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Black Cumin (Bunium persicum [Boiss.] B. Fedtsch.)


botanicalCarum persicum Boiss.
Bengaliকাশ্মিরী জিরা, শাজিরা
Kasmiri jira, Sajira
DanishSort Kommen
Dogriकाला जीरा
Kala jeera, Kala jira
DutchZwarte komijn
EnglishBlack cummin
EsperantoNigra kumino
Farsiزیره کوهی, زیره ایرانی
Zireh e irani, Zireh kuhi
FrenchCumin noir
GermanSchwarzer Kreuzkümmel
Gujaratiકાલ જીરું, શાજીરુ
Kal jiru, Shajiru
Hindiहिमाली जीरा, काला जीरा, काश्मीरी जीरा, शाही जीरा, शाहाजीरा
Himali jira, Kala jeera, Kala jira, Kashmiri jira, Shahi jira, Shahajira
ItalianCumino nero
Kashmiriکشمیر زیرہ, کشور زور
Kashmir zireh, Koshur zur
LithuanianPersinis gumbakmynis, Juodoji zira
Nepaliकालो जीरा, हिमाली जीरा
Kalo Jira, Himali jira
Punjabiਕਾਲਾ ਜੀਰਾ
Kala jira
RomanianChimion negru
SanskritKrishna jiira
SpanishComino negro
Urduکالازیرہ, شاہ زیرہ
Kalazira, Shah zira

There is considerable confusion about this spice, particularly in the older literature. It is sometimes (falsely) referred to under names as Carum bulbocastanum or Cuminum nigrum. Until recently, there was only very little scientific data on this spice.

Bunium persicum: Black cumin fruits
Black cumin fruits (often called seeds)
Used plant part

Fruits. Both the dark brown colour and the slender crescent shape are character­istic.

In Kashmir, the root is eaten as a vegetable.

Plant family

Apiaceae (parsley family).

Sensory quality

The fruits’ aroma is earthy and heavy, not pleasant at all. On frying or cooking, the taste changes to nutty.

Main constituents

Ripe black cumin fruits are reported to contain an essential oil (up to 7%) rich in monoterpene aldehydes; the main components are cuminaldehyde, p-mentha-1,3-dien-7-al and p-mentha-1,4-dien-7-al (up to one third each); terpene hydrocarbons are the main components of fruits collected in the wild or harvested unripe (γ-terpinene, p-cymene, β-pinene, limonene). The latter compounds are thought to reduce the quality of the spice. (J. Essent. Oil Res., 9, 597, 1997), (J. Essent. Oil Res., 14, 161, 2002,) (Food Chem., 41, 129, 1991)

In a more recent paper, the authors extracted the fruits with supercritical carbon dioxide. They found the oil domated by only three compounts: γ-terpinene (38%), cuminaldehyde (11%) and 1-phenyl ethanol (α-methyl benzenemethanol) (26%). In hydrodestilled oil, they also found p-cymene. (J. of Food Composition and Analysis, 18, 439, 2005 )


Central Asia to Northern India


The Hindi name shahi jira [शाही जीरा] Imperial cumin refers to the popularity of black cumin in the imperial (mughal) cuisine of Northern India; yet I found that caraway, a spice rare in India, is sometimes referred to by similar names. Note that names with the similar literal meaning king’s cumin in Arabic mean another spice, ajwain.

The name kashmiri jira [काश्मीरी जीरा] is rare in Hindi, but the analog form kashmiri zireh [کشمیری زیرہ] is the standard denomination in the Kashmiri language. It refers to the mountainous region Kashmir in North-Western India, where the Moghul Emperors (and later the British colonial officers) spent their summers to escape the heat in the Indian plains; thus, Moghul cooking has a strong foothold there. Moreover, Kashmir is the only region in India where black cumin is produced. A similar motivation lies behind Nepali himali jira [हिमाली जीरा] Himalayan cumin, which falls into line with Farsi zireh kohi [زیره کوهی] mountain cumin.

The most common Indic name for this spice is kala jira [काला जीरा] black cumin, archaically spelled kala jeera; the same name is, most often in English, sometimes given to an entirely unrelated spice, nigella (also called onion seed). Bengali kalo jira [কালো জিরা] and similar names in South India actually refer to nigella. Nigella is popular in the Middle East and Northern India, particularly Bengal.

Hindi shahi jira [शाही जीरा] for black cumin should not be confused with the similar looking sajira [शाजीरा], which denotes the olfactori­cally somewhat similar caraway. In some other Indian languages, the names might have different meaning, or mayby just mislabeling is very common.

Selected Links

Francesco Sirene: Spices & Herbs (Catalogue) Sorting Bunium names ( World Merchants: Kala Jeera Penzeys Spices: Kala Jeera Herbie’s Spices: Kala Jeera INDU-Versand Recipes: The Great Art of Mughlai Cooking ( (PDF) Recipe: Rogan Josh [रोग़न जोश] (

Black Cumin, in India also called Kashmiri cumin, is not much known outside Iran, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the western part of Northern India (Kashmir, Punjab). It is preferred to ordinary (white) cumin for some Northern Indian meat dishes (korma [कोरमा]) and rice dishes (biryani [बिरयानी]); if unavailable, toasted white cumin is an acceptable alternative.

In speaking about Northern Indian cookery, often the Moghul cooking is meant exclusively, although this does injustice to other distinct Northern Indian cuisines (Kashmir, Punjab, Bengal). Inside and outside India, Moghul food is particularly successful in restaurants.

Moghul cuisine is much affected by Islâm and by the cooking style of the imperial court in Delhi (later Agra), the great influence of which was difficult to ignore even for Hindu rulers. The Moghuls, Emperors of Northern India in the and century, gave name to this new cooking style which combines elements from Iranian and Arabic-style Central Asian cuisine with native Indian cooking traditions. Beside a bias towards non-vegetarian food, Moghul cuisine is characterized by little pungency, large amounts of aromatic spices and dried fruits, and rich and full-flavoured gravies.

Sauces and gravies are usually based on onion (see there for details), garlic and fresh ginger, as in the rest of India. Their intensive fragrance is due to cinnamon, cloves, black and even more often green cardamom; these tough spices are fried in hot butter fat (ghi [घी]) at great heat until they darken and begin to release their fragrance. Then, heat is reduced, and one adds onion, garlic and ginger (and possibly some Indian bay leaves) and fries until the spices turn light brown. After the mixture has been quenched with yoghurt and several more spices (black cumin, fennel, paprika) have been added, meat or vegetables are cooked in the gravy until tender. The sauce may be thickened with some ground poppy or grated almonds.

Food prepared in this way, i. e., by braising in a previously spiced sauce, is often referred to as korma. The term korma is of Persian origin; in Iran, ghorme is a thick sauce made of dried herbs and vegetables often used as a basis for long-simmered stews (see fenugreek).

Moghul recipes are very popular in Indian restaurants in the West, e. g. rogan josh [रोग़न जोश, less correctly written रोगन जोश], mutton braised in a creamy and spicy yoghurt sauce with much red paprika and fragrant garlic, which is actually a Moghul-style adoption of a much hotter, chile-laden epinymous local Kashmiri recipe. Other Moghul favourites include kabab husaini [कबोब हुसैनी] (minced mutton stuffed with a subtly flavoured mixture of raisins and almonds) and biryani or biriyani [बिरयानी], a complex rice dish (see Indian bay-leaf) often flavoured with saffron.

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