Cumin

 

The increasing popularity of Mexican cuisine has boosted sales for ground cumin. The spice is a key ingredient in traditional tamales, enchiladas and frijoles refritos (refried beans).
Cumin is the dried seed harvested from the herb Cuminum Cyminum, a member of the parsley family. Also known as comino, this spice has a distinctive aromatic odor and a slightly bitter, but warm taste. It plays a major role in Mexican, Thai, Vietnamese and Indian cuisines, and it's also a popular seasoning in the fiery chili recipes of the southwestern U.S.

History

An ancient spice, cumin has been found in the tombs of Pharaohs and mentioned in the Old Testament. In the Middle Ages, European superstition cited that cumin kept lovers (and chickens) from wandering. Brides of that era would carry cumin seeds during wedding ceremonies as a sign of faithfulness to their grooms.

Varieties

Cumin comes in whole seeds or ground powder. The seeds are elliptical in shape and yellowish-brown in color. Ground cumin is a bright khaki powder with a slightly oily texture. It's stronger in flavor than the whole seeds.

Storage Tips

As with all spices, store cumin in an airtight container away from light and heat. Use it within six months of purchase.

Ground cumin loses pungency faster than whole seeds. If it's clumpy or dull in color, replace it.

Usage Tips

A pinch of cumin can give your everyday recipes an exciting change of pace. Use cumin seeds in marinades for beef and lamb or add them to your cooking water when preparing dried beans or pot roast. They also add fresh flavor to bottled salad dressings and barbecue sauce.

Stir ground cumin into your tomato sauce, beef stew and black bean, lentil or chicken soups.  Cumin also makes a great seasoning for meatloaf, shish kebab and Mexican-style rice.

Bring out the wonderfully earthy flavor of cumin (seeds or ground) by lightly toasting in a dry fry pan for two to three minutes before adding to recipes. Or heat it with a little garlic and olive oil and drizzle over cooked vegetables.

Substitution Tips

When cumin is not available, an equal amount of chili powder is an acceptable substitute for most recipes.

Try one of our favorite cumin recipes:

Chili con Carne
Indian Dhal
Tortilla Soup with Chicken and Lime

Suggested Pairings

barbecue, beans, beef, cabbage, cheese, chicken, couscous, curry, eggs, garlic, lamb, olive oil, peppers, pickles, pork, potatoes, rice, tomatoes, tortillas, turkey

 

 

by BigOven editorial team
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