This powerful flavor booster adds a touch of umami to everything. You can even use it on ice cream (we're serious).
Credit: Ma No

Most people know of toasted sesame oil as a common ingredient in Asian-style cuisine, but this nutty, roasty condiment is so much more. I use it constantly as my secret flavor.

If your frame of reference for cooking oil is the workhorse canola or peppery extra virgin olive oil, your world is about to be turned upside-down.

Toasted sesame oil is made from toasted or roasted sesame seeds. It’s darker in color than regular sesame oil (typically labeled just “sesame oil”), so don’t make the mistake of swapping them. The toasted variety does cost more, but it’s potent and each drop is packed with a wallop of flavor—so you can get more mileage out of less.

You won’t want to cook with toasted sesame oil. It has a low smoke point, which means that it burns and turns rancid-tasting at a low temperature. But here are a handful of ideas to make you fall in love with this superhero condiment. Ready, set, open sesame!

1. Drizzle it on soups

Credit: Photo: Hector Manuel Sanchez

Instead of topping a soup with heavy cream or yogurt, add a swirl or toasted sesame oil to the bowl after serving. It will add a depth of flavor and creamy texture when stirred in. For crunch, add a sprinkle of sesame seeds, too. Double the sesame, double the fun, right?

2. Whisk it into vinaigrette

Credit: Photo: Jennifer Causey

If you’re already in the habit of making your own salad dressings, you know how easy it is to customize a basic template. When I’m bored by balsamic, I add a little toasted sesame oil to my vinaigrettes to boost the flavor. To keep from walloping everyone over the head with flavor, use the sesame oil in just 1/3. For example, if your dressing calls for 3 tablespoons of oil, use 1 tablespoon of sesame.

This goes amazingly well with rice vinegar. For extra umami, add a few drops of umeboshi vinegar (made from fermented plums) or tamari (wheat-free soy sauce). If adding the umeboshi or tamari, don’t add salt—both condiments are very salty!

3. Hit a stir-fry

Credit: Photo: Jennifer Causey

Although you won’t want to use toasted sesame oil to cook your tofu, meat, or veggies (remember that smoke point), it is genius when added at the very end of the recipe. As soon as you take the pan off the heat, drizzle in a little sesame oil and toss to coat. The heat will make the oil even more fragrant, signaling to everyone that dinner is ready to be devoured.

4. Use it to coat noodles

Need a break from marinara? Whisk a little peanut butter, toasted sesame oil, ginger, and tamari together, then add it to cooked, strained rice noodles. (Buckwheat or udon noodles would also work). Add a bright, fresh note with a shower of freshly chopped chives, mint, or cilantro.

5. Dress up popcorn

Better than butter? You bet. Hit those popped kernels with some toasted sesame oil, sesame seeds, a little salt, and nutritional yeast. You’ll want to make a double batch of this one.

6. Drizzle it over ice cream

Sounds crazy? Trust me on this one. A little toasted sesame, some crushed peanuts, and green tea ice cream. It’s an unexpected flavor roller coaster that’ll make you forget all about hot fudge.