Cumin is one of the fundamental spices in Indian, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean cuisine. Today it has become a part of global cuisine and is widely used all over the world both for its unique flavor and health benefits. In India and Pakistan, it is common to lightly saute cumin seeds in oil to release their flavor and then top off the gravy or dal with cumin seeds and flavored oil. This process is known as tadka, which literally translates to ‘tempering’.
I’ve been using cumin seeds, in my cooking, for a long time now, and in my experience, crushing the seeds with pastel and mortar gently before sauteeing them in oil to better release the flavors of cumin. Freshly ground cumin seeds add a nice aroma and mildly savory, spicy flavor to the dish. One tip when cooking with masalas or spices, is to always grind them fresh. Once ground, the essential oils begin to evaporate in packaged spices, and there is a semblance of flavor or aroma left in the powder.
Besides adding a unique flavor to the curries and sauces, cumin also has numerous health benefits:
1. Helps in weight loss:
Cumin is helpful for people trying to maintain or lose weight. A study conducted in 2015 on adults trying to lose weight compared the effects of cumin and a weight loss medication and placebo on their weight. After 8 weeks, it was found that people in the cumin and weight loss medication groups lost significant weight. Moreover, people in the cumin group also experienced decreased insulin levels. Another study conducted in 2014 found that women with weight problems who consumed 3 grams of cumin powder in yogurt every day for 3 months saw a significant decrease in body weight, waist size, and body fat.
2. Lowers Bad Cholesterol:
The study above on women with weight problems found that consuming cumin with yogurt resulted in lower cholesterol levels, especially lower levels of low-density lipoprotein or bad cholesterol and triglycerides with higher levels of high-density lipoprotein or good cholesterol.
3. Prevents Diabetes:
Cumin is known to help treat and prevent diabetes. A 2017 study on adults with type 2 diabetes examined the effects of cumin essential oil on blood sugar levels. Participants received either 100 milligrams (mg) of cumin oil per day, 50 mg of cumin oil per day, or a placebo. After 8 weeks, both groups which received 100 and 50 mg of cumin oil had significantly reduced blood sugar, insulin, and hemoglobin A1c levels. The cumin oil groups also saw improvements in signs of insulin resistance and inflammation. However, other human studies using black cumin seeds have shown mixed results, according to a 2017 review of studies. More research is necessary to confirm the benefits of cumin essential oil for those with diabetes.
4. Helps with Irritable Bowel Syndrome:
The most common and popular use of cumin is to help with indigestion. Cumin is widely known to help with irritable bowel syndrome. A small pilot study from 2013 looked at the effects of consuming cumin essential oil drops on the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). After 4 weeks, study participants noted improvements in symptoms, such as stomach pain and bloating. At the end of the study, those with IBS who had mainly experienced constipation had more frequent bowel movements. Those who had mainly experienced diarrhea as a symptom had fewer bowel movements.
Cumin may play a role in helping the body handle stress. A study in rats looked at the effects of cumin extract on signs of stress. When the animals received cumin extract before a stressful activity, their bodies had a significantly lower stress response than when they did not receive the extract. Cumin may help fight the effects of stress by working as an antioxidant. The same researchers found that cumin was a more effective antioxidant than vitamin C in the rats studied.
6. Prevents Memory Loss:
The above study in rats also looked at the impact of cumin extract on memory. The study found that the animals who received cumin extract had a better and faster recall.
The health benefits of cumin, as delineated above, are numerous. Thus making cumin a part of your daily diet is a good idea. Here’s a quick and easy recipe that you can whip up in a jiffy and enjoy with rice, as a sauce for noodles and pasta, or dressing for salads.
- 1/2 cup cumin seeds roasted
- 1/2 cup white sesame seeds roasted
- 1 tbsp marine salt roasted until dry
Separately grind roasted salt, cumin, and sesame seeds into a fine powder.
In a bowl, combine all 3 ingredients thoroughly and store them in an airtight jar or bottle.
Please keep it in a cool place or the refrigerator, and you can use the powder to garnish salads, main dishes, rice, etc. Enjoy.