From chili to curry, cumin is a staple of many cuisines and is one of the most widely consumed spices after peppercorns and chiles. We’re breaking down this popular spice with info on nutritional benefits, how to select and store, and, most important, how to cook with it.
Originally from Egypt, cumin is now grown across the Mediterranean, in northern Africa, and in parts of India. In fact, over 50% of cumin is now grown in India.
Made from the seeds of the Cuminum cyminum plant, cumin has an earthy, warm, and slightly spicy flavor that pairs well with chili powder, cinnamon, turmeric, and garlic.
As with many spices, cumin has historically been used for medicinal purposes, as it was believed to help with digestion and protect against food-borne illness. And interestingly enough, these claims have held up against modern-day science.
Cumin has been found to increase the activity of digestive enzymes, as well as to increase bile release from the liver, which is needed to break down fat.
As for protecting against food-borne illness, cumin has been found to have antimicrobial properties and may reduce the growth of certain types of infectious fungi.
There’s also ongoing research into the possible role of cumin supplements and aiding in weight loss and lowering cholesterol; however studies haven’t shown if just sprinkling it on your food is enough to have a significant impact.
Nutrient-wise, cumin is low in calories, fat, and carbohydrates, yet surprisingly high in iron. Just 1 teaspoon of ground cumin contains 1.4 mg of iron – approximately 18% of the RDI for healthy adults.
How to select
As with all spices, pre-ground cumin will lose its flavor faster than whole cumin seeds. Whole seeds also have the advantage of a deeper flavor;however you will need a mortar and pestle or spice grinder for recipes that call for ground cumin.
How to store
Both whole seeds and ground cumin should be kept in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.
Ground cumin will start losing its flavor after about 6 months, while whole cumin seeds will stay fresh for up to one year.
How to use in cooking/baking
Now onto the fun part! As we mentioned before, cumin is used in numerous cuisines.
Common uses include Indian curries and spice rubs, hispanic dishes such as tamales and enchiladas, and southwestern recipes such as chili and barbecue sauce. While a little outside the box, I’ve also seen cumin used in chocolate cakes and truffles.
To get the best flavor from your cumin seeds, it’s recommended to toast them in a hot skillet for 3-4 minutes before grinding.
Cumin is a staple ingredient in the Healthy Toast household. Here are some of my favorite dishes featuring this spice to get you started:
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