Numerous cooks research herbs and spices and then go to the store to stock up on them. Other cooks see an herb or spice in a recipe and go to the store to pick one up. Then there are the cooks like me, who buy an herb or spice every time we go to the grocery store. It makes the spice rack on the kitchen counter look good.
Today’s herb or spice we’ll be covering is cumin. What is it, what is it used for, and in what cuisines is it found? What foods do we cook in the U. S. that use cumin? What goes with cumin, meaning fruits, vegetables, meats, bread, pasta? Let’s talk about it.
What is Cumin?
An annual plant called Cuminum cyminum yields a seed from which a spice called cumin is made. It looks much like a raw sunflower seed before it’s toasted. You’ll find whole cumin seeds used in Indian and Middle Eastern dishes, but Americans are more familiar with ground cumin.
The spice can be used alone or in spice blends like chili seasoning, taco seasoning, curry powder, and adobos. If you put a bit on your tongue, cumin tastes earthy. It combines sweetness with bitterness and has a warm aroma. Cooking with whole seeds consists of allowing them to cook in oil or broth to impart a flavor, and then they’re taken out. The ground variety can be sprinkled directly onto the food.
Health Benefits Of Cumin
The ancients used to say “let food be your medicine.” They weren’t kidding; even the lowliest herb, spice, or food item offers magnificent healing properties. Cumin is no different:
- It’s an antioxidant
- It helps battle cancer
- It fights off parasites and bacteria
- It helps to keep blood sugar levels under control
- It could help lower cholesterol
- It’s an anti-inflammatory
- It could help with weight loss
- It gives the memory a kick
- It helps with IBS
What Foods Are Cooked Using Cumin?
As A Meat Rub
A dry rub is a combination of herbs and spices massaged deep into specific meat like pork or beef roasts, steaks, and chicken. It soaks deep into the meat to bring out the flavor of the meat. Dry rubs should incorporate sweet, spicy, and savory for an all-around flavoring phenomenon.
For the sweet, begin with brown sugar. Dark brown sugar gives the rub a hint of molasses. The savory includes salt, pepper, garlic, onion powder, coriander, and cumin.
The heat can only come from cayenne peppers. Chili powder is fine, but it might overpower other herbs and spices. Paprika is the last ingredient in your dry rub. Its smoky flavor can only do good things for your meat.
Roasted vegetables are mellow with deep-tasting flavors. Their outsides are caramelized with their insides soft. Winter vegetables like Brussels sprouts, carrots, potatoes, parsnips, turnips, cauliflower, and winter squash taste best roasted like this.
When they’re tossed with olive oil and sprinkled with warm, earthy Indian spices like cumin and tarragon, the root vegetables’ earthiness is accented. The sweetness of carrots and turnips is subtly brought out. Some cooks add a touch of honey when roasting root veggies like potatoes and winter squash to balance the warmth of the cumin.
Most cooks salt and pepper vegetables, but that’s as far as they go. They might garnish them with parsley or chives. However, vegetables benefit from the warmth of cumin as well as from the taste sensation. Sprinkle it over tomatoes, corn, black beans, zucchini, avocado, summer squash, okra, and lima beans to name just a few vegetables. The taste of the veggie will come alive using cumin.
Some people put salt on watermelons. Some use caramel on ice cream. Why not use something to enhance your fruit? I would use fresh fruit because canned fruits come packed in heavy juices. Cumin wouldn’t go well with those. However, you could try it on fresh pears, peaches, cherries, or pineapple. You’ll notice those are hearty fruits with a distinctive flavor. I wouldn’t try cumin with delicate flavors like strawberry or banana, because it would overpower the delicate taste.
Soups, Casseroles, Pasta, And Sauces
Many cooks take leftovers and turn them into the most amazing casseroles or soups, tossing in pasta and spices to make it a treat. Soups and casseroles using pasta benefit from many types of spices in combination with cumin, such as cilantro, turmeric, curry powder, garlic, cardamom, lemon zest, or lemon juice, as well as dill, basil, and tarragon.
Warm spices tend to be best used in winter dishes, while cool spices impart a bitter, salty flavor. Warm spices like thyme, rosemary, fennel, and ginger enhance meats like lamb and beef combined with root vegetables. Cooler spices like mint, turmeric, and cardamom go best with fish and fowl in combination with vegetables like corn, zucchini, tomatoes, and beans.
For example, try this combination of ribs with avocado-pineapple salsa here.
You can also see how cumin enhances vegetables and pasta in this Grilled Vegetable Pasta with Cumin recipe. If you don’t have zucchini, eggplant, or red bell pepper, use tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, or any vegetables you have on hand. Let us know if the family loves it.
From creamy mango salsa to creamy avocado sauce, and from spaghetti sauce to chutney, cumin packs a punch when it comes to sauces. Try this barbecue sauce or whichever salsa recipe appeals to you.
History Of Cumin
The history of cumin goes back 5,000 years. The ancient Egyptians used it in the mummification recipe for the pharaohs. The Ancient Greeks kept it in its own container on the dining table along with salt and pepper. Although cumin was grown in Iran and the Mediterranean, it was and is also grown in Central America, Central Asia, Pakistan, Argentina, Ukraine, Morocco, Turkey, Egypt, Malta, Mexico, Lebanon, and Afghanistan.
Used heavily in Indian and Asian cuisines, cumin was believed in times past to bring happiness to the brides and grooms carrying the seeds throughout the marriage ceremony. The spice was also believed to keep chickens from wandering off as well as prevent lovers from wandering off. The spice is also mentioned in Isaiah 28:27 and Matthew 23:23 in the Bible.
Cumin is an annual plant growing one to two feet tall with lacy white flowers. After three or four months, the flowers turn dry and brittle. These are the cumin seeds used in recipes.
Where Does Ground Cumin Come From?
You can either buy ground cumin at the grocery, or you can grind the toasted seeds two ways. The first is with a mortar and pestle. You grind the seeds until a coarse powder emerges. The second is to roll the seeds across a cutting board with a rolling pin. You’ll have to keep scraping the powder and seeds back to the center of the board, though. When coarse powder results, bottle it up and keep it in a cool, dry place.
What Can You Use If You Don’t Have Cumin?
Many of the substitutes for cumin are already in most cooks’ pantries. Use either whole or ground coriander, caraway seeds, fennel seeds, curry powder, garam masala, chili powder, paprika, homemade taco seasoning, cinnamon, or ground star anise.
What Is Cumin Used For Medically?
If you have an iron deficiency, use cumin in your food. Cumin is chock full of antioxidants. These go after the free radicals that cause damage to the cells. Cumin helps with digestion. Cumin contains compounds that help diabetics control their blood sugar levels. Cumin has been shown to aid in reducing cholesterol levels, aid in weight loss, fat reduction, and has been shown to fight inflammation.
How Is Cumin Used In Skin Care?
Many of us make our own sugar scrub beauty products at home. I, personally, make mine using aloe vera and tea tree essential oil. However, using cumin in your sugar scrub provides the skin with vitamins and minerals. It’s high in Vitamin C, so there’s no need for expensive Vitamin C sera at the drugstore. Cumin is additionally high in anti-inflammatories and antioxidants for the repair of damage to the skin. It keeps skin young-looking.
Is Cumin A Blood Thinner?
Those who have suffered a heart attack or other heart problems should ask their doctor if they can use cumin. The spice slows blood clotting. This means bruising and bleeding. If you’re taking a blood thinner like Plavix, aspirin, Fragmin, or Warfarin among others, talk to your doctor first.
Can You Drink Cumin Water Every Day?
Absolutely. Cumin water is made from water in which cumin seeds have been boiled to extract the essential oils, vitamins, and minerals. Boil two teaspoons of cumin seeds in a quart and half of water. Strain the seeds and drink the water. Drink the water twice a day on an empty stomach for the best results.
Cumin or jeera water helps to goose the metabolism, aids in weight loss, keeps you deliciously hydrated, and aids in keeping blood sugar levels right.
Is Cumin Good For A Sore Throat?
The hot cumin-infused water is good for a sore throat. It’s an excellent expectorant, loosening mucus so it can be coughed up. It helps clear the respiratory tract, so asthmatics can drink it as well.
Can You Drink Cumin As A Tea?
Yes. Most herbs and spices make excellent hot teas. First, you’ll toast your cumin seeds for a few seconds. Then pour water over them, and bring them to a boil. Take it off the burner and let it steep for five minutes. Strain the seeds out, use a little honey as a sweetener, and enjoy your tea.
Can You Eat Cumin Seeds Raw?
Sure, you can. They look much like sunflower seeds, just a little skinnier. Take a few and chew them. You can either spit them out or swallow them. Either way, they’re good for diarrhea, gas, and other gastric problems. After all, they are heavy on essential oils, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatories, and more. Swallowing them gives you the health benefits of this most amazing spice.
The Spruce Eats: What is Cumin
Healthline: Cumin Benefits
Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street: How to Cook With Cumin
McCormick Science Institute: Cumin
Healthline: 9 Benefits of Cumin