Cumin seeds belong to the parsley and dill family and resemble caraway seeds, though they are different in flavour from them. Oblong shaped, these pale or dark brownish seeds are a very popular spice in the world and are used as a spice for their distinctive aroma.It is an aromatic spice with bitter and warm flavour. This ancient spice is popular in Indian, Mexican, North African, Middle Eastern, and western Chinese cuisines. Cumin is one of the most typical spices for India and is fried or roasted before usage.
How to select Cumin seeds
Whole cumin seeds are widely available in supermarkets, local spice markets and ethnic markets. Ensure that the seeds are not broken and are in well packaged conditions.
- Cumin can be used to season many dishes, either ground or as whole seeds, as it draws out their natural flavour. It is used as a whole, and are fried or toasted before use.
- Cumin is widely used to flavour stews, soups, meats and vegetables.
- Cumin is widely used to prepare Jeera rice by roasting cumin seeds in butter, frying rice in it and cooking it with water .
- Dal is staple diet of Indian cuisine. Tempering or Tadka is given to Dal with cumin, giving it warm flavour.
- Many other legumes are normally tempered by cumin fried in butter to add more flavour to the dish.
- Cumin seeds are part of Bengali spice mixture Panch Phoron, made of nigella seeds, black mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, fennel seeds and cumin. Bengali five spice mix is used to prepare dishes like Potato curry, Pan roasted potatoes, and Salmon Kalia.
- Cumin is used for tempering in almost all meat dishes, especially Northern Indian tandoori dishes.
- Cumin when toasted with ground coriander gives out distinctive aroma and is widely used In South Indian and Sri Lankan cuisines. Along with roasted and ground black pepper, cumin seeds are used in flavouring rasams.
- Indian cumin finds worldwide use in foods, beverages, liquors, medicines, toiletries and perfumery.
- Cumin is extensively used spice in fish dishes, grills and stews of Mughlai cuisine and also in couscous – semolina steamed over meat and vegetables, the national dish of Morocco.
- Cumin used in some Dutch cheeses like Leyden cheese, and in traditional breads from France.
- Cumin added with caraway flavours Kummel, the famous German liqueur.
- Roasted cumin seeds powder is added to buttermilk to aid digestion and enhance flavour.
How to store Cumin seeds
Cumin seeds and cumin seeds powder should be kept in a tightly sealed glass container in a cool, dark and dry place. Ground cumin will keep fresh for about six months, while the whole seeds will stay fresh for about one year.
Difference between Cumin Seeds and Ground Cumin
The cumin seeds have a striped pattern and are boat shaped that tapers at both ends. They are pungent and slightly bitter with a rather sharp taste. As it is quite a powerful spice, it should be used sparingly in dishes as too much of cumin can overpower the entire dish. It should be stored in air tight containers and placed in a cool dry place like your pantry away from sunlight. Cumin seeds can be stored in this way for up to six weeks in this way and they can be used whole for tempering lentil dishes or for flavouring soups and stews. The best way to use whole cumin seeds is to dry roast the seeds in a pan to bring out its unique taste and aroma. Dry roasting the cumin seeds will help in releasing the oils in the seeds and thus it will intensify the flavour. If you are going to use cumin seeds for tempering, then you need to first dry roast the cumin seeds. Then take a small pan and heat some vegetable oil. Once the oil has just started smoking, remove pan from heat and fry the cumin seeds with other whole spices like mustard and fenugreek. Pour this oil along with the spices into your soups and stews to give a whole new flavour dimension to it.
Ground cumin and seeds ingredient can be brought in most stores but it is best to ground some of your own from cumin seeds. Ground cumin has a very intense nutty flavour and a small amount goes a long way. Ground cumin should also be stored in air tight bottles away from heat and sunlight. Ground cumin does not store as well as cumin seeds and you can keep them up to 6 to 8 weeks. After this the ground cumin begins to lose its flavour and aroma and thus becomes quit useless as a spice.
Homemade Ground Cumin
One of the advantages of ground cumin is that it can be used for flavouring soups and curries and a bit of ground cumin is enough for a dish. It is a good idea to grind your own cumin powder from cumin seeds and here is the procedure. For making ground cumin you need to:
- Heat a skillet on high heat.
- Roast the cumin seeds in the skillet at a low heat by stirring it continuously with a wooden spoon.
- When the cumin seeds changes colour to a darker hue and you get a mild aroma transfer the seeds to a bowl. Take care not to over roast the cumin seeds or it will turn bitter.
- When the roasted cumin seeds have cooled down grind them in a mortar and pestle until you get a very fine powdery texture.
Always store in an dry, air-tight container. Cumin powder is widely used in preparing curry powders. Use it to make chhas (buttermilk), temper kadhi, flavour salads, subzis etc.
Caraway seeds (use half as much) or caraway seeds plus anise seeds or chilli powder or Amber cumin seeds may be substituted for white cumin seeds and vice versa.
- It aids in increasing lactation and reduce nausea in pregnancy.
- Cumin stimulates the appetite.
- Cumin can help boost the liver’s ability to detoxify the body.
- It may help relieve symptoms of cold due to its antiseptic properties.
- Cumin can help increase the heat in the body thus making metabolism more efficient.
- Cumin paste is used to treat boils.
- It is used as a stimulant and an antispasmodic and is also said to relieve nausea and diarrhea and to treat morning sickness.