Cumin is the dried seed or fruit of the Cuminum cyminum plant. It is one of the most popular spices, used all over the world in either its ground powdered form or as a whole seed. Cumin is best described as having a warm and earthy flavour, and can really transform a dish by adding a unique, subtle, and aromatic flavour. It is a very versatile spice that can be used in numerous dishes from various cuisines.

Cumin can be used on its own, however it is also popular in spices blends. You will find cumin in curry powder, garam masala, berbere, achiote blends, baharat, ras el hanout, and arobo spice blends. Cumin comes in many different varieties, including white cumin, black cumin, green cumin, and brownish-yellow cumin. The latter is the most common variety and used all over the world.

Cumin belongs to the same plant family as parsley, carrots, caraway, and dill. In popular cuisine, the spice is used as a flavouring agent in baked beans, BBQ sauce, Mexican chili, and as a marinade for meat and fish. Cumin is a staple spice in many cuisines, including Mexican, Middle Eastern, African, Indian, and Asian.

History of cumin

Cumin originated either in the Eastern Mediterranean or Central or Southwestern Asia. It has been used as a kitchen spice for thousands of years all across Asia. The first evidence of cumin being used is in the ancient submerged Neolithic village of Atlit Yam, off the coast of Israel. Seeds of wild cumin were excavated from the site and date back to the early 6th millennium BC. In Syria, cumin seeds were excavated that dated to the second millennium BC. Cumin seeds have also been spotted in several ancient Egyptian archaeological sites, where it was used as both a spice and a preservative used in mummification. Cumin was introduced to the Central and South America by Spanish and Portuguese colonists, and it is now a popular part of their cuisine.

Health benefits of cumin

Cumin has numerous health benefits that make it a powerful kitchen herb. Amongst its medicinal properties include:

  • Weight loss: Cumin can be useful in reducing body weight. An 8-week study found that overweight adults lost a significant amount of weight when consuming cumin than those who did not. Another study found that overweight or obese women who consumed 3grams of cumin powder in yoghurt every day for 3 months lost a significant amount of body weight, body fat, and waist size.
  • Cholesterol: The same study as above also found that consuming 3g of cumin per day led to lower levels of total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein or ‘bad’ cholesterol, and triglycerides.
  • Diabetes: A study in adults with type 2 diabetes found that cumin essential oil significantly lowered blood sugar, insulin, and haemoglobin A1c levels. The group also experienced reduced insulin resistance and inflammation.
  • IBS: Cumin essential oil has been found to be useful in reducing stomach cramps and bloating, as well as regulating bowel movements.

How is cumin used in cooking

Cumin can be used in various dishes, including vegetables, soups, legumes, and stews. It’s also popular in marinades and rubs for meats, fish, or tofu. Cumin is a popular addition in Mexican chili con carne, roasted vegetables, gravies, and pickles. It is used in virtually all Indian curries and chutneys. The spice can also be used to flavour rice dishes, when making bread, or in omelettes and egg dishes.

Less is more when it comes to cumin, especially ground cumin. Start by using 1/2 tsp and then you can always add more if you need to. Toasted cumin seeds are delicious and can be added on top of rice or mixed into salads. Many recipes will require you to first toast cumin seeds, particularly Indian curries.

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