BOTANICAL NAME: Cuminum cyminum
FAMILY NAME: Umbelliferae
Cumin has a long and fascinating history. Evidence shows that it was known to the Egyptians 5,000 years ago and it was found in the pyramids. There are biblical references to threshing cumin with a rod, and this practice is still carried on today in remote regions of the Eastern Mediterranean. Theophrasatus, Greek philosopher and celebrated botanist, was of the opinion that 'cumin must be cursed and abused while sowing if the crop is to be fair and abundant'. !n ancient times cumin was a symbol of greed and meanness. Curiously, by the Middle Ages this derogatory reputation had changed and cumin was regarded as a symbol of faithfulness. For example, in Germany, where cumin is still a popular spice, a bride and groom would carry a little of the seed to represent their commitment to being faithful.
On account of its strong flavour, ground cumin is most popular in cuisines which are generally highly spiced; for example in Indian, Middle Eastern. North African and Mexican cooking. Cumin is an essential ingredient in most Indian curry powders and garam masala.
It is added to soups and stews, especially Moroccan anil) dishes. Midan meal dishes, such as chilli con carne.
Cumin seed contributes a lighter flavour, without the distinctive bitterness, and it is valued in Indian vegetable, rice and dhal recipes. Black cumin is particularly associated with Indian rice preparations. Cumin features widely in German cookery, in classics like sauerkraut, pickles, sausages and Munster cheese. It is also used in Dutch cheese, based on an old medieval recipe.
Cumin has a strong, spicy, sweet aroma with a slightly bitter and pungent taste. The pungency and bitterness are particularly noticeable in the ground spice; however, as it is frequently used with coriander, the bitterness is counteracted. Dry frying before grinding brings out a toasted, nutty flavour, making the spice less harsh. Buy the seeds and grind them as required for superb flavour. Black cumin seeds have a slightly sweeter, more delicate, flavour than the white seeds.
Dry fry cumin seeds in a heavy-based pan for a few minutes to bring out the flavour before using them whole or grinding them.
Black Cumin Seeds
White Cumin Seeds
Cumin is a small, annual herbaceous plant of the parsley family, growing to a height of about 25 cm/10 in. It is a native of Eastern Mediterranean countries and upper Egypt, but it is now cultivated in Morocco, Iran, Turkey, India, China and the Americas. Cumin flourishes best in sunny climes with some rainfall.
The small white or pink flowers grow on small compound umbels, like many of the plants in the Umbelliferae family. Harvesting takes place about 4 months after planting. The small, boat-shaped seed has nine ridges, and it is brown-yellow in colour. Cumin seeds are sometimes confused with caraway, hut the cumin seeds are lighter in colour. There is a type of black cumin, which grows in Iran. The seeds are smaller and they have a sweeter aroma. Black cumin is occasionally confused with nigella, which is sometimes called black caraway in Indian cooking.
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Cumin is regarded as an appetite stimulant, and it is widely used to ease stomach disorders, flatulence, colic and diarrhoea. It is also used in veterinary medicines. Cumin oil is used in perfumes.