Herbs and spices can add pizzazz to so many dishes. They also contain powerful vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that can serve as medicine. Cumin is one of my favorites. In 2015, I researched a lot about it and I wrote an entire article on this spice for Herb Companion. I’ll share a little about it and a couple of my favorite cumin recipes from my award-winning book, The Garden of Eating: A Produce-Dominated Diet & Cookbook.
Did you know
Cumin––one of the oldest and most popular seasonings in the world––is also one of most powerful antioxidants, rivaling all known anti-aging ingredients and foods. It has been used since antiquity and written about for more than 5000 years. Archaeologists found clay pots filled with cumin seeds in King Tut’s tomb.
Historically herbalists and holistic physicians used cumin to stimulate the appetite, digestion, detoxification and menstruation; to relieve colic, gas, bloating, water retention, pain, inflammation, muscle spasms, hoarseness, asthmatic symptoms, headaches and diarrhea; and to rid humans and animals of worms.
What’s in it for you?
Herbalists have used cumin as a nervine for centuries. In his book Cumin Oil as a Plant and Spice, health writer Cass Ingram cites research published in the Journal of Food Science reporting on the high concentration of naturally occurring choline, inositol, and phospholipids, including phosphatidylethanolamine, a substance required for the development, repair and functioning of brain and nerve tissue and liver function. These substances also enhances cell membrane fluidity, crucial for protection against invasion by viruses.
Cumin oil also contains trace amounts of calcium, iron, phosphorus, fiber, fat, carbohydrate and protein. The plant’s volatile oils contain bitter but powerful substances that possess potent antifungal, antimicrobial, anti parasitic, anti-toxic, antioxidant, anti-spasmodic and diuretic properties, according to The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils by Julia Lawless (Element Books, 1995).
Food Poisoning Protection
Cumin comes it in eighth place on a list of the Top 30 Spices with Antimicrobial Properties listed from greatest to least inhibition of food-spoilage bacteria. (Source: “Antimicrobial Functions of Spices: Why Some Like It Hot,” Jennifer Billing and Paul W. Sherman, “The Quarterly Review of Biology”, Vol. 73, No.1, March 1998).
Seeds of Longevity
A study reported in the journal Phytotherapy Research (Vol. 10. 577-580 (1996) showed that both cumin seed and cumin oil given in relatively small doses increased the liver’s production of glutathione-S-transferase by as much as 700 percent. This enzyme helps the body detoxify cancer-causing chemicals. Similar findings supporting the chemoprotective potentials of cumin published in Nutrition and Cancer (2003, Vol. 47, No. 2, P. 171-180) attributed these results to the spice’s ability to modulate carcinogen metabolism.
Another study examining the anti-carcinogenic effects of nine Indian spices on cancer induced by benzo[a] pyrene (B[a]P) found cumin seeds effective at decreasing squamous cell carcinomas (Aruna K, Sivaramakrishnan VM. Anticarcinogenic effects of some Indian plant products. Food Chem Toxicol 1992;30:953-6.)
Cumin’s anti-fungal and anti-microbial properties have also been widely studied. Research results published in the World Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology (Historical Archive, Vol. 10, Number 2, March 1994) found cumin oil effective at halting the growth of invasive forms of yeast, fungus, and bacteria, including e.coli. Similar findings published in The Journal of Environmental Pathology, Toxicology and Oncology, found cumin oil effective in extremely low concentrations (less than one tenth of one percent) at stopping the growth of invasive forms of toxic yeast (Ingram, Cass, Cumin Oil as a Plant and Spice, self published, Buffalo Grove, Illinois, 1997).
Extracting the Essence of Cumin
Most of the healing properties within the seed dissipate when irradiated, ground, or processed. Fof the most medicinal value, buy organic or biodynamically grown, non-irradiated seeds and grind them as close to the time you use them as . Buy high quality, food-grade oil of cumin for therapeutic use.
Here are two cumin recipes from my book, The Garden of Eating: A Produce-Dominated Diet & Cookbook. If you don’t have a copy of this book, I recommend it, not just because I’m to the co-author, not just because it won two awards and more than 6,000 copies have been sold so far, but because many of my students, clients, and friends cook from it daily or weekly saying it is the most practical and user friendly of the cookbooks they own.
It’s like three books in one, full of so much practical information not found in most cookbooks. Whether you eat a gluten free, grain free, dairy free, sugar free, paleo, primal, plant-based, produce-dominated, traditional foods or natural foods diet or aspire to any of these, this book can help you learn how to eat more fresh, nourishing foods food and eat exceptionally well on a daily basis.
Moroccan Barbecue Spice Mix
Prep: 15 minutes/ Cooking: 3 to 4 minutes /Yield: about 2/3 cup
Dry toasting whole spice seeds intensifies their flavor and fragrance. You can liberally rub this enticing spice mix over salmon, halibut, pork, chicken or beef before cooking, or add it to meatballs, meatloaf, or sautéed onions with chopped kale, collard greens, or cabbage with sea salt, and black pepper with a little bit of broth, then cover and simmer for a delicious side dish. Thanks go to Chef Bruce Sherrod of Berkeley, CA, for sharing this recipe. (Do not use powdered spices for this recipe. You must start with whole spice seeds to avoid burning the spices during toasting.)
Note: To shell whole cardamom seeds, place 1 tablespoon of whole cardamom pods (they have a beige color) on a cutting board. Rock over them with a heavy-bottomed skillet or chef knife. Pull away and discard the shell fragments, then measure the black seeds. Repeat as needed. To skip this step, buy shelled cardamom seeds in the bulk spice section of natural foods stores.
1/4 cup whole coriander seeds
1/4 cup whole fennel seeds
2 tablespoons whole cumin seeds
1 teaspoon whole shelled cardamom seeds
2 teaspoons whole cloves
- To toast seeds: Combine spice seeds in a dry, medium-size skillet over moderate heat. Stir until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Pour seeds into a shallow bowl to cool.
- To grind: Finely powder the toasted spices in a spice-dedicated coffee grinder (not the same one you use for coffee) or mortar and pestle. Store in an airtight jar at room temperature for up to 6 months (use sooner if possible).
- To use with fish or meat: Season steaks, chops, fish, beef or pork roast with coarsely ground black pepper and finely ground sea salt; roll the meat in a portionof spice mix and press firmly to coat all over. Sear seasoned fish or meat in a heavy, oven-proof skillet with coconut oil, clarified butter or ghee (2 tablespoons per 11⁄2 to 2 pounds fish or meat) until hot but not smoking. Sear 1 to 2 minutes per side, then finish in a preheated 400F oven.
- Allow the seasoned meat to rest at room temperature for 15 minutes, or cover loosely with unbleached parchment paper and refrigerate for up to 4 hours before cooking. (See Index for Moroccan-Spiced Salmon, Moroccan-Spiced Pork Chops, or Moroccan-Spiced Pork Loin.)
Entire recipe (spices): 186 calories, 33 g carbohydrate, 6 g fat, 600 mg calcium, 70 mg sodium
1 tablespoon: 19 calories, 3 g carbohydrate, 1/2 g fat, 60 mg calcium, 7 mg sodium
Prep: 15 minutes + time for spice rub and sauce/ Cooking: 10 minutes /Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Berkeley chef Bruce Sherrod devised the spice rub that makes these crispy coated salmon fillets so delicious. You can prepare the spice rub and the barbecue sauce several days ahead. The sauce also freezes well. Round out the meal with whole grain bread, brown rice, qunioa, or herb-roasted potatoes, and a green salad, sautéed kale or collard greens, or steamed broccoli with cauliflower. Add a creamy carrot soup, beet salad, or steamed corn on the cob if you like.
6 (6-ounce) or 9 (4 ounce) center-cut salmon fillets, each 1-inch thick (about 2 1/4 pounds)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon finely ground, unrefined, mineral-rich sea salt (Celtic, Himalayan, or Redmond Real Salt)
2 tablespoons avocado oil, birgin coconut oil, ghee, or clarified butter
1 recipe Moroccan Barbecue Spice Mix (from The Garden of Eating)
1 recipe Moroccan Barbecue Sauce (from The Garden of Eating), optional but desirable
- Preheat oven to 400˚ F. Rinse fish, pat dry with unbleached paper towel and rest on a platter.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in each of two (10-inch) ovenproof cast-iron or heavy-bottom stainless steel skillets (or use 2 tablespoons of oil in one 12-to 13-inch chef pan) over medium-high heat.
- Meanwhile, season salmon with pepper, and sea salt. Sprinkle fish with half the spice mix, turning to coat all sides. Add more as needed to coat and press firmly so an even layer adheres.
- When oil is hot, add 3 salmon fillets, skin side up, to each medium skillet or all 6 pieces to 1 large skillet. Sauté for 2 minutes, then turn skin side down. Brown the second side for 2 minutes, then quickly transfer skillet(s) to preheated oven.
- Roast for 10 to 12 minutes or until skin becomes crisp and you can easily pierce the fish with a thin-bladed knife. Remove skillets(s) with thick oven mitts (don’t touch those handles!). Serve with Moroccan Barbecue Sauce. Refrigerate leftovers and use within 2 days.
1 serving: 280 calories, 31 g protein, 6 g carbohydrate, 15 g fat, 133 mg calcium, 240 mg sodium