Botanical Name: Cuminum cyminum

Family: Umbelliferae

Hindi Name: Jeera

Cumin is indigenous to Egypt and Syria, Turkestan and the eastern Mediterranean region.

It is cultivated in Arab countries, India, China, Morocco, southern Russia, Indonesia, Japan and Spain. It was popular even during the Biblical times as an efficient digestive food flavour for ceremonial feasting. Not just today, but history also has experienced the flavour of cumin during the Roman Empire and in ancient India where cumin has its mention as 'Well­smelling' or sugandhan. In India cumin is cultivated in almost all the states, notably in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan Gujarat and Tamil Nadu.

Cumin is the dried fruit of a small herbaceous plant that is a slender annual of the coriander family. The strongly aromatic grayish-brown seeds are oval, elongated, about 6mm long. They resemble caraway seeds, but are slightly longer. The plant grows to a height of about 30-45 cm, having a stem with several branches. The leaves are deep green in colour, and the flowers are white or rose in colour, borne in umbels.

It composition is as follows:

  • Protein: 17.7 %
  • Fat: 23.8 %
  • Fibre: 9.1 %
  • Carbohydrates: 35.5 %
  • Minerals: 7.7 %
  • Calcium: 0.9 %
  • Phosphorus: 0.45 %
  • Iron: 0.48 %
  • Sodium: 0.16 %
  • Potassium: 2.1 %
  • Vit B1: 0.73 mg/100g
  • Vit B2: 0.38 mg/100g
  • Niacin: 2.5 mg.100g
  • Vit C: 17.2 %
  • Vit A: 175 IU/100g

The volatile oil extracted from the dried fruits is colourless or pale yellow. The chief constitUent of the oils is cuminaldehyde, which is used in perfumery.

From Latin America to North Africa, and all over Asia, cumin is the most popular spice used, but least so in Europe, although it had been a common spice in the times of the Roman Empire. Today, cumin usage in Europe is restricted to flavouring cheese in the Netherlands and France.

Cumin is one of the most typical spices of India, especially the southern part. The fruits are used as a whole, and are fried or dry-roasted before usage. Legumes, especially lentils, are commonly flavoured by cumin fried in ghee. Further more, the seeds form an important part of curry powder, and of the Bengali spice mixture known as panch phoran.

In Imperial North Indian cuisine and Mughlai preparations, the mixture of cumin is prepared to relish its sweet and aromatic flavour. It is an essential ingredient in the preparation of North Indian tandoori dishes.

The fragrance of roasted cumin, typically in combination with coriander, is the most characteristic impression from South Indian or Sri Lankan cuisine.

Another important spice mixture containing cumin is garam masala, which means 'hot mixture'. The spice mixture is sometimes used for cooking, but more frequently sprinkled over the dishes before serving. In south India it is widely used to flavour curries.

Black cumin is the fruit of a related plant that grows in Iran and the northern Indian region of Kashmir. This black cumin is sometimes preferred to the white ones for the Kurmas.

Cumin is also very popular in Western to Central Asia. The spice mixtures from this region featuring cumin are Yemenizhong and Saudi Arab baharat.

Cumin is also typical spice used in tangines, the meat stews of Arab-influenced northern Africa. In South-eastern and eastern Asia cumin is less valued, but used occasionally. Cumin is very important, though, for Burmese cooking, and it does playa role in the cooking styles of Thailand and Indonesia. It is an important ingredient in Mexican spice mixtures also.

Indian cumin finds worldwide use in foods, beverages, liquors, medicines, toiletries and perfumeries. Cumin is used in soups, pickles, breads, cakes, pastries, spice powders and stews. The seeds have long been considered to be stimulant, carminative and anti-spasmodic. The herb has similar effects to fennel and caraway seeds.

It has a considerable reputation in helping correct flatulence caused by languid digestion and as a remedy for colic and dyspeptic headache. Applied externally as a plaster, it eases stitches and pains in the side, and is combined with other herbs to form a stimulating liniment. It is useful in diarrhoea and dyspepsia. Due to its healing and curative powers it is used as an anthelmintic against hookworm infections.

It increases the secretion and discharge of urine. Black cumin is beneficial in the treatment of piles and insomnia. Dilute cumin water is very effective in common cold, fevers, and sore throat. A paste of cuminseeds mixed with onion juice can be applied over a scorpion sting to counteract the effects of poison.

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