Indian Institute of Spices Research

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.
Culinary use
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 powders.
Medicinal use
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.