Cumin (Cuminum cyminum) has small, curved, khaki-coloured fruits (commonly called seeds) with a warm, earthy, lingering aroma and pleasingly bitter, pungent flavour. Cumin is highly popular in the Middle East, India, North Africa, western and central Asia, Spain, and Latin America. Iran is reputed to produce top-quality cumin seeds.
Toasted cumin combined with coriander is characteristic of south Indian and Sri Lankan cuisine, where it flavours dal (thin lentil soup). It’s used whole and either fried in ghee (frequently with onion) or dry-roasted. Cumin is essential for northern Indian tandoori dishes and is typical for North African tagines (meat stews) and for many Mexican and Tex-Mex dishes. Although not as common in Asia, cumin is important in Burmese cooking and is also used in Thailand and Indonesia.
Rare and more expensive, black cumin (Bunium persicum) grows wild in Iran and Kashmir. Called royal cumin, or kala jeera in India, the small, dark brown, curved seeds are highly aromatic, with a resinous, astringent flavour that’s sweeter and more complex than common (white) cumin. It’s preferred for northern Indian meat kormas and shows up in savoury dishes of North Africa and the Middle East. It is sometimes confused with the unrelated nigella seeds.
- Other Names
- Cominho (Portuguese); comino (Spanish); cumin blanc, cumin du Maroc, or faux anis (French); cumino (Italian); jamda or kisibiti (Swahili); jeera (Hindi); jinten (Indonesian); kamoun (Arabic, Hebrew); kemun (Amharic); kimino (Greek); kimyon (Turkish); kmin (Russian); kreuzkümmel (German); kuming (Chinese); white cumin; yeera (Thai); zireh (Farsi)
- Purchase and Avoid
- Cumin will lose its most subtle flavour notes soon after grinding, so buy it in small quantities and choose oily-textured, khaki-coloured powder. Look for whole black cumin seeds in Indian groceries.
- Whole cumin seeds will keep for about 3 years.
Sprinkle flatbreads, crackers, and breadsticks with cumin seeds just before baking.
Season Mexican bean dishes with toasted, ground cumin.
Category: Spices and Herbs
Sub Category: Spice
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