(Carum Carvi)

Source: CARAWAY - Patricia G. Solley, 1997

Probably native to Asia, this plant grew in Europe's Mesolithic Age and was early pre-scribed by physicians for flatulence (imagine all those gassy people chewing seeds!). It's also reputed to stimulate appetite--and was used as a gargle to soothe a sore throat.

In Elizabethan times it was served in dishes as a common seasoning--and was a main ingredient of love potions. By the 18th century, its taproot was used as an alternate to pars-nips--incredibly, as popular a vegetable with people then as potatoes are with people now. In 19th century America, caraway root was routinely given to children to stop their hiccups.

The plant itself is a glabrous biennial that grows about 2 feet tall on hollow stems. The first year produces parsley-looking leaves; the second, the stem with umbels of little white flowers that become boat-shaped fruits. The oil derived from caraway's "seeds" (actually they are the fruits, dried) contains carvone and limonene, the latter of which is the chemical found in lemon, orange, and dill. It's the flavor of this oil that marks the northern European liqueur kummel.

CARAWAY, WILD CUMIN, CARVIES - extracted from the pages of Gernot Katzer

Origin: Central Europe to Asia; it is not clear, however, whether caraway is truly indigenous in Europe. Today, it is chiefly cultivated in the Netherlands, Eastern Europe and Germany.

Caraway is the spice that gives South German or Austrian dishes, be it meat, vegetable or rye bread, their characteristic flavour. True aficionados use the whole fruits, but even the powder is strongly aromatic. Caraway's aroma does not harmonize with most other spices, but its combination with garlic is effective and popular in Austria and Southern Germany for meat (e.g., roast pork Schweinsbraten) and vegetables. German Sauerkraut (sour cabbage made by lactic fermentation) is always flavoured with caraway (and juniper). Unfermented boiled cabbage without caraway lacks character.

Caraway is a controversial spice; to many, it appears dominant and unpleasant, especially to those who are not used to a cuisine rich in caraway. Usage of the ground spice is a working compromise; another method is wrapping the fruits in a small piece of linen cloth (or simply a tea bag) so that it can be removed before serving.

Caraway is of some importance in the cuisines of North Africa, mostly in Tunisia. Several recipes of Tunisian harissa, a fiery paste made of dried chilies, call for caraway, and the same is true on a similar preparation found in Yemen, zhoug.

Outside the indicated areas, caraway is rather uncommon. If you ever find references to caraway in books about Middle East, Indian or Far East cooking, then the most probable explanation is a translation mistake and you should read cumin. The same holds for the appearance of caraway in several Bible translations.

Caraway Seed - Penzeys Spices - Catalog of Sesoning -

The early Greeks knew caraway could calm an upset stomach and used it to season foods that were hard to digest. Today unsuspecting cooks continue the tradition, adding caraway to rye bread, cabbage dishes (sauerkraut and coleslaw), pork, cheese sauces, cream soups, goose and duck. The Germans make a caraway liqueur called Kummel and serve it with heavy meals.

Caraway - extracted from the pages of One Planet -

The dried fruit, commonly called seed, of Carum carvi, a biennial herb of the parsley family (Apiaceae, or Umbelliferae), native to Europe and western Asia and cultivated since ancient times. Caraway has a distinctive aroma reminiscent of anise and a warm, slightly sharp taste. Caraway seed gives rye bread its characteristic flavor. It is used as a seasoning in meat dishes, breads, and cheese and in such vegetables as sauerkraut and cabbage. Most caraway is grown in Eastern Europe, Holland, and Egypt. Because of its uniform shape, consistent color, and oil content, Dutch caraway is considered the premium seed. Egyptian caraway is milder than Dutch caraway. Caraway seed is believed to have been cultivated and used in Europe longer than any other condiment. The seeds themselves have been found in debris of the earliest lake dwellings in Switzerland. As early as the first century, Dioscorides, a renowned Greek physician, recommended its use as a tonic for "pale girls." By the Middle Ages, caraway was cultivated widely throughout Europe and later was even mentioned by Shakespeare in his plays. Its properties were recognized by the ancient Egyptians and early Greeks and Romans. Popular in the Middle Ages and in Shakespeare's day, it was said to prevent lovers from straying and was a favorite ingredient in love potions. Caraway seed cake is a tradition in England. The plant has finely cut leaves and compound umbels of small white flowers. The fruit, or seed, light to dark brown in colour, is a crescent about 0.2 inch (5 mm) long with five prominent longitudinal dorsal ridges.

The essential oil content is about 5 percent; d-carvone and d-limonene are the principal components. The oil is used to flavour alcoholic beverages, notably aquavit and kümmel, and in medicine as an aromatic stimulant and carminative.

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