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Cumin in History

The history of cumin goes back over 5000 years. The ancient Egyptians used it as a spice in foods as well as in the mummification process. The Greeks and Romans used cumin as a spice and also applied it for medicinal purposes. Interestingly, it was used to make the complexion more pale.

There is a reference to this spice in the Bible1. The planting of cumin is described and the knowledge of beneficial farming practices is ascribed as coming from God.

Originally from Iran and the Mediterranean, cumin is a small seed that comes for the Cuminum cyminum herb, a member of the parsley family. This seed has a distinct flavor and warm aroma. It is a major ingredient in chili powder as well as curry powder. It is associated mostly with Indian, Mexican, and Vietnamese foods, but the ancient Greeks kept a dish of it on the dinner table, a practice which continues today in Morocco.

Like many spices, cumin has a rich history and, in fact, according to the Bible, cumin had such a powerful medicinal value that it could be used as money! One of the common plants seen growing in Medieval monasteries, the health benefits of cumin is document by the Ancient Greek and Egyptians physicians.

In the Middle Ages, a time when spices were relatively rare, cumin was one of the most common spices. It was thought to promote love and fidelity. People carried it to weddings and walked around with it with their pockets. It was reputed to keep lovers and chickens from wandering. Thus, married soldiers were sent off to battle with a fresh baked loaf of cumin bread.

Today, cumin is cultivated and grown in many countries including Malta, India, Sicily, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, and China. It is quite easy to grow and adapts well in many climates. While use of this spice has declined since the height of its popularity in the Middle Ages, it is making a comeback, probably due to the renewed interest in ethnic dishes and spicy foods.

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1. NLT Bible: Isa 28:25, Isa 28:27

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