Source: Cumin - Patricia G. Solley, 1997 (To go there: )
This close relative of the caraway is native to the Orient, but was being grown all over the Mediterranean regions well before the Christian era. Romans used the flat, oval brown seeds as a substitute for pepper and even ground them into a paste to spread on bread. Today it is key to Thai, Indian, Mideastern, North African, Mexican and southwestern USA cuisines.
CUMIN - extracted from the pages of Gernot Katzer -
Western Asia, where it is cultivated since Biblical times. Main production countries today are India, Iran, Indonesia, China and the South Mediterranean.
Cumin is a most popular spice 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. Today, cumin usage in Europe is restricted to flavouring cheese in the Netherlands and in France.
Cumin is one of the most typical spices for India, especially the Southern part. The fruits are used as a whole, and are fried (frequently together with onion) or dry-roasted before usage. Legumes, especially lentils, are normally flavoured by cumin fried in butter fat. Furthermore, the seeds form an important part of curry powder and of the Bengali spice mixture panch phoron. Lastly, cumin is essential for the preparation of Northern Indian tandoori dishes. The fragrance of roasted cumin, typically in combination with coriander, is the most characteristic impression from South Indian or Sri Lankan cuisine!
Another important Indian spice mixture containing cumin is garam masala ("hot mixture"; by "hot", a heating action on the body is indicated). Garam masala may contain nearly ever Indian spice, but normally, roasted cumin, roasted coriander, black pepper and Indian bay leaves should provide the basic taste and smaller amounts of sweet spices (cinnamon, cloves, cardamom seeds and nutmeg) should give a fine, aromatic flavour. All components are ground together. In the Emperial Northern Indian cuisine (also called Moghul or Muglai), the mixture (then called muglai garam masala) is prepared predominantly of sweet-aromatic spices. This spice mixture is sometimes used for cooking, but more frequently sprinkled over the dishes before serving.
In South India, an extremely popular spice mixture called sambaar podi (sambaar powder) is prepared to flavour the thin lentil curries traditionally served with pancake-like, sometimes leavened bread (dosai). Base component of sambaar podi are lentils or tiny beans (urad dal), which are dry-roasted or toasted until they lose their raw flavour. They are mixed with other roasted spices (mostly cumin, coriander and fenugreek) and black pepper; optional ingredients are roasted mustard seeds, dried and possibly roasted chiles and asafetida. The powder is simply added, together with fresh curry leaves, to boiling lentil or vegetable curries.
Black cumin is the fruit of a related plant that grows wild in Iran and the Northern Indian region Kashmir. It is sometimes preferred to ordinary (white) cumin for Northern Indian meat kormas.
Cumin is also very popular in Western to Central Asia (Near and Middle East); spice mixtures from this region featuring cumin are Yemeni zhoug and Saudi-Arab baharat. Lastly, cumin is also typical for the tagines (meat stews) of Arab-influenced Northern Africa.
In South Eastern and Eastern Asia, cumin is less valued but used occasionally; cumin is, though, very important for Burmese cooking and it does play a role in the cooking styles of Thailand and Indonesia.
In Central and South American cooking, cumin plays is an important spice (it appears, e.g., in Méxican spice mixtures).
Throughout the world, cumin is second in popularity only to black pepper. Americans tend to use it mostly for chili, but its pungent flavor is a must in Indian, Mexican, Asian, Northern African, Middle Eastern and Latin American cooking. It is gaining popularity here in America as various international dishes become more commonplace in our kitchens, and our tastes for Mexican foods increase, as both salsa and tacos are heavily seasoned with cumin. Here at Penzeys, we grind our cumin fresh in small lots to a very fine 40 mesh, which has given us national acclaim. Even our most demanding "old country" customers, who would never dream of ordering ground spices, have begun using our ground cumin, since it is such a fine, fresh powder. The high-oil Iranian cumin is still not available due to the U.S. Government's ban on trade with Iran.
Also spelled CUMMIN (Cuminum cyminum), small, slender annual herb of the family Apiaceae (Umbelliferae) with finely dissected leaves and white or rose-coloured flowers. Native to the Mediterranean region, cumin is also cultivated in India, China, and Mexico for its fruits, called seeds, which are used to flavour a variety of foods.
Cumin, or comino, seeds are actually dried fruits. They are thin, yellowish brown, elongated ovals about 0.25 inch (6 mm) long with five prominent longitudinal dorsal ridges interspersed with less-distinctive secondary ridges forming a tiny, gridlike pattern. The correct time for planting cumin seed is dependent on the arrival of the monsoon season. An essential ingredient in many mixed spices, chutneys, and chili and curry powders, cumin seeds are especially popular in Asian, North African, and Latin American cuisines. Their distinctive aroma is heavy and strong; their taste warm and reminiscent of caraway. At one time cumin seeds were widely used as home medicinals; their medicinal use today is chiefly veterinary. Babylonian and Assyrian doctors used cumin in drugs and it was used as a food preservative by early Greeks and Romans. The cumin seed is referenced in both the biblical Old Testament (Isaiah 28:27) and New Testament (Matthew 23:23). In the Middle Ages, cumin was believed to keep both chickens and lovers from wandering. The seeds contain between 2.5 and 4.5 percent essential oil, the principal component of which is cumaldehyde. The oil is used in perfumery, for flavouring a variety of liquors, and for medicinal purposes.
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