Cumin is a spice that has been used since ancient times, both as a medicinal herb as well as in food preparation. Perhaps best recognized as the flavorful herb in Mexican and Indian food, it is also an integral part of chili and an herb that has many health benefits including helping heal digestive disorders, relieving symptoms of the common cold, boosting immune function, and may possibly play a role in cancer prevention. While in the Western world, cumin is mostly purchased for itís culinary uses, it is still one of the most popular healing herbs in Eastern medicine.
Native to the Eastern Mediterranean region, cumin is a small herbaceous plant - Cuminum cyminum - that is part of the parsley family. This plant flowers with white or pink flowers and the seeds are what is used both to flavor dishes as well as heal ailments. The most common type of cumin is the white seeds but there are also black seeds that are smaller and sweeter.
Cumin is an annual that grows to a height of 25 cm and prefers a sunny climate. It is not difficult to grow and adapts to many climates but needs some rainfall. It can grow in elevations up to 1000m above sea level. The flowers are quite small growing in clusters that resemble umbrellas.
Cumin plants should be planted about 75m apart. After about 4 months, the plant will start to wither and the seeds will change from green to brown at which time they can be harvested. To harvest the seeds, the whole plant is removed and then dried in the sun, then the plants are threshed to beat out the seeds.
The seeds are quite small with 9 ridges along its boat shaped length. After they are threshed out of the plants, they are dried again until they have only about 10% of their moisture content. Once dried, the seeds can be ground, however cumin seeds that are ground will not last as long as the whole seed. Cumin can be purchases as the whole seed or as a ground powder.
Today, the largest producers of cumin are Egypt and India, but the plant is also cultivated in China, Iran, Syria and Turkey. While cumin essential oil is getting more popular in the West, the overall consumption of the oil is quite low.