Sesame oil is a staple in Asian cuisines, loved for its nutty aroma and rich, toasted flavor. With its bold taste, some believe sesame oil is high in sodium and avoid using it. But in reality, sesame oil contains zero sodium per serving. So there’s no need to avoid this versatile oil due to salt content.
As a foodie always looking to craft healthy homemade meals, I decided to dig deeper to find substitutes for sesame oil that provide different health benefits. Through trial and error in my kitchen along with thorough research, I discovered several excellent alternatives to sesame oil that are perfect for stir-fries, dressings, and more.
So grab your wok and read on to uncover tips and oil swaps that allow you to keep dishes full of flavor while experimenting with new oils. Home cooks looking to expand their repertoire beyond sesame oil will benefit most from these simple kitchen tricks and oil secrets.
Can sesame oil be substituted?
Sesame oil can be substituted (1) with other oils such as olive oil, peanut oil, or vegetable oil depending on the flavor profile desired in the dish. Experimentation and personal preference play a role in finding the best substitute for your specific recipe.
Understanding Sesame Oil: Flavor and Uses
Revered for its robust, nutty essence, sesame oil brings distinctive taste to Asian stir-fries, noodles, salads, and dipping sauces. Derived from pressed sesame seeds, this versatile oil has been used for over 5,000 years in cuisines across the world.
Contrary to some claims, sesame oil is actually very low in sodium and contains zero mg of sodium per serving. Many healthy oils like olive oil also contain minimal amounts of sodium. So sesame oil can be enjoyed guilt-free by sodium-conscious cooks.
While sesame oil is already low in salt, some look for alternatives to expand their flavor options. There are many great-tasting, versatile oils that provide their own unique nutritional benefits. So while sesame oil’s flavor is irresistible, experimenting with alternatives can add new dimensions to your cooking.
If you’re looking to vary flavors and nutrition, swapping sesame oil for other healthy options is key. There are many excellent plant-based oils that can provide delicious flavor without excess sodium.
Top Sesame Oil Substitutes for Cooking and Dressings
Luckily, switching up your oil doesn’t mean bidding farewell to flavorful dishes. Plenty of lighter sesame oil replacements can mimic its savory essence without excess sodium. Here are my top picks for keeping your food full of taste and nutrition but not salt.
Olive Oil: A Healthy Alternative to Sesame Oil
With its fruity, peppery notes, olive oil makes an excellent substitute for sesame oil in dressings and marinades. This heart-healthy oil contains powerful antioxidants like polyphenols and vitamin E, as well as healthy monounsaturated fats that can lower cholesterol and blood pressure.
Olive oil’s bold flavor stands up well to other salad ingredients, giving your dressings a richness reminiscent of nutty sesame. The peppery kick and grassy undertones of high quality extra virgin olive oil can add complexity and depth to any dish. For an easy Asian-inspired salad, combine 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon rice vinegar, 1 teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce, a teaspoon of sesame seeds, and crushed red pepper flakes. The acidity of the vinegar balances out the richness of the oil.
You can also use olive oil (2) in stir fries and sautés. Be sure to use a refined olive oil with a higher smoke point instead of extra virgin to avoid burning. The subtle fruitiness of the olive oil will complement the other stir-fry flavors. Olive oil is a budget-friendly swap for sesame that will boost nutrition without compromising taste.
Walnut Oil: Nutty Flavor for Stir-Fries and Salads
Looking to add crunch and nuttiness to a dish without sesame oil’s saltiness? Reach for walnut oil. Cold-pressed from roasted walnuts, this aromatic oil has an earthy, nutty quality perfect for replicating sesame’s essence. The oil’s subtle toasted nut flavor can be enhanced by sautéing aromatics like garlic, ginger and onions in it before adding other ingredients.
Walnut oil brings a rich depth and nutty richness to stir-fries, cheeses, and dressings without excess sodium. You can use walnut oil measured 1:1 in place of sesame oil in cooked dishes or salad dressings. For a nutrient-packed salad, whisk together 1 tablespoon walnut oil, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, 1 teaspoon maple syrup, a pinch of garlic powder, salt, and pepper for a light, flavorful dressing. The walnut oil gives a creamy, nutty base while the lemon brightens it up.
Tahini: Creamy Sesame Paste as a Replacement
Made from ground sesame seeds, tahini is an ideal way to mimic sesame oil’s signature nuttiness without the high salt content. Thanks to its thick, creamy texture, tahini makes an excellent base for dairy-free dressings and sauces. It adds body and richness while packing in sesame flavor.
You can replace sesame oil with tahini at a 1:3 ratio – for every 1 tablespoon oil, use 3 tablespoons tahini thinned with water. For a quick Asian dipping sauce, combine 2 tablespoons tahini, 1 tablespoon rice vinegar, 1 teaspoon low-sodium tamari, 1 teaspoon honey, a grated garlic clove, and 1 teaspoon fresh ginger. Thin with water until reaching the desired saucy consistency. Drizzle over stir fries, grilled meats, or spring rolls.
Tahini’s versatility makes it a handy replacement in both sweet and savory recipes. Use it to add creaminess to hummus, salad dressings, noodle dishes, or even smoothies and desserts. Keep a jar on hand for easy sesame flavor minus the sodium.
Avocado Oil: A Versatile and Nutritious Option
Avocado oil has a mild, buttery flavor that complements sesame oil’s nuttiness. With its high smoke point of over 500 degrees Fahrenheit and richness, avocado oil is suitable for frying, sautéing, roasting, or baking. It also delivers a boost of antioxidants like lutein along with vitamins, potassium, and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.
Replace sesame oil 1:1 in stir-fries, rice bowls, or dressings. Avocado oil is mild enough to let other ingredient flavors shine through while still providing a boost of nutrients. For an antioxidant-rich salad dressing, combine 2 tablespoons avocado oil, 1 tablespoon rice vinegar, 1 teaspoon honey, a tablespoon of toasted sesame seeds, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. The avocado oil’s creamy texture and subtle flavor pairs perfectly with the sweetness of the honey and heat from the red pepper flakes.
You can also use avocado oil for sear meats before braising. Its high smoke point allows foods like chicken or beef to develop a nice crisp crust without overcooking the interior. Avocado oil is one of the healthiest sesame oil substitutes due to its stellar nutrition profile.
Canola Oil: Light and Neutral Flavor Substitute
With its subtle, barely-there flavor, canola oil won’t overpower dishes the way sesame oil sometimes can. This versatile neutral oil has a light consistency excellent for stir-frying, sautéing, baking, or dressings.
Canola oil is low in saturated fat, high in monounsaturated fat, and has significant plant-based omega-3 fatty acid content, making it a heart-healthy choice. For an easy swap, use canola oil in place of sesame oil in marinades, noodles, or dipping sauces. When stir-frying, preheat the pan before adding the oil to prevent burning.
Or make a simple Thai-inspired salad dressing by whisking together 2 tablespoons canola oil, 1 tablespoon lime juice, a pinch of red pepper flakes, a dash of fish sauce, a teaspoon of low-sodium soy sauce, minced garlic and ginger, and a tablespoon of chopped cilantro. The canola allows the other flavors to take center stage.
With its high smoke point and neutral flavor, canola oil is a versatile and healthy replacement for sesame oil in all types of cooking.
Peanut Oil: Rich and Bold Flavor for Asian Dishes
With its high smoke point and nutty, earthy essence, peanut oil is ideal for replicating the rich flavor of sesame oil in stir-fries and other Asian dishes. Refined peanut oil delivers a neutral flavor perfect for frying, while unrefined or toasted peanut oil packs bolder, nuttier notes.
Thanks to its clean, crisp taste, peanut oil allows other ingredients to shine while still lending a subtle nuttiness. Use it 1:1 in place of sesame oil in marinades, sauces, and noodle or rice dishes. Peanut oil contains heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and antioxidant vitamin E.
For a quick peanut-sesame stir-fry sauce, combine 2 tablespoons peanut oil, 1 tablespoon rice vinegar, 2 teaspoons reduced sodium soy sauce, a minced garlic clove, grated ginger, and red pepper flakes. The peanut oil gives a rich base and toasted flavor.
Grapeseed Oil: Light and Heat-Stable Sesame Oil Alternative
With its high smoke point and mild, slightly nutty flavor, grapeseed oil makes an excellent substitute for sesame oil in cooking. Grapeseed oil handles high heat well without burning or producing off flavors.
Grapeseed oil has a clean, crisp taste that won’t compete with other ingredients. Use it in stir-fries, sautés, grilled vegetables, or anywhere you want a neutral oil. To dress up a salad, whisk together 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil, 1 tablespoon lime juice, salt, pepper, and a dash of chili sauce for a fresh, tangy dressing.
Grapeseed oil is rich in vitamin E and low in saturated fat, making it a healthy choice. Its versatile neutral flavor and affordability make it a handy staple oil to always have on hand.
Making the Right Choice: Selecting the Best Substitute
With so many great sesame oil replacements available, which one should you choose? Consider what flavors and cooking methods you’ll be using. For stir-frying and Asian dishes, peanut, grapeseed, avocado or canola oils are ideal matches. For bold dressings, opt for walnut or olive oil. Tahini works well in creamy dips and sauces.
Think about the other ingredients and seasonings you’ll pair the oil with. A more neutral oil like avocado or grapeseed lets other flavors take center stage, while nutty walnut oil complements warm spices. Read labels and select unrefined oils for bolder flavor or refined for higher heat cooking.
By keeping taste, use, and nutrition in mind, you can pick the perfect substitute to bring flavorful richness to meals without unwanted sodium. With so many options, you can enjoy sesame’s savory essence in dishes that keep your health goals on track.
Frequently Asked Questions
How important is sesame oil in a recipe?
While sesame oil adds unique nutty flavor, it can often be omitted or swapped for a substitute without drastically changing a dish. Sesame oil is used in small amounts as a seasoning rather than a main cooking oil. Leaving it out or replacing it with a comparable nutty oil like walnut or peanut won’t make or break a recipe. You may just need to adjust other seasonings to compensate.
How do you make sesame oil flavor without sesame oil?
There are a few easy ways to mimic sesame oil’s essence without using it:
- Use nut and seed oils like walnut, peanut, or toasted sunflower oil, which provide nutty depth
- Add tahini or sesame seeds to dressings, sauces, stir fries or marinades
- Sauté aromatics like ginger, garlic, and onions in oil first to infuse nuttiness
- Add a dash of Asian chili sauce for kick
- Use soy sauce, rice vinegar, or miso to lend an umami taste
- Finish with a drizzle of chili sesame oil for flavor without saltiness
With the right combination of ingredients, you can craft rich sesame taste without the oil.
Can I substitute sesame oil for vegetable oil?
You can substitute regular vegetable oil for sesame oil in recipes, but the flavor will be different. Vegetable oil has a neutral taste compared to sesame’s nutty essence. For best results, use an oil with a comparable nutty profile like peanut, grapeseed, or avocado oil instead. Or add sesame seeds, tahini, or Asian chili sauce to vegetable oil for more sesame-like flavor. Adjust any other seasonings to complement the milder vegetable oil.
While sesame oil itself is sodium-free, having a diverse pantry of oil options allows you to vary flavors and nutrition. Oils like olive, walnut, peanut, avocado, canola, grapeseed, and more provide healthy alternatives to recreate sesame’s nutty essence. With the right substitutions, you can craft full-flavored stir-fries, salads, noodles and more while experimenting with new oils.
By swapping sesame oil for other options, home cooks can continue crafting favorite Asian dishes while expanding their skills. So arm yourself with oil substitution tips to unleash new possibilities. With a stocked pantry, you can keep Asian cuisine on the menu while boosting nutrition.
The next time you cook, remember these oil secrets. A little creativity and substituting can open up new flavors. So branch out beyond sesame oil and introduce healthier, more nutritious oils into your repertoire. Your taste buds will thank you for the new dimensions of flavor!
I am a skilled chef assistant with a passion for Asian cuisine, I have honed my craft through formal training at At-Sunrice GlobalChef Academy and years of experience in the culinary industry. I have extensive knowledge of cooking techniques and herbs and spices, with a particular focus on traditional Chinese dishes. I’m also an author of the book “Delicious Keto Low Carb Chinese Food for Busy Moms and Fitness Enthusiasts” which is sold on Amazon. On my blog, bowlakechinese.com, I share my expertise in Asian cuisine and provide tips and recipes for those interested in low carb Chinese cuisine.