Cumin (Cuminum cyminum)
Cumin plants belong to the parsley family which is cultivated for its seeds, either whole or ground.
Cumin tastes similar to caraway however is much hotter. Cumin has a rich, slightly bitter, spicy pungency, particularly once ground, however roasting or frying the seeds can reduce the harsh flavour, making the taste nuttier.
Cumin seeds is strong, spicy and curry-like with acrid but warm depth. Opposite to the flavour, the aroma of the seeds is enhanced when they are roasted or fried.
Due to its hot flavour, cumin is used in many highly spiced cuisines including Indian, Middle Eastern and Mexican cooking. It is an essential ingredient in Indian curry powders, garam masala, Moroccan lamb dishes and chilli con carne. It is also surprisingly used in many German recipes including sauerkraut, sausages, chutney and pickles.
Cumin pairs with eggplant, onion, tomatoes, chicken, onion, pumpkin, potatoes, rice, cheese, zucchini, lamb and lentils.
It marries with aniseed, bay, cardamom, chilli, cinnamon, coriander, garlic, ginger, oregano, paprika, thyme, pepper and turmeric.
Plant cumin seeds 15-20cm apart a well-drained, sunny spot. Cumin plants grow best in warmer climates and grow to 30-40cm high. The plants grow white/pink flowers in umbels, followed by small brown seeds. The seeds can be harvested around 4 months after planting when they are changing colour from yellow to brown. In many countries, cumin plants are still manually threshed and the seeds left to dry in the sun.
Cumin is native to the Nile valley in Egypt and was thought to be used by Egyptians 5000 years ago. In ancient times, taxes were paid with cumin seeds and it was a symbol of greed and meanness. This changed by the Middle Ages where it became a sign of faithfulness. Cumin was introduced to Latin America by Spanish explorers and it is still used today in many Mexican dishes.
Cumin has been used throughout history to assist in digestion and ease stomach upsets, flatulence, colic and diarrhoea. Cumin is also used in perfumes and liqueurs.
Facts about Cumin
There are also black cumin seeds which have a sweeter smell and more mellow flavour than regular cumin. Black cumin is particularly used in Indian cuisine.
Are cumin seeds better ground or whole?
Whole cumin seeds retain their flavour longer than ground cumin. For increased flavour, store whole cumin seeds in airtight containers and grind just before use.