Cumin is a versatile spice that has traveled the world and was known to many kings of old. Found in dishes in the Middle East, Latin America, and North Africa, its strong flavor contributes to many spiced dishes. It’s warm flavor profile plays nicely with curries and chilis, making it a winner in any pantry.
A brief history of cumin
Cumin seeds have been used since ancient Egyptian times and are even referred to in the Bible–both the Old Testament and New Testament. The oldest record of cumin being used dates back 5,000 years to when it was used for mummification of Egyptian pharaohs. There are records of ancient Greeks spicing their food with cumin as modern day humans spice their food with pepper. In India, cumin has been used for hundreds of years as a curry spice blend.
During the European colonization of the Americas, cumin was brought over through the spice trade and established itself as a popular spice in South America. Through the influence of Latin-America cuisine, cumin has become a more popular spice in United States pantries and is used most often in taco seasonings or Indian curries.
How cumin is grown and produced
Several varieties of cumin exist, with the most common being black and green cumin. Native to the eastern Mediterranean region, cumin is a flowering plant that is closely related to parsley. Cumin seeds are harvested from the small, white flowers of the plant. Oblong in shape, whole cumin seeds are a light-brown color that can be used whole or ground.
Over 300,000 tons of cumin a year are produced worldwide, with some going towards culinary uses and some being added to bird seed. India and China are the largest producers of cumin, as well as the largest consumers. Most Western consumers use ground cumin in culinary applications, but whole cumin seeds are beginning to become more popular.
Health and wellness benefits of cumin
Cumin is high in iron, vitamin B6, and antioxidants, and is used as a digestive aid in some countries. Its beneficial plant compounds have been shown to help fight bacteria, control blood sugar, and help treat diarrhea. Cumin has historically been used to make medicines that fight obesity and can sometimes be found added to water to help reduce bloat.