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Cumin

Cumin

Cumin (Cuminum cyminum, pronounced /ˈkjuːmɪn/ or UK: /ˈkʌmɪn/, US: /ˈkuːmɪn/, and sometimes spelled cummin) is a flowering plant in the family Apiaceae, native from the east Mediterranean to East India.

Scientific Name: Cuminum cyminum

Biological Background: A seasoning that is the principal ingredient of curry powder, a blend of powdered Indian spices. Cumin is a member of the parsley family and cumin seeds resemble caraway seeds. The aromatic seed has a characteristic strong, slightly bitter taste. Traditionally cumin has been used to flavor cheese, unleavened bread, chili, and tomato sauce.

Nutritional Information: Due to its use as a spice, cumin provides insignificant amount of nutrients.

Pharmacological Activity: Studies have indicated that cumin has strong anticancer activity, which may be due to its phytochemical cuminaldehyde. Cuminaldehyde also has strong antiinflammatory properties. In addition, cumin contains two phytochemicals, cuminyl ester and limonene, which have been shown to stop aflatoxin from binding to DNA to start the cancer process.

Eating Tips: Use cumin to add an earthy flavor to Indian, Middle Eastern, and Mexican cuisines.

Etymology

The English “cumin” derives from the French “cumin”, which was borrowed indirectly from Arabic “كمون” Kammūn via Spanish comino during the Arab rule in Spain in the 15th century. The spice is native to Arabic-speaking Syria where cumin thrives in its hot and arid lands. Cumin seeds have been found in some ancient Syrian archeological sites.

The word found its way from Syria to neighbouring Turkey and nearby Greece most likely before it found its way to Spain. Like many other Arabic words in the English language, cumin was acquired by Western Europe via Spain rather than the Grecian route.

Some suggest that the word is derived from the Latin cuminum and Greek κύμινον. The Greek term itself has been borrowed from Arabic. Forms of this word are attested in several ancient Semitic languages, including kamūnu in Akkadian.The ultimate source is believed to be the Sumerian word gamun.

A folk etymology connects the word with the Persian city Kerman where, the story goes, most of ancient Persia’s cumin was produced. For the Persians the expression “carrying cumin to Kerman” has the same meaning as the English language phrase “carrying coals to Newcastle”. Kerman, locally called “Kermun”, would have become “Kumun” and finally “cumin” in the European languages.

In Northern India and Nepal, cumin is known as jeera (Devanagari जीरा) or jira, while in Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan it is known as zeera (Persian زيره); in Southern India it is called “Jeerakam” ( ജീരകം ) in Malayalam and Jeerige ( ಜೀರಿಗೆ in ಕನ್ನಡ (Kannada)) or jeeragam or seeragam (Tamil (ஜீரகம்/சீரகம்)) or jilakarra (Telugu); in Sri Lanka it is known as duru , the white variety being suduru and the large variety, maduru ; in Iran, South Asia and Central Asia, cumin is known as zireh; in Turkey, cumin is known as kimyon; in northwestern China, cumin is known as ziran (孜然). In Arabic, it is known as al-kamuwn (الكمون). Cumin is called kemun in Ethiopian, and is one of the ingredients in the spice mix berbere.

History

Cumin has been in use since ancient times. Seeds, excavated at the Syrian site Tell ed-Der, have been dated to the second millennium BC. They have also been reported from several New Kingdom levels of ancient Egyptian archaeological sites.

Originally cultivated in Iran and Mediterranean region, cumin is mentioned in the Bible in both the Old Testament (Isaiah 28:27) and the New Testament (Matthew 23:23). It was also known in ancient Greece and Rome. The Greeks kept cumin at the dining table in its own container (much as pepper is frequently kept today), and this practice continues in Morocco. Cumin fell out of favour in Europe except in Spain and Malta during the Middle Ages. It was introduced to the Americas by Spanish and Portuguese colonists.

Since returned to favour in parts of Europe, today it is mostly grown in Iran, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Morocco, Egypt, India, Syria, Mexico, and Chile. The plant occurs as a rare casual in the British Isles, mainly in Southern England, but the frequency of its occurrence has declined greatly; according to the Botanical Society of the British Isles’ most recent Atlas, there has been only one confirmed record since the year 2000.

Uses

Cumin is the second most popular spice in the world after black pepper.[5][unreliable source?] Cumin seeds are used as a spice for their distinctive aroma, popular in Indian, Pakistani, North African, Middle Eastern, Sri Lankan, Cuban, Northern Mexican cuisines, and the Western Chinese cuisines of Sichuan and Xinjiang. Cumin can be found in some Dutch cheeses such as Leyden cheese, and in some traditional breads from France. It is commonly used in traditional Brazilian cuisine. Cumin can be an ingredient in (often Texan or Mexican-style) Chili powder, and is found in achiote blends, adobos, sofrito, garam masala, curry powder, and bahaarat.

Cumin can be used ground or as whole seeds, as it draws out their natural sweetnesses. It is traditionally added to chili, curries, and other Middle-Eastern, Indian, Cuban and Tex-Mex foods. Cumin has also been used on meat in addition to other common seasonings. It is not common in Mexican cuisine. However, the spice is a common taste in Tex-Mex dishes. It is extensively used in the cuisines of the Indian subcontinent. Cumin was also used heavily in ancient Roman cuisine. Cumin is typically used in Mediterranean cooking from Spanish, Italian and Middle Eastern cuisine. It helps to add an earthy and warming feeling to cooking making it a staple in certain stews and soups.

Medicine

In South Asia, cumin tea (dry seeds boiled in hot water) is used to distinguish false labour (due to gas) from real labour.

In Sri Lanka, toasting cumin seeds and then boiling them in water makes a tea used to soothe acute stomach problems.

It is commonly believed in parts of South Asia, that cumin seeds help with digestion. No scientific evidence seems to suggest this is the case.

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