Cumin Over 2000 Years Young
Cumin dates back to the Old Testament. There are descriptions in the Bible of how it was cultivated, Isaiah 28:25-27 and in the New Testament the practice of paying tithes in cumin is mentioned, Mathew 23:23. The seeds are from a plant native to the Nile Valley. Shaped like a caraway seed, cumin is actually the dried fruit of a plant in the parsley family. Its aromatic, nutty flavored seeds come in three colors: amber (the most widely available), white and black (both found in Asian markets). White cumin is interchangeable with amber, but the black seed has a more complex flavor and is somewhat milder. Black cumin is the fruit of a related plant that grows wild in Iran and the Northern Indian region Kashmir. It is sometimes preferred to ordinary cumin.
Cumin seeds are used as a spice for their distinctive aroma, popular in North African, Middle Eastern, Western Chinese, Indian, Cuban and Mexican cuisine. It is traditionally added to curries, enchiladas, tacos, and other Middle-eastern, Indian, Cuban and Mexican-style foods. The spice is also a familiar taste in Tex-Mex dishes and is heavily used in the cuisines of the Indian subcontinent. Cumin is one of the most typical spices for India, especially the Southern part. The whole seeds are used, and are fried (frequently together with onion) or toasted before usage. Legumes, especially lentils, are normally flavored by cumin fried in butter fat. The seeds form an important part of curry powder and of the Bengali spice mixture panch phoron (Indian 5 Spice). Cumin is essential for the preparation of Northern Indian tandoori dishes, as well as in the popular Indian mixture called Garam Masala. Cumin was also very important in ancient Roman cuisine. Today, cumin usage in Europe is minimal and typically relegated to flavoring cheeses in the Netherlands and in France.
Try ground cumin added to tangy lime or lemon based marinades for chicken, turkey, lamb, and pork. Or, add cumin to chili, spicy meat stews, barbecue marinades, and sauces. Stir toasted cumin seeds into corn muffin batter to create an easy south of the border accent. Heat cumin and garlic in olive oil and drizzle over cooked vegetables or potatoes. Ground cumin is stronger than whole seeds. The cumin flavor is accentuated by toasting, as are most spices.
Cumin is available in seed and ground (powdered) forms. If you are out of cumin you may substitute caraway seeds.