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Carum carvi Linn.

Family : Umbelliferae; Apiaceae

Other names : Carvies; Wild cumin; Roman cumin; Persian cumin


The seed or fruit of caraway(Carum carvi) is obtained from a biennial or occasionally from an annual umbelliferous plant of the parsley family, native to Europe and Western Asia and cultivated in many parts of the world. It is cultivated in a limited scale in Kashmir, Kumaon, Garhwar and Chamba area in India. Caraway is one of the world's oldest culinary spices. Seeds of it were found in the remains of food from the Mesolithic age. It was used to flavour bread eaten by Roman soldiers. The ancient Egyptians always placed a container of caraway in tombs to ward off evil spirits.


Caraway, a perennial or biennial herb, grows to about 0.6 m and has feathery, compound leaves. The roots are tuberose and thick and the flowers are small and white borne on umbels. It blooms every two years to produce large creamy flowers. The seeds are mericarps as each seed is a half of the fruit. Each single seed or carpel is about 0.5 cm long, tan to brown, and curved with five lighter coloured ridges along the length of the seed.


The seeds of the biennial varieties can be sown either late in summer or early in spring, but those of the annual type only in spring. Sowings should be made in rows 60 cm apart at such rate as to produce six to eight plants / 30cm. The seeds should be planted in light well-drained soil. Germination is slow as well as the growth of plants in the early part of the season; therefore, considerable care is necessary to keep down weeds. The biennials flower early in the second season after planting and mature their seeds by midsummer. When the fruiting umbels have turned brown they should be cut from the plant before shattering begins. The umbels should be dried thoroughly in the sun or shade, and the seeds separated and then cleaned and stored in a paper bag or closed container.

Caraway seeds contain about1.5 - 3.5% volatile oil. The main component (50-60%) of the essential oil is carvone. It also contains limonene, dihydrocarvone., dihydrocarveol, carveol, acetaldeyde, methyl alcohol, furfural and diacetyl.

Culinary use

Caraway is used extensively in East European, German and Austrian cooking. The whole form is used in rye and other speciality breads, cakes and biscuits. They may be used in potato salads, cream or cottage cheese, cookies, or bread. The leaves can be snipped into salads or used as a garnish. The carrot-shaped root has the same flavour as the seeds and it can be cooked in the same way as parsnips, either by baking or boiling.

Medicinal and other use

Oil of caraway was recommended by Dioscorides, the famous botanist, to be rubbed into to the skin to improve the complexion. It is used as a flavouring in children's medicines, as an antidote to flatulence and an acid to digestion. Its flavour and aroma are used in mouthwash and gargle preparations as well as in the perfume industry.

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