Cooking Tips · Ingredients

Cumin – a perfect cold weather spice!

In prior Cooking Tips, I have discussed a few different spices such as Cardamom, Cinnamon, Oregano, Paprika, Pepper, Saffron, Salt and Sumac. Some of those spices you probably use every day and others only occasionally or not at all. In this Cooking Tip, I would like to tell you about a spice that I use very frequently and I am wondering if that is the same for you. That spice is Cumin.

Cumin is the seed from an herb in the parsley family. It is an ancient spice having been used by the Romans and even mentioned in the Bible (Isaiah 28: 25, 27 & Matthew 23:23). It is also said to have been used as a preservative in the mummification process.

It was originally cultivated in Iran and the Mediterranean region and was introduced to the Americas by Portuguese and Spanish colonists.

Today, it is grown in many countries including Afghanistan, Chile, China, Egypt, India, Iran, Mexico, Morocco, Pakistan, Syria, Turkey and Uzbekistan. India is the main producer and consumer of cumin, accounting for about 70% of the world’s production and 63% of total consumption.

Cumin seeds are small, light brown and grooved along the surface. There is also a black cumin, which grows in Iran. The seeds are smaller in size with a sweeter aroma. It is not a good substitute for regular cumin. Cumin can be found in whole form as well as ground. See this Cooking Tip for the pros/cons of whole vs ground spices. In Morocco, ground cumin is kept on the table and used to season meats much as we would salt and pepper.

In our stores, you should be able to find both whole and ground cumin. You will also find that cumin is present in a number of different spice blends such as taco seasoning, achiote, garam masala, Baharat, chili powder and curry powders.

It is a very aromatic spice due to its high content of essential oils. The flavor is warm and earthy and slightly pungent and this flavor profile lend itself well to Mexican, Tex-Mex and Indian dishes. As with many spices, dry-frying or toasting the seeds before grinding will bring out the flavor.

Store in an airtight container in a dry, cool area away from light. The ground form is best used within six months whereas the whole seeds can last up to a year.

Add it to dishes where you want a warm, earthy flavor such as in soups, stews, meats and veggies. Vegetarians like to use it as it gives some of that savory/meaty flavor to their dishes. It is a necessary ingredient of my favorite chili recipe along with other dishes that have a southwest, Indian or Moroccan flair.

According to McCormick, it is currently one of the top 10 spices sold in the US. Is it one of the top 10 spices in your pantry?