by Sara Pingel 0 Comments


The small cumin seed (Cuninum cyminum) possesses a powerful flavor described as being penetrating and peppery with slight citrus overtones. Cumin‘s unique flavor complexity has made it an integral space in the cuisines of Mexico, India, and the Middle East.

Cumin seeds are oblong, longitudinally rigid, and yellow brown in color, and resemble caraway seeds. This similarity is reasonable, since cumin and caraway, like their parsley and dill cousins, belong to the Umbelliferae plant family. 


Native to Egypt, cumin has also been cultivated for thousands of years in the Middle East, India, China, and Mediterranean countries, where it has played an important role as a food and medicine and has been a cultural symbol with varied attributes. The Bible includes cumin as a dual treasure, for it is mentioned both as a seasoning for soup and as a legal tender to pay mandatory tithes to the local priest. In ancient Egypt, cumin was also an ingredient used to mummify pharaohs.

Ancient Greek and Roman kitchens highly honored cumin seeds as a culinary seasoning. The rise of cumin‘s reputation was partially as a result of it being a useful alternative to the more expensive and rare black pepper spice. 

During the middle ages in Europe, cumin was one of the most common spices used and became recognized as a reminder of love and devotion. Cumin was taught to possess enough power to stop livestock, and possibly a spouse, from wandering away. As a result, guests carried cumin in their pockets when attending wedding ceremonies. When sent off to war, the wives of married soldiers baked cumin bread to be taken by their beloved. Arabic traditions also celebrate a mixture made of ground cumin, pepper, and honey, which was believed to possess aphrodisiac properties.

While maintaining an important role in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine, the popularity of cumin in Europe declined after the middle ages. In recent times, cumin and a number of other culinary herbs have become popular for many diverse uses and cuisines.


Cumin seeds have traditionally been noted to be of benefit to the digestive system, and scientific research is beginning to bear outcomes age old reputation. Research in animals has indicated that cumin may stimulate the secretion of pancreatic enzymes, important factors improper digestion and nutrient assimilation. As with other carminative spices, cumin‘s digestive stimulating effects are due to its content of volatile oils.

Cumin seeds may also have anti-cancer 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.


As with other dried spices, choose organically grown dried cumin whenever possible, since organically grown herbs are much less likely to have been irradiated. Cumin is available both in its whole seed form and ground into a powder. Whenever possible, buy whole cumin seeds instead of cumin powder, since the ladder loses its flavor more quickly and the seeds can be easily ground with a mortar and pestle. 

Cumin seeds and cumin powder should be kept in a tightly sealed glass container in a cool, dark, dry place. Ground cumin will keep for about six months, while whole seeds will stay fresh for about a year.


To bring out the fragrance and flavor of cumin, it should be lightly roasted. One method is to roast whole cumin seeds on a tray in an oven at 300°F for a few minutes or in a skillet on low heat until the aroma gains strength. As the taste of cumin is a great complement to the hearty flavor of legumes, such as lentils, garbanzo beans, and black beans, add the spice one preparing any recipe with these foods.

Make a cup of warming and soothing cumin tea by lightly boiling 2 teaspoons seeds in 2 cups water covered and then allowing them to steep for 8 to 10 minutes.


  • The Encyclopedia of Healing Food by Michael Murray, ND

Sara Pingel
Sara Pingel


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