There’s No Wrong Way to Sesame

Must read

Whether it’s applied via syrup or as a few drops of oil directly in the shaker, there’s a reason the ingredient has become a go-to shortcut to savory complexity in Daiquiris, Margaritas and more.

Sesame is one of the world’s oldest crops, with origins dating back 5,000 years. In the long history since its discovery, the seed has been essential to cuisines around the world. And in today’s drinks landscape, where the ingredient has been making a splash in cocktail culture, sesame manages to be both timeless and modern at once.

The Sesame Daiquiri, a recipe that was featured in the 1971 Playboy’s Host & Bar Book, is an early example of the ingredient’s ability to add rich, nutty flavor to drinks. There, it’s applied in the form of a simple syrup, but in the years since, bartenders around the world have harnessed sesame’s savory tones and round texture in more layered cocktails.

David Muhs, head bartender of the Brooklyn cocktail bar Sama Street, frequently uses sesame ingredients. According to him, each form of sesame—from toasted seeds to oil to tahini paste—works a little differently when mixed in drinks. Christian Suzuki’s dirty Martini–like Jusanya, for example, exemplifies the nuances in three ways: sesame oil–washed sherry, sesame brine and sesame-infused bitters. 

At London’s Atelier Coupette, meanwhile, sesame oil is used to fat-wash a rum in the tropical and earthy Turbo Carrot Spritz, a carbonated mix of dill water, carrot wine, purple carrot syrup and citrus. The oil lends a mouthfeel and nuttiness that “ties all of the flavors together,” according to bar manager Andrei Marcu. The drink also shows how well sesame pairs with tropical flavors.

Sesame Daiquiri

Adapted from the Playboy Host & Bar Book (1971), this recipe gets the addition of sesame seed syrup.

Jusanya cocktail recipe


A spin on a dirty vodka Martini with sesame-washed fino sherry.

In Singapore, the Nutmeg Collective, a group of bars that includes the award-winning Nutmeg & Clove, sesame is a staple. Director of operations Shelley Tai has experimented with nearly every form of sesame; toasted sesame seed spirit infusions and distillations, as well as sesame seed–based syrups, have all been part of the bars’ past drinks.

But one of Tai’s most experimental uses comes in the form of a black sesame “paint,” which is used as an accent for Nutmeg & Clove’s Tropic Growl, an indulgent gin sour made with mango and yellow bell pepper purée, vanilla syrup and lemon juice. The bar strokes the paint—made with flour, sugar, sesame seeds and water—along the inside of a glass before the cocktail is poured in, allowing black sesame’s potent nuttiness to slowly seep into the cocktail, changing the flavor over time. Black sesame, as compared to white, is fattier and more bitter because of its hull. At Amsterdam’s Pulitzer Bar, bartender Stefano Pastorino calls on the darker seed’s bolder characteristics by infusing it into rum, which helps the base spirit stand up against blackberry cordial in the bar’s Navy Highball.

But you don’t need a paint brush, a distiller or even the extra time it takes to make a sweetener or infusion to make use of sesame’s versatile flavor and texture. At Sama Street, Muhs goes the analog route, simply adding a few drops of roasted sesame oil in shaken drinks to add a rounder mouthfeel. He leans on this method for the Kung Fu Furi, a mezcal Margarita laced with celery, genmaicha tea syrup and, of course, a fragrant roasted sesame oil that all gets shaken together for an umami-rich drink. This technique is ideal for experimenting with the flavor in small doses; in excess, sesame can overshadow other ingredients.

Singular in flavor, potent sesame is a vehicle for escapism as much as it is a scene-stealing ingredient. “I love that I can use just three drops in a drink, close my eyes and instantly be back in Asia sitting on a tiny stool in a bustling alley about to devour a bowl of delicious food,” says Muhs. “It’s the thing I love most about using sesame as an ingredient: It immediately transports you to a place and time.”

Get our freshest features and recipes weekly.

More articles

Latest article