The Goodness of Sesame Seeds

-Sharada Jnawali

Any festival in Nepal is a part of life and associated with specific food representing various facets of life including changes in the season or weather conditions.

Maghe Sankranti or Makar Sankranti, the first day of Magh (mid-January), is celebrated to mark the transition of the Sun to Makar, the Tropic of Capricorn. This day, the Sun ends its southward journey and shifts toward the north, indicating termination of the winter season and the arrival of spring. Maghe Sankranti is also a form of ‘harvest festival’ which is observed in different manners in various places of Nepal. In general, the festival begins with a holy dip in rivers, applying sesame oil on the body and head, and special offerings to the Sun God.

Any festival in Nepal is a part of life and associated with specific food representing various facets of life including changes in the season or weather conditions. Following this practice, Maghe Sankranti is celebrated eating til ko laddoo which is made of sesame seeds and molasses together with ghee and root vegetables like yam and sweet potatoes. In addition to til ko laddoo, khichadi (made of black lentil and rice with ghee, ginger, and salt) is a common dish served on the day. While sesame seeds and molasses contain several vital minerals for health, the root vegetables are also good sources of potassium and fiber. All brown, black, and white sesame seeds bear importance in specific preparation in Nepali cultural practices. Since the festival falls in mid-winter, all the foods that are eaten during the day help warm up the body, thus helping to adjust with the weather condition in a natural way.

The Tharu community in western Nepal call this festival Maghi. They observe it as a ‘New Year’ with much fanfare and consider this an important day for reconciling debt between individuals or families. Eating a preparation of the new rice and sweets made of sesame seeds also symbolizes the harvest festival.

Til ko Laddoo
100 g sesame seeds (til)
100 g molasses (chaku)
¼ cup finely chopped coconut
1tsp cinnamon & cardamom powder
Ghee to grease palm to make balls

Preheat thick pan and dry-roast sesame seeds by constantly stirring to ensure it does not burn
Take out of the pan when it starts to give off aroma and set aside
Melt molasses with water in a pan. Since chaku is sticky, you may add 50 g of shakhar (gur) to soften the melted substance
Mix coconut, cinnamon, and cardamom in the molasses
Grease your palm with ghee and gradually mix the sesame seeds in a little bit of molasses and make round-shaped balls
Let laddoos cool down and store in an air tight container; it remains for several days.

Good for the Body, Good for the Soul
Both sesame and molasses are important parts of Nepali food culture and religious beliefs. Laddoos made of any ingredients symbolize a favored food of Lord Ganesh, which makes it a special preparation in most communities for any religious offering, giving special preference to laddoos of brown sesame seeds. Black sesame seeds are an important part of offering in any puja. Black sesame is also offered to dead souls and to bad spirits with the belief that sesame has higher capacity to absorb spiritual purity and remove impure components. There is a common practice to give chaku to lactating mothers that enhances breast milk and helps improve iron and hemoglobin in the body. As evidenced by Nepali traditional practices, more frequent use of these foods, without limiting them only to Maghe Sankranti, is beneficial to a healthy lifestyle.

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