Cumin is a ubiquitous spice in many parts of the world, popularly used for centuries in the cuisine of countries like India, Turkey, and Greece, and in regions like the Middle East and South America. The cumin plant, which is slender, delicate-looking and long-leaved, resembling something like a shorter dill plant with white or rose-colored flowers, grows well in these warm and sunny regions. The part of the plant used in cooking, the seed (or the fruit of the plant), is usually dried after picking, and can then be used whole or ground into a fine powder. This spice has a warm, nutty, and slightly peppery flavor that works well in a variety of dishes.
Cumin contains significant amounts of iron and manganese, and is well known to have certain medicinal properties. Most notably, it is often used to cure minor digestive disorders, such as indigestion and upset stomachs, and is also thought to be a carminative (or a treatment for flatulence). In many cultures, it is also commonly considered to be an appetite stimulant and an aphrodisiac.
So, how to take advantage of all these wonderful and healthful properties by using cumin in your everyday cooking? It’s actually quite easy; no matter what your taste, there are many recipes, ranging from the simple to the gourmet, in which you can use and enjoy cumin. Cumin is an essential ingredient in many couscous recipes (couscous is a small, round type of pasta that can be quickly steamed in just a few minutes, and is often served with meat, chickpeas and other vegetables, and/or raisins), popular dishes all over North Africa and the Middle East. It can be used in many different Indian staple dishes, like masalas (also known as curries). Cumin is used in many hot and spicy recipes, usually alongside fresh chili peppers, as well as in many tamer recipes, sometimes with cardamom, coriander and/or cilantro and other fresh herbs, and also contrasts well with lemon or other bright and citrusy flavors. Finally, cumin continues to be used in all types of meat dishes, bringing out a rich and earthy flavor in whatever animal is being cooked, and works especially well this way when the meat is being roasted; it is also often used to bring out this earthier, meatier flavor in legumes.
Working cumin into the recipes you cook every day is great way to take advantage of the myriad benefits of the spice, but if you’re having difficulty doing that or if you’d rather just use it for specific health reasons, another way to obtain those is by brewing and drinking a lovely cumin tea. Simply steep the whole seeds in boiling water for 5-10 minutes and then drink and enjoy. If the flavor of the cumin alone isn’t pleasing to you, add some lemon or honey to the brew. Cumin tea is a great way to treat digestive problems, if consumed after a meal.
Whatever way you choose to use cumin, be sure to use it regularly to take advantage of all the fabulous and healthful properties this small but powerful and long-appreciated seed has to offer.
Indian Medicinal Plant Growers Consortium website.
Webb, Marcus A. and Richard Craze. The Herb and Spice Companion. Metro Books:
New York, 2004. The World’s Healthiest Foods website. <http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=91>.