Cumin – The Wonder Spice in Indian Food

Cumin is a very popular food item used all over the world. It is the seed of a plant that belongs to the parsley family, Cuminum cyminum, and grows up to a foot in height in hot climate. The leaves are dark green in colour with thin stems and the flowers are red or white in colour.

Cumin Seeds and powder

The cumin seeds, brown, black and white in colour, are used whole or in powder form in Indian cuisine. When roasted and ground, its aroma and the taste is enhanced. The powder should be stored in airtight containers away from sunlight, to retain its sweet nutty aroma.

Dry roasting the seeds helps to release the oils which in turn make the aroma stronger.

Uses of Cumin

Indian dishes are not complete without cumin. It lends a special taste and flavor to the food items. It is used in all kinds of dishes from curries to soups and stews, or curd and chutney.

Cumin seeds are used in different ways in Indian cooking. It is fried in a pan with oil before the vegetables or meat is added to cook. For tempering any dish like dal, soup or any curry the seeds are first fried in oil and then poured on to the dish.

When powdered cumin is sprinkled on top of any dish, it adds a beautiful flavor to it. It is one of the important ingredients of the popular curry powder.

Cumin is also used in baking certain breads and to add flavor in some cheeses. It has a somewhat bitter taste so it should be used in small quantity.

Health Benefits of Cumin

  • The mucilage in cumin seeds protects the intestinal track. It improves the defense mechanism of the body, improves the skin, hair and nails.
  • Black cumin seeds have curative properties and are used to treat many ailments like allergies, cold etc. Oil of black cumin helps to cure acne.
  • Cumin seeds are anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial and these reduce indigestion and gas.
  • Cumin is good for the digestive system as it arouses the emission of the pancreatic enzymes which are needed for good digestion and absorption of the nutrients.
  • The extract of black cumin reduces blood pressure, prevents gas and bloating of the stomach.
  • A mixture of roasted ground cumin and rock salt is good to massage gums for bleeding and to strengthen them.
  • People with cancer of the pancreas have benefited from the extract of cumin as it blocks the growth of the cells.
  • Cumin tea helps to reduce cold and sore throat symptoms. It is also used to heal urinary tract problems, and to clean the bladder and the kidneys.
  • Cumin tea helps to reduce swelling and inflammation, and also helps to absorb iron in the body and purifies blood.
  • Roasted cumin seeds when chewed, help to cure mouth sores and keep the breath fresh.
  • It helps to normalize bowel movement and stops diarrhea.
  • Black cumin seeds have antioxidants and it helps to lower blood sugar of people with diabetes.


Indian cooking is not complete without the use of cumin as a whole seed or in the powder form sprinkled on top to garnish the dish. It is used for its taste, aroma and for its medicinal benefits.

The Most Popular Whole Spices Used in the Preparation of Indian Food

Indian cuisine owes its popularity to the variety of spices used in the preparation of the numerous dishes.

Spices may be used fresh or dry, whole or powdered. The best option is to buy whole spices and grind them when required. Store the whole spices in suitably sized jars so that their essential oils don’t evaporate.

Spices lend flavour, colour and texture to the dish. Different Indian spices are used in different dishes due to the varied properties of the spices. Most common spices used in Indian cookery are cumin, coriander seeds, fenugreek, mustard, sesame, ajowan etc.

Cumin ( Jeera) seeds are oblong in shape and yellow-brownish in colour. Its flavour is enhanced when it is fried in fat, its use in dal tadka is well known. Cumin seeds are the main component in the Indian appetizers like jal jeera and beverages like lime – soda etc. due to its cooling property. It can be roasted, ground and sprinkled over any raita, dal or vegetable curry, meat, poultry etc. to make the dish more appetizing

Coriander ( Dhania ) seeds are round in shape and have lemony citrus flavour when crushed. Coriander seeds are added to hot oil before adding vegetables and meat to impart a very pleasant flavour to the dish. Coriander leaves are used to garnish dishes.

Fenugreek ( Methi) Fresh leaves have strong nutty flavour and are used to finish off many dishes like butter chicken, shahi paneer etc. Fenugreek seeds are small yellowish amber coloured and very hard. They are used in cooking potato, sambar, chutneys, pickles etc. The seeds are one of the main components of spice mixes like curry powder, sambar powder, panch phoron .

Mustard (Rai) seeds are very small round seeds. Three kinds are most common, white, brown and black.  White mustard seeds are milder in flavour and suitable for pickling. Black mustard is smaller in size and more pungent. The brown ones are small like the black ones but not as pungent in flavour. Mustard seeds have a strong pungent flavour that goes very well with many Indian dishes like sambar, poha etc. The seeds are fried in hot oil or ghee till they pop.

Sesame seeds ( Til ) are flat and small in size. They come in many colours and varieties including white seeds and black seeds. The hulled sesame seeds are used in confectionery products like cookies, burgers, breads, cereals etc. Sesame seeds have a slight crunch and delicate nutty flavour. The flavour becomes more pronounced when they are gently dry roasted or added to hot oil. They have heat producing effect and are thus consumed more in winters in the form of laddos, gajjak ( sesame brittle), and other Indian sweets. Sesame seeds have a high content of oil so should be stored in air-tight jars in cool dry places.

Ajowan, seeds are small, greyish green and striped like cumin. The flavour is like thyme but stronger. It is used in very small quantities as it has a strong dominant flavour. Ajowan tastes great in savoury dishes like spicy biscuits, naan, pakoras, dals vegetables, soups, sauces, drinks. It is extensively used in pickles due to its pungent aroma.

Great Indian Spices – Chilli Powder, Coriander, Cumin


Chilli powder – prepared from the different variety of mild to hot chillies, different types and brands vary in their degree of heat. Check the ingredients before buying, as some chilli powders may contain flavourings such as garlic, onion, cumin and oregano. For best results buy RAMDEV pure chilli powder prepared by seeding, drying and grinding the finest of chillies. If the dish requires other herbs and spices, you can add them individually to taste. Chilli powder is used in almost all parts of the world. Central and south America, West and East Africa, the whole of the Asian continent and most parts of the Middle East use chilli powder in a significant proportion of meat, vegetable and rice dishes. Even in those countries where chillies are less apparent, they still have a walk-on role, in the pasta sauces of Italy, for instance, and in pickles, chutneys and relishes.

Coriander – just as fresh coriander (cilantro) is one of the most important herbs of Indian cuisine, so are the seeds of the coriander plant also up there with the other great Indian spices. The seeds look like tiny, pale, creamy-brown peppercorns. When they are dry-fried, the seeds have a heady, slightly burnt orange aroma which is very appealing. The ground seeds give a pleasing, mild and sweet taste that is not overwhelming. Every Indian household uses huge quantities of ground coriander in curry powders, garam masala, and a variety of other spice mixes. Coriander seeds are frequently combined with cumin seeds, the two spices being dry-fried together before being ground (dhania-jeera powder). This combination is common in Middle Eastern dishes too, and coriander seeds also feature as flavouring in many South-east Asian recipes. Whole coriander seeds may be added to chicken and pork casseroles and they are one of the ingredients in basic pickling spice. Whole or ground seeds may be used in chutneys.

Cumin – native to eastern Mediterranean countries and upper Egypt, cumin is now grown almost anywhere where the climate is dry and warm. The spice comes from the seed of this plant, which grows to about 30cm/1 foot high and has flowers that range in colour from mauve or rose-pink to white. Black cumin has a smaller seed, and is occasionally confused with nigella. White cumin is the most available variety. Black cumin seeds have a slightly sweeter aroma and a more delicate flavour than the white ones. Cumin has a strong, spicy, sweet aroma with a warm, slightly bitter and pungent taste. These last two qualities are particularly noticeable in the ground spice, although this is counter-balanced when it is used with ground coriander. Dry-frying before grinding brings out a toasted, nutty flavour, making the spice less harsh. Cumin, with its distinct and strong flavour, is a hugely popular spice in India, the Middle-East, North Africa, Mexico and practically any country where highly spiced food is enjoyed. It is used in almost all Indian curry mixtures and in garam masala. The spice is added to soups and stews, Moroccan lamb dishes and Mexican meat dishes.

Cumin – Cumin Seeds, Cuminum Cyminum


Cumin is the dried seed of the herb Cuminum cyminum, a member of the parsley family. Cumin seeds resemble caraway seeds, being oblong in shape, longitudinally ridged, and yellow-brown in colour. Cumin’s distinctive flavour and strong, warm aroma are due to its essential oil content. Its main constituent and important aroma compound is cuminaldehyde. Cumin is a flowering plant in the family Apiaceae, native from the east Mediterranean to India. The seeds are used in the cuisines of many different cultures, in both whole and ground form. It is a key component of curry powder. Both whole and ground cumin are available year-round. One teaspoon of cumin approximately contains 15.5% iron, 7% manganese, 3.9% calcium. When it comes to health benefits, the cumin seeds are great. Cumin seeds, whose scientific name is Cuminum cyminum, are an excellent source of iron. Iron is an integral component of haemoglobin. Research has shown that cumin may stimulate the secretion of pancreatic enzymes, compounds necessary for proper digestion and nutrient assimilation. Cumin’s unique flavour complexity has made it an integral spice in the cuisines of Mexico, India and the Middle East. Continue reading