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This is a spice that is common in Indian food but to me, a non-Indian, it has a very uncommon flavor. It's unlike any spice that I have ever smelled or tasted. For that reason alone, it is in my spice cabinet. But like most herbs, it is good for my health.
It comes from the Middle East. That's no surprise. It is mentioned in the Bible. In an article by Adam Maskevich published by NPR, he states that cumin has “been popular since the dawn of written history” . That statement tempts you to read in between the lines, doesn it? It was probably popular long before written history. You think so?
According to available records:
The ancient Egyptians used it to bury the Pharaohs. It was an important part of the mummification process. But the ancient Greeks and Romans used it for cooking.
From the Middle East, the spice made its way to way to Asia and once the Indians learned about it, cumin became a key ingredient in their cuisine. Cumin seeds are called Jeera (or Jira) in Indian cooking. Although cumin powder is used in the dishes, often the cumin seeds are first tempered in oil to release its aromatics and then used in the recipe. Jeera or cumin is in almost every Indian dish. (The lead image for this article is: Jeera (cumin) rice, a popular Indian dish, found on Wikipedia.)
The Indians don't just use cumin for its flavor. In Ayurvedic medicine, it is used for digestive disorders and has other medicinal value such as weight control, lowering cholesterol, and treatment of diabetes. Cumin is similarly used in Western medicine.
Take the dried seeds of a cumin plant, dry roast them and grind them into powder. Words that have been used to describe the taste are “warm”, “smoky”, “nutty”.
Maskevich, Adam. “From Ancient Sumeria To Chipotle Tacos, Cumin Has Spiced Up The World.” NPR, National Public Radio, 11 Mar. 2015, npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/03/11/392317352/is-cumin-the-most-globalized-spice-in-the-world.
Mathur, Aanchal. “5 Delicious Recipes You Can Prepare With Cumin.” NDTV Food, NDTV Convergence, 23 Aug. 2019, food.ndtv.com/food-drinks/5-delicious-recipes-you-can-prepare-with-cumin-2089422.
“Cumin is the dried seed of the herb Cuminum cyminum, a member of the parsley family. Cumin is one of the most consumed spices right after chiles and peppercorns and has many uses in cooking. It is a staple spice in many food cultures, particularly Mexican, Indian, African, and Asian cuisine.”
“Whole cumin seeds should be included early in the recipe so the spice has time to release its essence; adding them to a hot broth or oil will allow the aroma and flavors to disperse into the dish. Ground cumin is a quintessential spice in a few different blends, including curry powder. It is also used as part of a rub, in a marinade, and as a seasoning for hearty dishes.”