If you’re a fan of Mexican, Middle Eastern, or Indian cuisine, you may be familiar with cumin. Its distinct flavor, which is often described as “earthy, nutty, spicy, and with hints of lemon,” is unique and essential to many different ethnic dishes.
Even if it is one of your top favorite spices in your kitchen cabinet, you may be unaware that it may do more than add a little flavor to your culinary creations. We will discuss some of the common cumin uses and potential benefits of incorporating the spice into your daily life.
What Is Cumin?
Cumin, also known as Cuminum cyminum, is a flowering plant from the parsley family and is native to Eastern Mediterranean to East India. The seed is harvested, when they turn brown after the flowers are done blooming. The seeds, which are picked by hand, are dried and then kept whole or ground.
You may have a jar of ground cumin powder in your spice cabinet, but you might not know much else about the spice. Cumin is well-known for its warm and earthy flavor, and once you get a taste of this unique spice, you can probably tell it apart from others.
While it’s typically used on its own, cumin is also a key ingredient in some spice blends from garam masala and curry powder to adobos and achiote blends. Most ground cumin is described as a brownish-yellow (or amber) color, but there are other less common varieties such as black, green, and white.
Even though most of us are most familiar with its ground form, you can purchase cumin seeds and grind them on your own at home. They are often described as “boat-shaped” and even resemble a piece of long grain rice; they also look a lot like, and are often mistaken for, caraway seeds.
While you’re likely to find the powdered spice at your local grocery store, whole seeds may not be available. You can order both versions online or at an ethnic foods store at a relatively inexpensive price.
History of Cumin
The popular and versatile spice has a history that is thousands of years old and was reportedly used as a spice and also for preserving mummies in ancient Egypt, where it originated. Throughout its history, the spice popularized in India and used by the Greeks and Romans.
It also became a widely used spice in Spain and Portugal after European colonization. Today, both ground cumin and the seeds in a variety of recipes.
Benefits Of Using Cumin
When most of us use spices, we may not think that they offer any benefits other than making our food taste better. While some spices don’t provide any additional benefits other than enhancing the flavor of a favorite dish, ground cumin use might be beneficial to your health.
Improving Your Digestion
Digestive issues are inconvenient, uncomfortable and can even decrease one’s quality of life. Aside from use as a spice, cumin has played an integral role in improving digestive health for centuries.
If your body works extra hard to digest food, the spice can help move things along a little more quickly and more comfortably. Research suggests that it can increase the digestive enzymes, which can speed up the digestive process.
Twice a week, drinking a mug of cumin water benefits the digestive system, may treat indigestion, and can make your culinary experiences more enjoyable.
Some research suggests that the spice may even play a role in preventing foodborne illnesses by reducing infectious fungi and bacteria.
Nutritional Value Can Help Boost Your Immune System
One might underestimate the power of a little seed, but this earthy and warm spice provides energy, vitamins A, C, E, and B6, niacin, iron, and calcium (just to name a few). It also has protein, fiber, amino acids, and healthy fats. Did you know that consuming only one teaspoon a day of the best cumin powder can help you reach your daily nutrient recommendations?
Getting all the vitamins and minerals you need, on a daily basis, can help keep your immune system in good shape (particularly if you get enough vitamin C).
Help With Weight Loss
Many people who are trying to drop a few pounds or want to maintain a healthy weight are usually pretty happy when they find out that food can be helpful rather than a hindrance. In one study, two groups of overweight women went to nutrition counseling and decreased their daily caloric intake. One of the groups added about one teaspoon of cumin powder to their daily diet.
After the three month study, the women who ate cumin lost more weight than the women who didn’t use the spice. While it’s always important to remember that may experience the health benefits differently, it’s promising to say that the popular spice can be a helpful aid in weight loss.
Raise “Good” Cholesterol
In the same three month study involving the women, the participants who lost weight also saw an improvement in their HDL levels or “good” cholesterol. Other research suggests that cumin supplements don’t benefit cholesterol, so one might assume that the best way to take the spice is in its natural powdered form and mixed with food.
May Help With Inflammation
Although future research is needed to make a strong claim in favor of the spice, it may help reduce inflammation. As you may already know, inflammation in the body can cause a variety of issues from arthritis, chronic pain, digestive problems, and even autoimmune diseases.
If you’re already planning on taking a teaspoon a day, why not monitor your pain levels and see if they decrease over time?
A Natural Tool For Drug Dependency
Even though the research is limited, studies have revealed that cumin may be helpful in reducing addictive behavior and withdrawal symptoms in mice who were given opiates.
While these findings may bring hope to the current opioid crisis, it’s important to remember that opioid withdrawal can be dangerous and even fatal if not monitored by a professional. Always seek help from a medical professional if you’re trying to quit an addiction to drugs.
Remember how we said that the seeds are loaded with vitamin C and E? Those vitamins are essential for healthy skin and the anti-inflammatory properties in the spice can help keep skin free from irritation.
Can’t Sleep? Try Some Cumin
If you have a hard time falling or staying asleep, you’re not alone. Before bed, you may want to try drinking some homemade cumin tea or add a teaspoon of the powder to a healthy snack such as yogurt or a mashed banana. If you’re skeptical whether or not it will help you catch some z’s, you can always rest easy knowing about the other health benefits.
Tips For Using Cumin
Now that you know more about the benefits of this versatile spice you may want to start using it as much as possible. While it’s considered to be safe, you may not want to consume more than a teaspoon or two a day.
If you are planning on using it as a supplement for a medication, talk with your doctor before making the switch. It may be safe to use the powder with medication, but it’s always best to double check for safety reasons.
When you buy cumin, you may want to consider buying the seeds, since you can do more things with them. A good way to tell if a cumin seed is a good-quality is the flavor released when you squeeze the seed.
When you squeeze the seed between your finger and thumb, you should taste or smell peppery yet pleasant flavor. If you’re unsure, visit a specialty spice shop and ask for recommendations.
When not in use, you can store your seeds in an airtight container in a cool, dry, and dark place. Some people store them in the freezer, but make sure the container is free of moisture. In efforts to keep your spice as fresh as possible, don’t buy more than you think you will use. Even though it stores well, like all spices, it will lose freshness and taste over time.
If you roast the seeds and grind them yourself, the flavor may be more intense than if you buy the powder. Use caution when roasting the seeds as they can burn quickly. When you’re ready to grind the seeds, you can use a mortar or pestle or a coffee grinder that you use for grinding spices.
Now that you know more about a one-of-a-kind spice take the time to browse some recipes or just get creative in the kitchen and start cooking.