Cooking with Cumin
Cumin is a wonderful spice that adds a Middle Eastern or Mexican flavor to many foods. A favorite of the Ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, cumin is still favored as a spice and healing food in many areas of the world today. Although it is not as popular as it once was.
Cumin comes from the plant Cuminum cyminum which is a relative of the parsley plant. There are many uses for cumin in the kitchen from chili to tacos to Middle Eastern dishes. Once a staple spice, the Ancient Greeks kept it right on the table along with salt and pepper. This tradition is still observed in Morocco today.
Cumin is actually a seed and either the seed itself or a powder version consisting of ground seeds can be used in cooking. When buying cumin, be sure to get good quality spice, especially if you are buying the powdered version. Be sure it is has not aged considerably. Like most spices, the powder does not last infinitely long. You don’t want to ruin your food by adding tasteless cumin.
Most of the cumin you will find for cooking is white cumin where the seeds are a light brown, but there is also a black cumin seed which comes from the Cuminum nigrum plant and is prized in North Indian and Pakistani cuisine. The black cumin seed is smaller, sweeter and more peppery than the white. It is a common ingredient in garam masala.
But the culinary delights of cumin are not limited to Mexican or Middle Eastern cuisine, in fact cumin can go great with many types of cooking and will help bring out the sweetness in any dish. The Dutch flavor their Kümmel liquor with it, and it is often used as a pickling spice.
Cumin can be used to compliment anything from bread to cheese to sausages. It is great on vegetables and even fruit. In India cumin is commonly used in oils which are in turn used on all types of foods including beans and meat. Cumin can be added to dishes either the way it is purchased, or you can toast it for a nutty flavorful appeal.
When using cumin in the kitchen, one word of advice - less is more. The spice has a powerful taste so go lightly when improvising.