Cuminum cyminum L. Syn.
Cuminum odorum Salisb.
Family : Umbelliferae
Cumin (Cuminum cyminum) is
a small annual plant of the parsley family, widely cultivated in
the Mediterranean region of Europe and in India. Primary cultivation
of cumin is in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa with
India and Iran as the largest cumin exporters. The valued portion
of the plant is the dried fruit called cumin seed, which is esteemed
as a condiment. Cumin was known to the Egyptians 5,000 years ago
and it was found in the pyramids. In ancient times cumin was a symbol
of greed and meanness. Curiously, by the Middle Ages it was regarded
as a symbol of faithfulness.
Cumin, a small, annual herbaceous
plant of the parsley family, grows to a height of about 25 cm. It
flourishes best in sunny places with some rainfall. The small white
or pink flowers grow on small compound umbels. The small, boat-shaped
seed has nine ridges and it is brown-yellow in colour.
The reported life zone of cumin is
9 to 26 degrees centigrade with an annual precipitation of 0.3 to
2.7 meters and a soil pH of 4.5 to 8.3. Cumin thrives on rich, well-drained
sandy loam soil. The plant, which needs mild temperatures during
a three to four month growing season, is intolerant of long periods
of dry heat. Plant the seeds in a sunny location after the soil
has become warm in spring. If the rows are 2 feet apart, with 16
to 20 seeds to the foot, no thinning will be necessary. Cultivate
to control weeds.
In the Middle East, cumin is grown
as a winter crop, sown and harvested between April and May. Seeds
are usually collected and threshed by hand, since the small, tender
plants are difficult to harvest mechanically. The seeds become hard,
the fruit changes color, and the vegetative material withers as
the plant matures. The fruit or seed is greenish tan, long and narrow
with ridges down its length. The flavour is warm and bitter. The
three major types of cumin seed on the market, Iranian, Indian,
and Middle Eastern, differ in seed color, quantity of essential
oil, and flavor.
Late in fall, when the umbels begin
to turn brown, the plants should be cut and tied in small bundles
or spread on a screen to dry. When dry the seeds may be separated
by threshing and then cleaned and stored in paper bags or cartons.
Aroma and flavour
The odour and flavour of cumin is
derived largely from the essential oil, which contains cumaldehyde
or cuminic aldehyde as the main constituent. Other ingredients of
the oil are dihydrocuminaldehyde, dl-pinene, d--pinene, para-cymene,
dipentene, and cuminyl alcohol. Synthetic cuminaldehyde is an adulterant
to cumin oil and is very difficult to detect chemically. The dried
seed of cumin has 2.5 to 5 percent essential oil on a dry weight
basis and is obtained by steam distillation.
Cumin is used as a flavoring agent
in many ethnic products such as cheeses, pickles, sausages, soups,
stews, stuffings, rice and bean dishes, and liqueurs. It is an essential
component of Mexican foods, along with chilli pepper and oregano.
Its use is prevalent in many Latin American cuisines. Cumin is the
key ingredient of Indian cooking like all types of curries and chilli
Oil of cumin is used in fragrances.
As a medicinal plant, cumin has been utilized as an antispasmodic,
carminative, sedative, and stimulant. Cumin oil has been reported
to have antibacterial activity. Distinct phototoxic effects have
been reported from undiluted cumin oil. It is also used in veterinary
medicines and perfumes.