Consumed for thousands of years, cumin is a highly aromatic annual plant native to the Mediterranean. Its delicate branched stalks can reach a length of 50 centimeters. Its flowers (white or light pink) produce oblong-shaped, yellow-brown, ridged seeds. It is harvested when the fruit enclosing each seed turns brown. It should not be mistaken for the similar, but less fragrant, caraway.
Choose cumin seeds that can be ground as needed; they will be more fragrant and keep for longer periods.
This is a spice for smoking; its aroma develops fully when cooked. Crush a few seeds before toasting them. For a more delicate fragrance, sauté them quickly in a skillet with oil or fat.
Cumin is used in Arab, Mexican, and Indian cuisine. It adds a pleasant flavor to couscous, spit-roasted lamb, and tagine dishes, but also to rice, lamb skewers, Gouda cheese, chutney, sauerkraut, and stews. Cumin can also be used to make a herbal infusion (let infuse for 10 minutes).
Cumin can keep for six months if stored in an airtight container in a dry place away from heat and light.
Cumin is known for its diuretic and digestive properties.