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Cumin (Cuminum cyminum L.)

Synonyms

pharmaceuticalFructus Cumini
AlbanianQimnoni, Qimron
Amharicከሙን
Kemun
Arabicكمون
كَمُّون
Kamoun, Kamun
Aramaicܟܡܘܢ, ܩܘܡܝܕܝܢ
Kammon, Kumidin
ArmenianՔիմոն
Kimon
Assameseজিৰা, জীৰা
Jira
AzeriZirə, Cirə
Зирә, Ҹирә
BasqueKomino
BelarusianІндыйскі кмен, Рымскі кмен
Indyjski kmen, Rymski kmen
Bengaliজিরা
Jira
Bodoजिरी
Jira
BretonKoumin
BulgarianКимион, Кимион римски, Кимион италиански
Kimion, Kimion italianski, Kimion rimski
BurmeseZiya
CatalanComí castellà
Chakma𑄎𑄨𑄢
Jira
Chinese
(Cantonese)
小茴香 [síu wùih hēung]
Siu wuih heung
Chinese
(Mandarin)
枯茗 [kū míng], 小茴香 [xiǎo huí xiāng], 孜然 [zī ràn]
Kuming, Xiao hui xiang, Zi ran
Copticⲧⲁⲡⲛ̅, ⲑⲁⲡⲉⲛ
Tapen, Thapen
CroatianKumin
CzechŘímský kmín, Šabrej kmínovitý
DanishSpidskommen, Kloeftsvoeb
Dhivehiދިރި
Dhiri
Dogriजीरा
Jira
DutchKomijn, Djinten
EnglishGreen cumin, White cumin, Cummin
EsperantoKumino
EstonianVürtsköömen, Juustuköömen
Farsiزیره سبز, زیره
Zireh, Zireh sabz
FinnishJuustokumina, Roomankumina, Maitokumina, Maustekumina; falsely Kumina
FrenchCumin, Cumin blanc, Cumin du Maroc, Faux anis
GalicianComino
GaroJira
Georgianძირა
Dzira
GermanKreuzkümmel, Weißer Kreuzkümmel, Römischer Kümmel, Mutterkümmel
GreekΚύμινο
Kimino
Greek (Old)Κύμινον
Kyminon
Gujaratiજીરું, સફેદ જીરું
Jiru, Saphed jiru
Hebrewכמון
כַּמּוֹן
Kamon, Kammon, Kamoon
Hindiजीरा, सफेद जीरा
Jira, Jeera, Saphed jira
HmarJira
HungarianRómai kömény, Egyiptomi kömény, Kuminmag
IcelandicOstakúmen, Kummin
IndonesianJintan, Jintan putih
ItalianCumino, Cumino bianco
Japaneseクミン, ウマゼリ
Kumin, Umazeri
Kannadaಜೀರಿಗೆ
Jirige
Kashmiriزیرہ
Zireh
KazakhЗере, Зире
Zere, Zïre
KhasiJira
KhmerMa chin
Korean커민, 쿠민
Keomin, Komin, Kumin
LaoThien khaw
LatinCuminum
LithuanianKuminai, Kmynas, Kmyninis kuminas
Maithiliजिर
Jir
MalayJintan, Jintan putih, Jintan puteh
Malayalamജീരകം, നല്ലജീരകം
Jeeragam, Jirakam, Nallajirakam
Manipuri (Meitei-Lon)জীরা
ꯖꯤꯔꯥ
Jira
Marathiजिरे
Jire
MongolianГоньд
Gon’d
Nepaliजीरा
Jira
Newari
(Nepalbhasa)
जी, जिम्ल
Ji, Jimla
NorwegianSpisskummen
Oriyaଜୀରା
Jira
PashtoZeera, Zira
PolishKmin rzymski
PortugueseCominho
Punjabiਜੀਰਾ
Jira
RomanianChimion amar, Chimion turcesc
RussianКмин, Кмин тминовый, Кумин, Кюммель, Римский тмин, Зира, Индийский тмин
Kmin, Kmin tminovyj, Kumin, Kyummel, Rimskij tmin, Zira, Kmin tminovyj, Indijskij tmin
SanskritJiira, Jiiraka, Jiirana, Sugandhan, Udgaarshodan
SantaliJira
SerbianКумин
Kumin
Sinhalaදුරු, සූදුරු
Duru, Suduru
SlovakDžíra, Rasca rímska
SlovenianKumina, Orientalske kumina, Zamorska kumina
SpanishComino, Comino blanco
SwahiliJamda, Jira, Kisibiti
SwedishSpiskummin, Vit kummin, Romersk kummin
TajikЗиру
Ziru
Tamilஜீரகம், சீரகம்
Jiragam
Teluguజీలకర, జీలకర్ర
Jilakara, Jilakarra
Thaiเทียนขาว, ยี่หร่า
Thian-khao, Yee raa, Yira
Tibetanཟི་ར་དཀར་པོ་
Zira kar-po
Tuluಜೀರಿಗೆ
Jirige
TurkishKimyon, Acem kimyonu, Kemnon
Urduزیرہ
Zira
UzbekZira
Зира
VietnameseThì là ai cập
Thi la ai cap
Yiddishקמיניק
Kminik
Note

Although cumin is amongst the most used spices, world-wide, it is nevertheless surprisingly difficult to take photos of the cumin plant: In the three years which I spent in India, I have seen only once a herb that could have been a cumin plant. It fits the description very well, apart from the somewhat too broad leaflets, and it has a strong fragrance reminiscent of p-cymene. All photos on this page (excepting the one obtained from Ben-Erik van Wyk) show this single plant, which grew on a roadside in Imphal. Unfortunately, at that time my camera lens suffered from deadjustment and needed repair. In case some of my readers know the cumin plant, I should be glad about feedback.

Cuminum cyminum: Cumin fruits
Cumin fruits (often called cumin seeds) (perhaps)
Used plant part

Fruits (frequently called seeds). Although the entire herb has a fresh and spice, very agreeable, scent, it is not used in any kitchen I know.

Plant family

Apiaceae (parsley family).

Cuminum cyminum: Cumin plant
Cumin plants have a suberect habit (perhaps)
Cuminum cyminum: Umbel of cumin
Cumin umbels have bracteoles at their base (perhaps)
Sensory qual­ity

Strongly aromatic; the aroma is charac­teristic and gets easily modified by frying or dry toasting.

Main constituents

The fruits contain 2.5 to 4% essential oil. In the essential oil, cumin aldehyde (p-isopropyl-benzaldehyde, 25 to 35%), further­more perilla aldehyde, cumin alcohol, α- and β-pinene (21%), dipentene, p-cymene and β-phellandrene were found.

In toasted cumin fruits, a large number of pyrazines has been identified as flavour compounds. Besides pyrazine and various alkyl derivatives (particularly, 2,5- and 2,6-dimethyl pyrazine), 2-alkoxy-3-alkylpyrazines seem to be the key compounds (2-ethoxy-3-isopropyl pyrazine, 2-methoxy-3-sec-butyl pyrazine, 2-methoxy-3-methyl pyrazine). Also a sulfur compound, 2-methylthio-3-isopropyl pyrazine, was found. All these Maillard-products are also formed when fenugreek or coriander are toasted. (Nahrung, 24, 645, 1980)

Origin

Western Asia, where it is culti­vated since Biblical times (see pome­granate). Main pro­duction countries today are India, Iran, Indonesia, China and the South Medi­terranean.

Etymology

English cumin comes from Latin cuminum, which was borrowed from Greek kyminon [κύμινον] (Mycenaean Greek kuminon [𐀓𐀖𐀜]). The word's further origin may be Semitic: Aramaic kamuna [ܟܡܘܢܐ], Old Hebrew kammon [כמן], Egyptian kamnini, Akkadian kamûnu. Modern Semitic tongues often show similar forms: Arabic al-kamoun [الكمون], Hebrew kamon [כמון] and Amharic kemun [ከሙን]. The ultimate origin is maybe Sumerian gamun [𒂵𒁵, 𒁷𒌁, 𒌁], transmitted via Akkadian kamûnu. See also onion for Ancient Babylonian cooking.

Cuminum cyminum: Cumin Inflorescence with closed flowers
Cumin inflorescences are compound umbels; the sub-umbels are borne by rays of different length. (perhaps)

Other names that belong to the same kin are common in many (predominantly European) languages, e. g., Portuguese cominho, Lithuanian kuminai, Basque komino, Greek kimino [κύμινο], Armenian kimon [քիմոն] and also Chinese ku-ming [枯茗]. Note, however, that many languages have very similar names signifying not cumin but caraway. This may lead to considerable confusion. For example, in Russian, cumin is kmin [кмин] and caraway is tmin [тмин]; but in Ukrainian, kmyn [кмин] means caraway; moreover, in the related Bulgarian language, cumin is kimion [кимион] and caraway is kim [ким]!

Confusion between cumin and caraway has a particularly long record in German-speaking countries, where caraway is known as Kümmel. The German name of cumin is derived from that of caraway, indicating that German cooks see cumin as an exotic variety of their well-known caraway: Kreuzkümmel cross-caraway, yet what motivates the cross element I cannot say.

Cuminum cyminum: Cumin plant
Withering cumin plant

Photo: Ben-Erik van Wyk
(Food Plants of the World, Briza Publications)

In most coun­tries of Northern and Eastern Europe, cumin is of little importance as a traditional flavouring, and con­sequently, is seen as an alien spice comparable to but distinct from the native spice caraway (foreign caraway). Often, the languages make poor distinction between the both, which may lead to troublesome confusion in cooking; more often, cumin is named as a foreign or oriental variety of caraway: Turkish caraway (Romanian chimion turcesc), Eastern caraway (Slovenian orientalske kumin) or even Egyptian caraway (Hungarian egyiptomi kömény). In countries where cumin is favoured over caraway, the same system often works in the opposite direction, and caraway is then named German cumin or similar.

In Italian cuisine, cumin has little use; yet cumin is named Roman caraway in many European languages (Russian rimskij tmin [римский тмин], Finnish roomankumina, Czech římský kmín). These names refer to the fact that cumin became known in Northern Europe, like many other plants of more Southern origin, only as a result of Charlemagne’s herb edicts (see lovage). So, cumin was viewed as a Mediterranean or Italian type of the native caraway.

In Sanskrit tongue, many late names of cumin appear related to a verbal root jri [जॄ] signifying cause decay, consume, e. g., jarana [जारण], jirana [जिरण], jirna [जीर्ण]. The root jri may also mean digest, which might be linked to the digestive properties of cumin. Related words for cumin are today found in a vast area from the Caucasus to Central Asia to South East Asia: Georgian dzira [ძირა], Azeri cirə, Kazakh zere [зере], Farsi zireh [زیره], Urdu zirah [زیرہ], Hindi jira [जीरा], Gujarati jiru [જીરુ], Punjabi jira [ਜੀਰਾ], Bengali jira [জিরা], Telugu jilakarra [జీలకర్ర], Tamil jiragam [சீரகம்], Dhivehi dhiri [ދިރި], Burmese ziya, Thai yeera [ยี่หร่า] and even Chinese ziran [孜然] (which entered the language as an adaptation of Uighur zire).

Sanskrit sugandha [सुगंध] cumin, also used for a variety of other aromatics (marjoram, lime, zedoary, civet, lotus), literally means well-smelling, indicates that cumin was highly popular in ancient India. Another, more frequent Sanskrit name of cumin is ajaji [अजाजी].

In Chinese herbal medicine, cumin is commonly referred to as xiao hui xiang [小茴香] little fennel, which is rather the opposite of fennel being named as sweet cumin in several South and South East Asian tongues.

Note on pronunciation (for non-English speakers): cumin is more or less pronounced as come in, but stressed on the first syllable.

Selected Links

Indian Spices: Cumin (indianetzone.com) Ilkas und Ullis Kochecke: Kreuzkümmel (rezkonv.de via archive.org) A Pinch of Cumin (www.apinchof.com) The Epicentre: Cumin Medical Spice Exhibit: Cumin (via archive.org) (via archive.org) Desirable Herb and Spice Varieties: Cumin Pflanzen des Capitulare de Villis: Kreuzkümmel (biozac.de) Sorting Cuminum names (www.plantnames.unimelb.edu.au) Recipe: Garam Masala [गरम मसाला] (www.ochef.com) Recipe: Garam Masala [गरम मसाला] (groups.google.com) Recipe: Garam Masala [गरम मसाला] (groups.google.com) Recipe: Mughlai Garam Masala (webindia123.com via archive.org) Rezept von goccus.com: Garam masala [गरम मसाला, گرم مسالحہ, گرم مصالحہ]



Cuminum cyminum: Cumin plant with young umbels
Cumin plant with young umbels (perhaps)
Cuminum cyminum: Cumin Umbel with flowers closed
Cumin umbel with flowers closed (perhaps)
Cumin is a spice most popular all over the world, especially in Latin America, North Africa and all over Asia, but least so in Europe, although it had been a common spice in the times of the Roman Empire (see silphion for more details on Roman cookery). Today, cumin usage in Europe is restricted to flavouring cheese in the Netherlands and in France; see also blue fenugreek about cheese and cheese spices.

Cumin is one of the most typical spices for India, both in the North and in the South. Particularly in the North, fruits are used as a whole, and are fried (frequently together with onion) or toasted before usage. A simple example to illustrate the principle is alu jira [आलू जीरा], boiled potato which is cut into slices and fried together with cumin till it is somewhat browned and crisp. Legumes are always always flavoured with cumin in Northern India, typically by some sort of refrying the boiled legumes with fat and spices (see ajwain for details on tarka [तड़का]), but in the Himalayan rim and in Nepal, the cumin may be simply cooked with the pulses. Cumin is also needed for the marinades that prepare meats for a short but intense broiling in the North-West Indian clay oven tandur [तंदूर].

Ground cu­min can­not be toasted, as it would char quickly, but toasted cumin can be ground and used as a sea­soning, as it needs no further heat-treat­ment; for example, the North Indian yoghurt salad raita [रायता] is often sprinkled with such toasted cumin, and it is some­times em­ployed in salty yoghurt drinks (namkin lassi [नमकीन लस्सी], see rose for more) Almost every North Indian curry or braising dish starts with spices being fried in fat, often together with onion (see there for details on the procedure); it is possible to use ground cumin for that purpose, but then it must be added after the onions to prevent burning. The only regions in India where cumin is not used are the tribal areas in the North East, with the exception of Manipur where cumin abounds in the local fish curries which have a somewhat Bengali appearance.

In South India, aggressively toasted spices are much loved, and cumin is one of the favourites, although coriander appears slightly more popular. Both spices are often found in vegetable curries from Tamil Nadu or Karnataka; as an example, the potato stuffing of the famous crèpe or flatbread masala dosa [மசால தோசை] could be mentioned, or the flavouring of the spice broth called rasam [ரசம்] (see tamarind for details). South India has a slight preference for ground spices, and thus, cumin is optically less present than in the North; for example, the signature food sambar [சாம்பார்], a thin curry made from vegetables and pulses with the texture of a thick, creamy Western soup, is intensively flavoured with a spice mixture called sambar podi [சாம்பார் பொடி], which consists of a number of separately toasted spices that are ground together to a fine powder (see coriander for more).

In Sri Lanka, located South of India, cumin takes priority over coriander; it puts a specific mark on many of the coconut-based meat and vegetable curries that island is famous for; I found the strongest cumin flavour in beef curries. In Sri Lanka, curry spices are always toasted to a very dark colour, which gives the Sri Lankan curries their particular character. The fragrance of toasted cumin, typically in combination with coriander, is the most characteristic impression from Sri Lankan cuisine (and to some extent, South Indian also)! Yet, many Sri Lankan cooks do not toast their spices themselves, but rely on curry powder from the market (Sinhala tunapaha kudu [තුනපහ කුඩු], Tamil karittul [கறித்தூள்] or masala tul [மசால தூள்]). However, this curry powder has little in common with the Anglo–Indian product of the same name (see curry leaves).

Cuminum cyminum: Cumin flowers (inflorescence)
Cumin flowers (perhaps)
Cuminum cyminum: Cumin plant with three-partite leaves and  umbel
Cumin leaves are tripartite but should be more filiform (perhaps)

There are no curry powders in India, at least not in the West­ener’s sense; never­the­less, Indian cooking uses a lot of spice mix­tures, some of whch have a reason­ably fixed com­posi­tion; almost all of them con­tain cumin. In South India, parti­cularly Tamil Nadu, there is sambar podi (see coriander), a mix of toasted legumes and toasted spices, mostly cumin and coriander; it is used for vege­tarian foods only. An­other South Indian spice blend is bisi bele pudi [ಬಿಸಿ ಬೇಳೆ ಪುಡಿ], used in Karnataka for certain rice dishes (see coconut). That state also has a simpler formulation that is usually just referred to as pudi [ಪುಡಿ], meaning powder; it is used as a hot and nutty table condiment. In Southern Nepal, Bengal, Bangladesh and parts of North East India, there is a spice mix called panch phoron [পাঁচ ফোরন] five spices which flavours vegetable and fish curries of that regions. Morover, there is hardly any baghar [बघार] nor tarka [तड़का] in India that does not contain cumin (see onion and ajwain, respectively, for more information).

North India has a spice mixture with varying composition but a fixed name: Garam masala [गरम मसाला, گرم مسالحہ or گرم مصالحہ]. That name means hot spice, indicating that the component spices are believed in Indian medicine to provide heat to the body and warm it; the name does not imply hot in the sense of spicy. Garam masala may contain almost any Indian spice; typically, it combines warm, earthy notes (cumin, coriander, occasionally fenugreek; all of these lightly toasted) with aromatic spices (Indian bay-leaves, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom) and a dash of black pepper, but chile is not used (unless in Maharashtra). Whatever the exact composition is, the components are simply ground together to yield garam masala.

Very simple ver­sions of garam masala em­pha­size the warm–earthy com­ponents are are some­times known as dhaniya­jira [धनिया­जीरा] coriander–cumin, because they con­tain hardly any­thing else. Yet the Moghul-inspired mixtures (muglai garam masala) follow the opposite path and have the aromatic spices increased in proportion (often adding nutmeg, which is otherwise rare in India); in the extreme case, the mixture might contain no cumin nor coriander at all. Further regional preferences include the preponderance of black cardamom in Raja­sthan and a South Indian adaption Kerala, which includes star anise. All the different spice mixtures summarized as garam masala are used finely ground, and it is common to see them sold on the market as a ready-to-use powder. While it is common to add garam masala late in the cooking process, often just before serving, it can be added at to the food in earlier stages of preparation, thereby influencing its flavour more deeply.

Black cumin is the fruit of a related plant that grows wild in Iran, Tajikistan and the Northern Indian region Kashmir. It exhibits a strong, earthy flavour somewhat reminiscent of cumin; the Moghul cooking style of North India has a weak preference of black cumin over regular (or white, as it is called to stress the contrast) cumin, but this only holds for recipes in which no frying or toasting of cumin is prescribed.

Cuminum cyminum: Close-up to cumin flowers
Close-up to cumin flowers: The petals are markedly inward-curved (perhaps)
Cuminum cyminum: Cumin umbel inflorescnce flower
Cumin umbel with open flowers (perhaps)

Cumin is also very popu­lar in Western to Central Asia; spice mix­tures from this region fea­turing cumin are the Yemeni zhoug condi­ment paste (see coriander), Saudi-Arab baharat (see paprika) and Georgian spiced salt mixture svanuri marili (see garlic).

Cumin is a common fla­vouring for Arabic style dishes. It is typical for the stew tagine (also tajine [طاجن]) of Arab-influenced Northern Africa, and is commonly contained in commercial cous-cous spice mixtures. Other Arabic specialities with cumin are hummus [حمص], a paste made from chickpeas, olive oil and sesame, and falafil (also felafel or falafel [فلافل]). The latter are small balls made from ground legumes (chickpeas, often with some fava beans mixed in) and flavoured with garlic and cumin; they are deep-fried and eaten as a snack. The Sudanese version of that dish, tamiyah [طعميه], is based on fava beans alone and has a less refined, more rustic and very pleasant flavour.

In South East­ern and Eastern Asia, cumin is less valued but used oc­casio­nal­ly; cumin is, though, very im­por­tant for Burmese cooking (see onion on the topic or Burmese curries) and it does play a rôle in the cooking styles of Thai­land (see coconut on the subject of Thai curries) and Indo­nesia. Cumin is im­por­tant in the cuisine of the Uighurs (Chinese province Xin­jiang [新疆]), which, however, cannot be cons­idered Chinese cookery in historical sense. Uighuri skewered meat grilled over charcoal is now avail­able all over China and has become rather popular as yang rou chuan [羊肉串]. In China proper, cumin is a rare spice used only for a small number of recipes, for example in ziran niurou [孜然牛肉] from the Hunan [湖南] province: Thin slices of beef are fried together with cumin, chile and garlic in a wok and served with scallion and sesame oil.

In Central and South American cooking, cumin plays is now an important spice, although it tends not to dominate the cuisines in the same way as the native New World spices. It is found, from México to Perú, as component in spice blends (e. g. in Mexican mole sauces (see paprika), but it is generally used in moderation and, thus, does not put its stamp onto the food as ist does in many parts of the Old World.



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