and water in a cold pan.
(a) Whilst precise measurement of water is unnecessary, it is easier if there’s not much water, as having too much water will only take a long time to evaporate. Water is only added to dissolves the salt.
2. Boil over medium to low heat. Using a wooden utensil constant stir. ( stir especially from the bottom, so that the seeds don’t burn). This process could take up to 5 minutes.
(b) Stronger heat makes for a quicker finish, but they cause moderate burns and splashes.
3. When the water has completely evaporated, the seeds will start to make crackling sounds and pop about. Let it dry-roast for a while, being careful not to burn them by stirring all the time to move it around the pan.
(c) If the water doesn’t evaporate well, and the sesame remained wet, the salt on the sesame will melt and become sticky during storage.
4. When you think it has roasted enough, take it off the heat. It is now completed! Then once cooled, transfer to a container with a tight fitting lid for storage. Happy days.