Cumin is native to the Levant and Upper Egypt. It now grows in most hot countries, especially India, North Africa, China and the Americas. The spice is especially associated with Morocco, where it is often smelt in the abundant street cookery of the medinas. 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. This is due to a misunderstanding of the Indian word jeera. The term usually means cumin, but can occasionally mean caraway, so in doubtful cases, cumin is generally to be understood. The use of the terms ‘black cumin’ for nigella, and ‘sweet cumin’ for aniseed or fennel, further confounds this confusion. As a general rule interpret jeera or zeera (jira, zira) as cumin and kalonji as nigella. When the seeds themselves are in doubt, cumin is easily distinguished from the other Umbelliferae by its flavour, and its shape and colour is quite different from nigella. Classically, cumin symbolised greed; thus the avaricious Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, came to be known privately as ‘Cuminus’

Preparation and Storage

The seeds should be lightly roasted before being used whole or ground to bring out the aroma. Cumin may also be pounded with other spices in mixtures such as curry powder. Ground cumin must be kept airtight, to retain its pungency. This spice should be used with restraint - it can exclude all the other flavours in a dish. Less than a teaspoon of it will flavour a meal for four.

Health Benefits

  • building healthy blood - Cumin is exceptionally rich in iron, making it a great natural supplement for blood health and an antidote for anemia. Increased iron makes the blood richer in hemoglobin, the substance that transports oxygen to all the cells of the body.

  • strengthening the immune system – Because of its powerful antioxidant properties, cumin strengthens the body’s natural immunities.

  • insomnia – Cumin seeds are a highly effective treatment for insomnia. In traditional medicine, cumin seeds combined with a ripe banana are taken at bedtime to induce peaceful sleep.

  • memory loss – Cumin improves memory and overall mental function, and can speed recovery from amnesia.

  • digestive function – Cumin seeds improves digestion and relieves many common digestive ailments, including flatulence (gas), bloating, diarrhea, nausea and indigestion. Cumin is believed to aid digestion by stimulating the production of pancreatic enzymes.

  • cancer – One of cumin’s most important uses may be in treating cancer. Recent research has revealed that cumin may slow the growth of breast and colon cancer cells. Cumin appears to act against cancer via its strong radical scavenging activity.

  • colds and respiratory ailments – A tonic made from cumin seeds is used traditionally to treat colds, cough, fever and sore throat.

  • kidney health – When combined with caraway seed and black salt, cumin seeds provide an effective treatment for renal colic.

  • healthy metabolism – Cumin boosts the metabolic rate and facilitates the absorption of nutrients throughout the body. Many herbal practitioners consider cumin to be one of nature’s best overall body tonics.


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