Cumin is native to the Levant and Upper Egypt. It now grows in most hot countries, especially India, North Africa, China and the Americas. Cumin was known to the Egyptians five millennia ago; the seeds have been found in the Old Kingdon Pyramids. The Romans and the Greeks used it medicinally and cosmetically to induce a pallid complexion. In Indian recipes, cumin is frequently confused with caraway, which it resembles in appearance though not in taste, cumin being far more powerful.
An aromatic spice with a distinctive bitter flavor and strong, warm aroma due to its abundant oil content. Cumin “seeds” are actually the small dried fruit of an annual plant in the parsley family. Native to the Mediterranean, cumin is hotter to the taste, lighter in color, and larger than caraway, another spice it’s sometimes confused with. Sold whole or ground, the seeds come in three colors: amber, white or black. Amber is most widely available, but the black has such a complex flavor it should not be substituted for the other two. Cumin is a popular ingredient in Middle Eastern, Asian, Mediterranean and Mexican cuisines, and is one of the main ingredients in curry powder.Cumin is the seed of a small umbelliferous plant. They have a striped pattern of nine ridges and oil canals, and are hairy, brownish in color, boat-shaped, tapering at each extremity, with tiny stalks attached. They resemble caraway seeds, but are lighter in color and unlike caraway, have minute bristles hardly visible to the naked eye. A small, slender herbaceous annual, of the parsley family. It usually reaches 25 cm (some varieties can be double this height),and tends to droop under its own weight. The blue-green linear leaves are finely divided, and the white or pink flowers are borne in small compound umbels.
Cumin is used mainly where highly spiced foods are preferred. It features in Indian, Eastern, Middle Eastern, Mexican, Portuguese and Spanish cookery. It is an ingredient of most curry powders and many savory spice mixtures, and is used in stews, grills – especially lamb – and chicken dishes. It gives bite to plain rice, and to beans and cakes. Small amounts can be usefully used in aubergine and kidney bean dishes.
Cumin is essential in spicy Mexican foods such as chile con carne, casseroled pork and enchiladas with chili sauce. In Europe, cumin flavours certain Portuguese sausages, and is used to spice cheese, especially Dutch Leyden and German Munster, and burned with woods to smoke cheeses and meats. It is a pickling ingredient for cabbage and Sauerkraut, and is used in chutneys. In the Middle East, it is a familiar spice for fish dishes, grills and stews and flavors couscous – semolina steamed over meat and vegetables, the national dish of Morocco. Zeera pani is a refreshing and appetizing Indian drink made from cumin and tamarind water. Cumin together with caraway flavors Kummel, the famous German liqueur.
Matches well with: beans, chicken, couscous, curry, eggplant, fish, lamb, lentils, peas, pork, potatoes, rice, sausages, soups, stews, eggs
Substitutions: caraway seeds (use half as much); or caraway seeds plus anise seeds; or chili powder; or Amber cumin seeds may be substituted for white cumin seeds and vice versa.
Health Benefits of Cumin
Cumin is stomachic, diuretic, carminative, stimulant, astringent, emmenagogic and antispasmodic. It is valuable in dyspepsia diarrhea and hoarseness, and may relieve flatulence and colic. In the West, it is now used mainly in veterinary medicine, as a carminative, but it remains a traditional herbal remedy in the East. It is supposed to increase lactation and reduce nausea in pregnancy.
It has been shown to be effective in treating carpal tunnel syndrome, as well as diarrhea, indigestion, and morning sickness. Cumin also shows promise as a natural way to increase breast size. Used in a poultice, it relieves swelling of the breast or the testicles.
Cumin seeds, whose scientific name is Cuminum cyminum, are an excellent source of iron, a mineral that plays many vital roles in the body. Iron is an integral component of hemoglobin, which transports oxygen from the lungs to all body cells, and is also part of key enzyme systems for energy production and metabolism.
Cumin seeds have traditionally been noted to be of benefit to the digestive system, and scientific research is beginning to bear out cumin’s age-old reputation. Research has shown that cumin may stimulate the secretion of pancreatic enzymes, compounds necessary for proper digestion and nutrient assimilation.
Cumin seeds may also have anti-carcinogenic properties. In one study, cumin was shown to protect laboratory animals from developing stomach or liver tumors. This cancer-protective effect may be due to cumin’s potent free radical scavenging abilities as well as the ability it has shown to enhance the liver’s detoxification enzymes. Yet, since free radical scavenging and detoxification are important considerations for the general maintenance of wellness, cumin’s contribution to wellness may be even more farther reaching.