Cumin is an herb that many associate with Mexican and Spanish foods, but it is also widely used in Middle Eastern and Indian cooking. It has a very distinct flavor, and in the US is most often used in packaged taco seasonings (don’t eat those- make your own!)
Cumin’s flavor makes it a favorite for many, but it’s health supporting properties are impressive too!
History of Use
According to Mountain Rose Herbs:
Cumin is the seed of a small plant in the parsley family. Its use goes back 5000 years to the Egyptians, who used it not only as a spice but as an ingredient in the mummification process. The Greeks and Romans also used cumin and highly regarded it as one of the essential spices. In the Middle Ages cumin seed was thought to promote love and fidelity, so it was carried by attendees of weddings, and solders were always sent off to battle with a fresh loaf of cumin seed bread. Pungent, sharp, and slightly sweet, the greenish brown powder of this herb is an essential ingredient in Mexican and Indian cuisine.
Traditionally, it has also been used in natural remedies and herbal medicine. Traditional texts describe its use as a diuretic and to settle the stomach and stop flatulence. Some cultures have used it for female health and to stimulate menstruation. Like many herbs, it can be made into a poultice, especially for swelling or sore throat. I even found a reference to a remedy of mixing cumin and ghee to relieve hiccups. Cumin’s long history even shows in its mentions in the Bible and other historic texts.
What’s in Cumin?
It is considered a good source of Iron, Manganese, and other vitamins and minerals. Some research shows that it may stimulate the production of pancreatic enzymes and help digestion. One study found that cumin was protective against memory loss and the damaging effects of stress on the body.
Another study evaluated its antioxidant content of and found it more effective than other common antioxidants including Vitamin C. Due to it’s high antioxidant content, some lab research has even found that it might have a role in fighting cancer.
Yet another study found Cumin effective in increasing insulin sensitivity, thus beneficial for diabetics. Still more research found anti-asthmatic properties in Cumin since it works as a brochiodiator and can help asthmatic patients.
Mark’s Daily Apple posted a great article detailing its benefits. From this article:
In diabetic rats, cumin extract was more effective at reducing blood glucose and AGE production than glibenclamide, an anti-diabetic drug.
Cumin’s anti-glycation properties proved useful in another study, in which diabetic rats were able to stave off cataracts after oral dosing with the powder.
Another study found that cumin extract reduced total cholesterol, triglycerides, and pancreatic inflammatory markers in diabetic rats. It also prevented excessive weight loss. Again, it beat out glibenclamide.
Oral doses (25, 50, 100, 200 mg/kg) on consecutive days improved the immune response of mice with compromised immune systems due to restraint-induced stress. These effects were marked by a reduction in elevated cortisol and adrenal gland size, an increase in the weight of the thymus and spleen, and replenishment of depleted T cells. There was a dose dependent response, but all doses had beneficial effects.
An extract of cumin had anti-osteoporotic effects on rats, similar to estradiol, but without the associated weight gain. Cumin-dosed (orally, 1 mg/kg) osteoporotic rats had increased bone density and improved bone microarchitecture.
Cumin protected the livers of rats from ethanol- and rancid sunflower oil-induced toxicity.
One study even seems to suggest a role for cumin in weaning addicts off of opiates – here – by reducing tolerance (yeah, it could increase the subjective high, but it would mean less product was required) and dependence.
Pretty impressive benefits for an herb found in spice packets at the grocery store! If you don’t already use Cumin in your cooking, there are many ways to use it!
Uses for Cumin
I use this spice regularly in cooking and in making homemade spice blends:
Taco Seasoning Recipe:
1/4 cup Chili Powder (how to make your own)
1/4 cup Cumin Powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder (how to make your own)
1 teaspoon Oregano leaf (or oregano leaf powder)
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 cup himalayan salt or sea salt (optional)
1 teaspoon ground pepper
To make: Put all in jar and shake well or mix in a food processor until mixed. Store in an airtight jar for up to six months. Makes approximately 1 cup. To use: sprinkle on ground beef or chicken as you would any store bought taco seasoning. 3 tablespoons is the same as 1 packet of store bought taco seasoning. Great for lettuce tacos.
Homemade Curry Powder Recipe:
1/2 cup Paprika
1/4 cup cumin
1 tablespoon Fennel Powder
2 Tablespoons Fenugreek powder (optional)- gives sweetness
2 tablespoons Ground Mustard Powder
1 tablespoon ground Red Pepper Flakes (optional)- adds spiciness
3 tablespoons ground coriander (optional)
1/4 cup ground Turmeric root
1 tablespoon ground cardamon (optional)
1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
1/2 teaspoon cloves powder (optional) – Adds complex flavor
To make: Mix all ingredients in a bowl, jar or food processor and store in an air-tight container until ready to use. Can be used on meats, vegetables or in soups. Especially good in with chicken, shrimp or vegetables.
1/4 cup chili powder (make your own)
2 tablespoons Sea Salt
2 tablespoons Paprika
1 tablespoon onion powder (make your own)
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon cayenne powder (optional)
1 tablespoon cumin powder
To Make: Mix well in bowl or jar and store in airtight container until use. Use about 1 teaspoon per chicken breast or steak when making fajitas. I use for making Fajitas and Fajita Salads.
Chili Seasoning Mix:
1/2 cup chili powder (make your own)
1/4 cup garlic powder
3 tablespoons onion powder (make your own)
1/4 cup oregano
2 tablespoons paprika
1/4 cup cumin
1 tablespoon thyme
To Make: mix all ingredients and store in an airtight container. 1/4 cup of mix=1 package of store bought chili seasoning. Great for all types of chili (this one is my favorite).
Cumin is even great as a stand-alone spice for making tacos, chili or fajitas if it is all you have. I keep a glass jar of it in my spice cabinet.