Have you come across a spice that gives you a distinctive aroma and taste so alluring that you wish to find out more? No, … yes? Besides the garam masala blend I wrote about earlier, cumin gives you that. On top of its amazing flavour, continue reading to learn more about the health benefits of cumin and how to use it to spice up your dish.
Firstly, let’s find out exactly what cumin is.
What is Cumin
Cumin, a spice is the dried seed of the herb Cuminum cyminum which is a member of the parsley family. This flowering herb plant is native to southwestern Asia including Middle East. Cumin is used in the cuisines of many cultures, particularly Indian, Mexican, African and Asian.
The flavour of cumin is earthy, nutty, spicy and warm with hints of lemon. Used in both whole and ground form, it gives a distinctive flavour to Indian curries and chilli powder. Did you know cumin is the main component of the popular spice blend, garam masala? Click here to learn more about garam masala, including how to make your own blend.
In the ancient days, cumin is used by the Romans as a spice and medicine. Egyptians used it primarily for preserving bodies prior to mummification. I figured this leads to why cumin is a common ingredient for sausage and other meat preservation recipes.
How Many Types of Cumin
Mainly, there are two types of cumin. The common cumin and black cumin.
The wheat-coloured cumin (also call Jeera) is commonly used in cooking while black cumin is bitterer, harsher and only used in specific dishes, especially curries and making spice blends such as curry powder and garam masala.
Both appear relatively the same but black cumin (also called Kala Jeera or Shah Jeera or caraway seeds) is slightly longer, thinner and darker. The names can be confusing, I know.
Here is another,
DO NOT mistake black cumin seeds for black seeds because they are different altogether. Black cumin (Kala Jeera) is NOT black seed (Nigella Sativa). Both are from two totally different species and are NOT interchangeable in cooking or for health benefits.
If you search on Amazon for black cumin spice, Nigella Sativa (black seeds) appears in the listing. Thus, you must be careful what you are buying.
In this article, it is all about the common cumin.
What is the Health Benefits of Cumin
Cumin has long been used in traditional medicine and known for promoting digestion and reducing food-borne infections.
New research has revealed some new benefits, such as promoting weight loss and improving blood sugar control and cholesterol.
Let’s look at 7 health benefits of cumin
#1 Promote Digestion. While cumin is traditionally used for digestion, modern research also found the same – helps in improving digestibility. It helps speed up digestion with the increasing activity of digestive enzymes. Furthermore, the increased release of bile from the liver helps digest fats in your gut.
#2 Improve Irritable Bowel Syndrome. IBS is one of the common gastrointestinal disorders characterized by chronic abdominal pain, altered bowel habits or change on stool consistency.
In one study, 57 patients with IBS reported a significant decrease of abdominal pain, bloating, incomplete defecation and faecal urgency during and after treatment with concentrated cumin. Stool consistency and faecal frequency were improved in patients with constipation dominant pattern of IBS.
#3 Improve Blood Circulation. Cumin is a rich source of iron. One teaspoon of ground cumin contains 1.4mg of iron.
Iron is an important component of haemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen from your lungs to circulate throughout your body. Without healthy red blood cells, your body cannot get enough oxygen. In this case, you will be tired easily and exhausted most of the time. Exhaustion can affect everything from your brain function to your immune system’s ability to fight off potential infections.
Additionally, improved blood circulation leads to healthy cells, skin, hair and nails.
#4 Promote Weight Loss. Iron found in cumin is also important for your body’s metabolic function. It helps speed up metabolism burning more calories. On top of that, the spiciness of cumin increases body heat thus results in fat burning.
Read related article: Best Herbs and Spices for Weight Loss
#5 Reduce Inflammation. A research has shown cumin contains antioxidant properties.
Antioxidants help to counteract oxidative stress which can occur when there is an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in your body. The causes include diet, lifestyle, environmental factors such as pollution and radiation and certain conditions.
You need to know that your body’s natural immune response can also trigger oxidative stress temporarily. In this case, it causes a mild inflammation that goes away after your immune system fights off an infection or heals an injury. However, uncontrolled oxidative stress can lead to the development of various health conditions including chronic inflammation.
#6 Manage Cholesterol Levels. Cumin contains various beneficial compounds such as essential fatty acids, polyphenols and flavonoids. These are well-known to have positive effects on cardiovascular risk factors including cholesterol and triglycerides.
In one study, a group of women consumed 3g cumin powder with yoghurt while another group without cumin twice a day for 3 months. Those who ate the cumin had lower cholesterol, triglyceride and LDL (bad cholesterol) levels, along with increase HDL (good) cholesterol.
#7 Control Blood Sugar Levels. The antidiabetic properties of cumin help increase insulin production in your body which keeps blood sugar levels under control.
BE CAUTIONED if you are on diabetes medication. Excess intake of cumin can lead to surplus insulin which will then lower your blood glucose.
How to Use Cumin
Now that you know the various health benefits of cumin, how will you add this spice to your diet?
Cumin can be used in whole seed or ground form. In Indian cuisine, whole seeds are mostly used where they are added to the hot oil at the start of cooking. This releases the flavour and infuses the oil hence the rest of the ingredients.
Ground cumin can be added at any time during the cooking process as its flavour does not need heat to be released as in whole seeds form.
While you can buy cumin seeds or ground cumin easily from grocery stores or online, it is best to grind your own cumin powder.
Remember: Spices lose their potency and flavours gradually over time. Thus grind only the amount needed.
Tips: Lightly roasting cumin seeds before grinding gives you a more intense and distinct flavour.
There are various ways using cumin in cooking and you may find many recipes online. This particular Indian dish I totally love eating, Chicken Biryani, uses garam masala which contains cumin spice. I highly recommend this dish as the taste is amazing and its aroma, while you are cooking, will fill your kitchen. It can be a lot of work though. However, do not let the long preparation process puts you off. No time for this? It’s alright. You can still enjoy cumin the easy way.
Easy ways to use cumin
- Sprinkle ground cumin onto omelettes, roasted vegetables and potatoes
- Add cumin to soups, stews or casseroles
- Add to rice or couscous
- Infuse olive oil with cumin and use it to drizzle over salad, stir fry vegetables or potatoes
- Add toasted cumin seeds into muffin batter or bread dough
- Use cumin for marinades, barbecue sauces and spice rubs
To get started, simply sprinkle ground cumin onto your eggs, vegetables or potato dishes. Get a taste of how it actually tastes like and get creative as you go along especially when creating your own spice rub or garam masala blend.
Cumin goes well with other spices and herbs such as
If you wonder what food pairs well with cumin, it is beans, potatoes, rice, squash and tomatoes. For meat, beef and mutton are the perfect pairings.
So, if you are ready to use more cumin in your diet, use these combinations and main ingredients as a guide to whip up healthy and flavourful meals.
Would you like to know how to grind your own cumin powder? Of course, you do. Here you go…
How to Make Cumin Powder
There are several benefits grinding your own spices.
As I have mentioned above, spices lose their quality and flavour rather swiftly once they are crushed. Therefore, grinding your own ensure the maximum potency of the spices, giving your dish a bursting flavour.
Additionally. You can avoid wastage. The shelf life of ground spices is normally six months but you will notice their aroma dissipating. In the whole form, spices can last about one year. You wouldn’t want to keep your spices for months, as the potency dissipates.
Furthermore, do you know what is included in the store-bought ground spices? Preservatives, flavour enhancers and salt may be added to them. Thus, grind your own spices so you know what is in them.
Last but not least, you do not want to store bottles or jars of spices, whole or ground, leaving a cluttered pantry. And every time you need certain spices or herbs, you will end up wasting time finding them or buying another bottle. If this is the case, you will need to consider getting a spice rack organizer. As the saying goes, “out of sight out of mind”. You know what I mean?
Here is what you need to do grinding you own cumin
- Toast the cumin seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat for 2 – 3 minutes. Shake the pan occasionally. Toasting releases the oil and brings out the fragrance. Can you smell the aroma already? Leave them to cool.
- Put the seeds into a spice grinder and grind for about 30 seconds or till you have a fine powder.
- Store ground cumin in an airtight glass jar or container and keep at a cool dry place.
Using a spice grinder, which it has the same function of a coffee grinder, to grind your spices is very convenient. You can do it as and when needed.
However, you may face this problem. It is quite difficult to grind a small amount of seeds. You may get inconsistent grind.
To address this problem, consider grinding more and use them regularly in your cooking. Alternatively, do the old-fashioned way – use the mortar and pestle. It needs a little bit more effort but do it with love and you will enjoy it!
Remember: When switching from whole cumin to ground or vice versa, a different amount is needed. The flavour of ground cumin is more concentrated therefore you need less in a dish. For a recipe that calls for 1 tablespoon of cumin seeds, you will need only ½ – 2/3 tablespoon of ground cumin. Start with less and taste as you go along.
Can I Substitute Cumin
Yes, you can!
Chilli powder, curry powder and garam masala contain cumin. Should you have any of these spice blends, consider using them as a substitute. However, take note that they contain other spices as well. Thus, they will alter the taste and colour too because of the turmeric spice in the blend.
Ground coriander is another option. This spice has the same characteristics, earthy and lemony flavour of cumin but lacks the heat. Therefore, you may add chilli powder or cayenne powder for heat.
The best substitute is caraway seeds. Both caraway and cumin are in the parsley family. Similar in taste but cumin has a stronger flavour and more heat.
Do not mistake cumin for caraway as both look the same. I made that mistake once.
Both have an oblong shape and mustard-brown colour but cumin is lighter in colour and the seeds are larger. Caraway seeds are slightly curved and bendy.
All in All
Cumin has a very distinctive flavour. Its earthy, nutty, spicy taste with lemony tang will blow your taste buds away. On top of that, one can easily tell by the aroma what you are cooking with. My children definitely can.
Cumin is used in many traditional dishes in India, Middle East, Asia and Latin America and widely used in Ayurvedic medicine.
Traditionally, cumin has long been used medically and now, many studies have revealed more health benefits.
Does cumin really help with certain health conditions? Every person’s body reacts differently thus what works for others may not work for you.
While you may doubt the health benefits of cumin, do not doubt its amazing flavour and aroma. You can easily add cumin to your daily diet using the simple ways mentioned above. Even if you doubt it can help you in certain health conditions, cumin’s nutritional and medicinal value may still keep your general health in check.
Remember, it is best to consume certain food, even superfood in moderation. A well-balanced diet is utmost important for your health. And exercise regularly.
Grinding your own cumin seeds sure has its benefits, more potent, grind how much you need avoiding wastages and you know for sure what is in it (no preservatives). If you have not a spice grinder, check out my affordable and practical spice grinder review and best electric spice grinder review.
Cumin is an amazing spice. One of my favourites. I am delighted you kept reading until here. Thank you, and you will certainly make me happier if you share your thoughts and experiences on cumin with us. Should there be any spices or herbs you would like to learn more, let us know. Let’s explore together!
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From the Corner of My Home – Spice Up Your Life with Herbs and Spices
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