Botanical name Cuminum cyminum ▪ Family name Umbelliferae
Cumin is a small annual herbaceous plant of the parsley and carrot family, and grows to a height of about 25 cm. Cumin grows best in regions with a sunny climate and some rainfall.
Native range Egypt, Eastern Mediterranean countries
Major producers India, China, Morocco, Iran, Turkey, Central America
Harvesting Cumin stalks are harvested when the plants begin to wither and the seeds turn brown. They are then threshed and the seeds are dried in the sun. In many countries the harvest is still done manually.
Taste and aroma Cumin has a strong, spicy, sweet aroma. The taste is rich, slightly bitter, and warm. The pungency and taste are particularly noticeable in the ground spice.
Culinary uses Because of its strong flavour, ground cumin is popular in cuisines which are generally highly spiced such as many Indian, Middle Eastern, North African, and Mexican dishes. Cumin is an essential ingredient in curry powders and masalas. The aroma of cumin is enhanced if the seeds are dry roasted before they are ground.
Other uses Cumin is regarded as an appetite stimulant, and is widely used to ease stomach disorders, flatulence, colic, and diarrhoea. It is also used in veterinary medicines and cumin oil is used in perfumes.
Historical uses Cumin was used in medicines in Egypt and Minoan Crete at least 4,000 years ago. The Romans used it the way we use pepper. During the Middle Ages cumin was popular in Europe, but gradually caraway took its place.
Storage Cumin seeds will keep their pungency for a year or more if stored in an airtight container, but ground cumin has a relatively short shelf life.