Cumin: The Spice in Chili
Cumin is an ancient spice and one that has quite an interesting history. Cumin seeds have been found in excavations that date back to second millennium BC. The Ancient Egyptians had culinary uses for it as well as medicinal uses and they also used it in their mummification process. Even the Bible makes mention of this precious spice whose medicinal properties were so revered that the seed itself could be used for ďpayment of debtsĒ.
Cumin is the seed of a herbaceous plant of the name Cuminum cyminum. The plant is a relative of parsley and stands about 25cm in height producing small white or pink flowers that grow in an umbrella shaped cluster. The plant is an annual and is harvested about 4 months after planting when the plant starts to die off and seeds turn to brown. Cumin production then requires that it is dried in the sun and the seeds are threshed out of it. Seeds can be sold whole or ground up and sold as powder.
As a medicinal herb, cumin has a long history. While it is not used that much in the West, Eastern medicine still makes great use of it. Cumin is said to be a great tonic and can help the liver in its detoxifying process as well as help the kidneys. It is a warming herb, helping the metabolic process. Known for itís ability to heal digestive ailments such as morning sickness, diarrhea, flatulence and other digestive ailments, it is also great to take as a tea to help with the common cold. Cumin has a lot of iron. So it is a good healthy spice and recent studies show that it may even have a role in reducing the risk of some cancers. It can also be applied topically to help heal boils and other skin problems. Black cumin is said to be able to help treat asthma and arthritis.
Cumin has itís place in the kitchen as well. A favorite herb of Middle Eastern and Mexican cuisine, it can be found in everything from chili to rice and itís distinctive taste is appealing to many. It can help bring out the sweetness in any dish and can be great in breads. It is a wonderful compliment to cheese. When cooking with cumin, one needs to use a light touch however as it has a powerful taste that can easily take over any dish.
Once one of the worlds most popular spices, the use of cumin has actually declined from itís peak in the Middle Ages where it was a staple in most herb gardens. However, today there is a trend towards a resurgence in use for this interesting and aromatic spice.