Herb and Spice of the Week – Cumin

September 4, 2014 at 5:56 AM | Posted in Herb and Spice of the Week | Leave a comment
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Cumin; sometimes spelled cummin; Cuminum cyminum), also known as Jeera, is a flowering plant in the family Apiaceae, native from the east Mediterranean to India. Its seeds (each one contained within a fruit, which is dried) are used in the cuisines of many different cultures, in both whole and ground form. In addition, it is also used as a medicinal plant, serving as a digestant, as well as being used to treat anemia and the common cold.

 

 

 

Cumin seeds

Cumin seeds

Cumin is the dried seed of the herb Cuminum cyminum, a member of the parsley family. The cumin plant grows to 30–50 cm (12–20 in) tall and is harvested by hand. It is an annual herbaceous plant, with a slender, glabrous, branched stem which is 20–30 cm (8–12 in) tall and has a diameter of 3–5 cm (1 1⁄4–2 in). Each branch has two to three sub-branches. All the branches attain the same height, therefore the plant has a uniform canopy. The stem is coloured grey or dark green. The leaves are 5–10 cm (2–4 in) long, pinnate or bipinnate, with thread-like leaflets. The flowers are small, white or pink, and borne in umbels. Each umbel has five to seven umbellts. The fruit is a lateral fusiform or ovoid achene 4–5 mm (1⁄6–1⁄5 in) long, containing two mericarps with a single seed. Cumin seeds have eight ridges with oil canals. They resemble caraway seeds, being oblong in shape, longitudinally ridged, and yellow-brown in colour, like other members of the umbelliferae family such as caraway, parsley and dill.

 

 
The main producer and consumer of cumin is India. It produces 70% of the world production and consumes 90% of its own production (which means that India consumes 63% of the world’s cumin). Other producers are Syria (7%), Turkey (6%) and Iran (6%). The remaining 11% comes from other countries. In total, Around 300,000 tons of cumin per year are produced worldwide. In 2007, India produced around 175,000 tons of cumin on an area of about 410,000 ha. I.e. the average yield is 0.43 tons per hectare.

 

 

 

Ground cumin on display at the market

Ground cumin on display at the market

Cumin seeds are used as a spice for their distinctive flavor and aroma. It is globally popular and an essential flavoring in many cuisines, particularly South Asian, Northern African and Latin American cuisines. Cumin can be found in some cheeses, such as Leyden cheese, and in some traditional breads from France. It is commonly used in traditional Brazilian cuisine. Cumin can be an ingredient in chili powder (often Tex-Mex or Mexican-style), and is found in achiote blends, adobos, sofrito, garam masala, curry powder, and bahaarat. In Myanmar, cumin is known as and used as a spice.

Cumin can be used ground or as whole seeds. It helps to add an earthy and warming feeling to food, making it a staple in certain stews and soups, as well as spiced gravies such as chili. It is also used as an ingredient in some pickles and pastries.

 

 
In Sanskrit, Cumin is known as Jira. Jira means “that which helps digestion”. In Ayurvedic system of medicine, dried Cumin seeds are used for medicinal purposes. The dried cumin seeds are powdered and used in different forms like kashaya (decoction), arishta (fermented decoction), vati(tablet/pills), and processed with ghee (a semi-fluid clarified butter). It is used internally and sometimes for external application also. It is known for its actions like enhancing appetite, taste perception, digestion, vision, strength, and lactation. It is used to treat diseases like fever, loss of appetite, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal distension, edema and puerperal disorders.

A popular drink in southern India such as Kerala and Tamil Nadu is called jira water, made by boiling cumin seeds in water. It is believed that cumin is beneficial for heart disease, swellings, tastelessness, vomiting, poor digestion and chronic fever.

Ahmad Reza Gohari and Soodabeh Saeidnia have reviewed the phytochemistry of Cuminum cyminum seeds and its standards. They have reported many pharmacological effects such as anti-diabetic, immunologic, anti-epileptic, anti-tumour and antimicrobial activities. A study by researchers at Mysore University in India reports the potential anti-diabetic properties of cumin.

Efraim Lev and Zohar Amar have reported several medicinal properties and health benefits of cumin seeds. According to the authors, cumin seeds and warm jeera water is believed to improve saliva secretion, provide relief in digestive disorders.

 

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