Learn About Cumin

Author: Chef Toby

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What is cumin? 

Cumin is a spice that is cultivated from the Cuminum cymimnum plant that is native to parts of Asia, Africa, and Europe. It is derived from the seeds of this plant, which are small and look similar to fennel seeds. Each seed is about the same size as a grain of rice, and is a brown-ish, tan color. 

Ground And Whole Cumin - Kids Are Great Cooks
Cumin is used both whole and ground in cuisines all over the world.

What does cumin taste like?

Cumin has a strong smell and taste, which is described as earth, warm, and tangy. The spice also provides a bit of a spicy kick and notes of bitterness. 

How is cumin used?

Cumin is a popular spice among Indian, Middle Eastern, African, and Latin American cuisines, particularly Mexican. It is commonly used as whole seeds or ground, depending on the dish. In its ground form, it can be used to season just about any meat, like chicken, steak, and shrimp. It is often paired with other spices like garlic, dried chiles, and onion powder to season ground beef, which serves as a base for tacos or chili. It can also be used to add flavor to rice, soups, and stews. In Indian cuisine, this spice is used alongside spices like turmeric and coriander to make different types of curry powders, which used often. You can also find it as a seasoning in hummus, baba ganoush (eggplant dip), and falafel – all popular dishes in Middle Eastern cuisine. 

Middle Easter Cuisine - Learn About Cumin - Kids Are Great Cooks
Hummus, (pictured on the far left), and Falafel (pictured on the far right) are popular foods in Middle Eastern and Eastern Mediterranean Cuisine, both which are commonly seasoned with ground cumin.

Where can you buy cumin? 

You can find both ground and whole seeds in the grocery store in the spice aisle. They are usually solid in glass or plastic jars, and sometimes in plastic bags. 

How should you store cumin? 

Store the spice in the container that is was sold in, or in an airtight container. Cumin that has lost its potency in aroma should be replaced, but typically lasts in the pantry for 3-4 years. 

Fun Fact:

Cumin is very healthy and is used for medicinal purposes in India and other parts of Asia. At some restaurants in India, whole cumin seeds are offered after the meal, which can be chewed and help to aid in digestion. 

Did you know?

While the most common type of cumin is brown, there are other varieties of the spice that are white, black, and green.

Our Recipes Using Cumin 

Hummus Video Recipe Lesson 

For our hummus recipe, we use cumin and lemon to help season this tasty dip.

Yummy Hummus Recipe

Other Recipes Using Cumin 

Falafel 

In a large glass bowl, soak dried chickpeas in water and baking soda. Let the chickpeas sit for at least 24 hours. In a food processor, combine the drained chickpeas, parsley, cilantro, dill, olive oil, onions, garlic, cumin, coriander, and baking powder. Blend the ingredients together until they form a dough. Roll small balls or patties of the dough and fry them in a saucepan filled with hot oil until golden brown on the outside. Serve the falafel with pita bread, yogurt sauce, and cucumbers.

Curried Lentils

To make this vegan Indian dish, start by heating a skillet over medium heat. Add in oil and toast coriander, cumin, and garlic until brown. Then add in tomatoes, ginger, turmeric, and sea salt. Add in the lentils along with water and boil until the lentils are tender. Finish off the dish with canned coconut milk and serve with rice.


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