What do carrots, cumin, and celery all have in common? If you said that they all start with the letter “C”, well, you’d be right, but that’s not the answer we’re looking for. If you said that I didn’t like them all, you’d be one-third right—carrots are evil little glow sticks (that might explain why I need corrective lenses…). The answer we’re actually looking for is that they all belong to the same family of flowering plants, Apiaceae. This family includes other well-known spices such as anise, dill and parsley, but since those didn’t fit my joke with the letter “C”, I didn’t include them in the opening sentence. Maybe it’s time to get to the point—let’s talk about cumin!
Cumin (sometimes known as jeera) is a staple spice in Mediterranean and Latin American foods, and happens to be my second favorite spice (though that information probably won’t do you any good…I doubt Jeopardy will ever have “Adam Shaffer’s second favorite spice” up on the board, but if they do, remember to answer in the form of a question!). Egyptian embalmers used cumin as one of the cleaning and preserving spices in the mummification process (and possibly also to season their world-renowned “mummy jerky”). Cumin is mentioned in the Bible both as a representation of wealth and as a parable for understanding and following instructions. And, of course, cumin was used as a seasoning for food; Ancient Greeks kept a bottle of cumin on their dining room table, much like Americans do with salt and pepper.
Cumin also has some health benefits, at least colloquially. Scientific studies are still ongoing, but cumin and its extracts can supposedly:
• Aid in digestion
• Reduce chances of hypoglycemia (lowering risk of diabetes)
• Reduce risks of anemia (since it contains high levels of iron)
• Improve cognitive function (which is why I’m eating a spoonful of cumin as I type this…)
• Boost immunity and viral resistance
• Fend off insect bites and stings
Speaking of food, let’s talk about the different culinary uses for cumin! We all know the spice in its ground form, but cumin seeds are also used in their whole, unground form. Whole cumin seeds can be found toasted and mixed in with rice dishes or sprinkled over meats and fish. Cumin is also the defining ingredient in the beverage known as ‘jeera water’, where cumin seeds are boiled in water (to extract their flavor) and the resulting liquid is strained, mixed with honey, and consumed for the health benefits mentioned above.
Ground cumin can be found in many South Asian curries, and is an ingredient in the spice blend known as Garam Masala, which one of our scientists lovingly described in a blog post. In Latin and South America, cumin can be found in sauces, such as sofrito and adobo; in condiments, such as guacamole and salsa; in meat seasonings for beef, poultry, and pork; or mixed in with the dough of tortillas and other breads. North America has adopted many of the Latin and South American uses of cumin, while also incorporating it into Tex-Mex recipes for chili, tacos, burritos, and other items. In North Africa and the surrounding Mediterranean region, cumin is found in many spice blends, such as baharat and ras el hanout. Speaking of:
Ras el Hanout
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp salt
¾ tsp ground black pepper
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground coriander
½ tsp ground cayenne (red) pepper
½ tsp ground allspice
¼ tsp ground cloves
Mix all the ingredients together and you’re done! Ras el hanout can be used in marinades or rubs for meats, as a shake-on seasoning at the dinner table or on popcorn, and it’s surprisingly good in a snickerdoodle or gingersnap type cookie.
Fuchs, of course (required sales pitch time!), offers cumin as a spice, and also offers many spice blends and seasonings that use cumin. Contact us, or check out our offerings here on this lovely website.
As a final thought, I learned that cumin is often used in birdseed, so if you ever find yourself out of cumin but near a birdfeeder…well, just check to make sure Alfred Hitchcock isn’t filming in your neighborhood before you help yourself.