Nigella has been used for years by herbalists in Asia, as well as for culinary purposes in Rome. The seeds are extracted from the flowering plant which belongs to the buttercup family, and are black in colour, from which they got their name. The word “nigella” is derived from the Latin word “nigellus” or “niger”, which means black. Nigella is mostly cultivated in India, Egypt as well as Middle Eastern countries.
Nigella seeds are often described to have a mild, nutty onion and slightly bitter, slightly pepper-like flavour. Due to its taste, it is often used in many parts of Europe as a substitute for pepper, apart from being extensively used as a spice. However, nigella is perhaps most commonly used in India and Middle Eastern cuisines, where it is employed as both a spice and a condiment. It is used to add flavour to vegetable dishes, lamb dishes, chutneys, flatbreads and more. It is also a key ingredient in several garam masalas.
Apart from being used as a flavouring agent, Nigella also has several health benefits. In India, it is widely used as a remedy for bowel complaints and indigestion, and to promote lactation in breast-feeding mothers. It is also used to induce post-natal uterine contractions.
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