cumin seeds

Cumin Seeds: Description, Use, Benefits, and the Difference with Other Spices

Learning about cumin seeds and its role in cuisine

What is cumin seeds? It is the dried seed of the herb Cuminum cyminum, a member of the parsley family. Other names of cumin seeds are Comino, Cuminum odorum, Cummin, Cumin de Male, Zira, Jeeraka, and many other names in different countries. 

Cumin itself is a flowering plant whose seed is used to flavor a variety of foods. That is why cumin seeds are called spices too. It is cultivated from the Native to the Mediterranean region. Cumin also can be found in India, Mexico, and China. 

Physical Description

The cumin plant is slender, small in size, and herbaceous with dissected leaves. The flowers are white or rose-colored and borne in flat-topped umbel clusters. At a glance, the flowers are like dandelions when they bloom with white and round flowers. The difference is there is little red-colored on the flowers. 

Cumin seeds themselves are the dry fruits of the plant called schizocarps. Those are thin with yellowish brown color. The shape is an elongated oval with 0.25 inches or 6 mm long. Each feature has five prominent longitudinal dorsal ridges with a grid-like pattern. They contain essential oil, and the main component is cumaldehyde. 

The Use of Cumin Seed

Cumin seeds are a popular essential ingredient in many cuisines in Asia, Latin America, and North Africa. Usually, these spices are mixed with other spices such as chili, cinnamon, garlic, black pepper, ginger, and many more. 

The seed also can be used as a whole spice or be ground into powder. The distinctive aroma of cumin seeds is heavy and strong. It has a warm and a bit spicy taste. 

One teaspoon of cumin seeds contains 0.37 g of protein, 7.88 calories, 0.93 g of carbohydrate, and 0.47 g of fat. This data is according to the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Data Central Database. It also provides calcium, magnesium, iron, and antioxidants. 

benefits of cumin seeds

Health Benefits of Cumin Seed

With the use of the seeds, there are several cumin seeds benefits that people can get for their health. Since a long time ago, many parts of the world have been using seeds as medical medicines. Several countries in Southeast Asia and Iran use it to get health benefits. 

1.     Cholesterol

By consuming cumin powder, cholesterol level can be controlled. The high level of high-density lipoprotein helps the body to get “good” cholesterol. The study that involves overweight and obese women found that 3 g of cumin powder consumption per day will lower cholesterol and triglycerides. 

2.     Weight Loss

Cumin seeds are helpful for those who want to manage their body weight. A study in 2014 showed that overweight or obese women had significant decreases in body weight, fat, and waist size. They consumed 3 grams of cumin powder in yogurt every day for about three months.

A study in 2015 also showed that people in the cumin group had decreased insulin levels even though they cannot decrease their body weight. The study was done for eight weeks by involving adults. 

3.     Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Consuming cumin helps those who have irritable bowel syndrome. A small study done in 2013 looked at the cumin effect on the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. After four weeks, there were improvements in several symptoms such as bloating and stomach pain.  

The result of the study is those who had irritable bowel syndrome with constipation had more frequent bowel movements. Meanwhile, IBS with diarrhea had fewer bowel movements. The study concluded that cumin powder is quite effective for irritable bowel syndrome. 

4.     Diabetes

Cumin seeds are good for diabetes management. In 2017, there was a study on adults with type 2 diabetes. The participants in different groups received 100 mg or 50 mg of cumin oil per day, or a placebo. After eight weeks, the cumin groups showed significantly reduced blood sugar, hemoglobin A1c, and insulin levels. The cumin groups also got improvements in insulin resistance and inflammation. 

However, other studies in 2017 using black cumin have shown mixed results. More research is needed to confirm the benefits of cumin for diabetes. 

5.     Memory Loss

The study of the use of cumin powder on rats showed there is an impact on memory. In the study, the animals that received the extract of cumin had a better and faster recall. The result of the study showed that cumin can help those with memory loss. 

6.     Stress

The benefit of cumin seeds is helping the body handle stress. A study in rats was done to know the effect of cumin extract on stress signs. The group that received cumin extract showed a significantly lower stress response. Contrary, the group without cumin extract showed a higher stress response in the same stressful activities. 

From the study, cumin may help to fight stress by working as an antioxidant. Another result is cumin was a more effective antioxidant than vitamin C.

caraway, cumin, aniseed, ajwain and fennel

The Difference with Other Spices

Cumin seeds look like other spices such as caraway, black cumin (Kala jeera), and black cumin (nigella seed). Many people somehow cannot differentiate them. The main differences are the colors or visuals and the taste. 

Cumin Seed

The cumin seed has the lightest color among the four spices mentioned. Besides, the shape is straight without any curved shape. About the taste, it is not as strong as the others. It is the same as the bitter level of the spice, it is not too bitter compared to others. Latin America, India, and Europe people use cumin powder or spice in their cuisines such as curry, and savory pastries.

Caraway Seeds

Caraway vs cumin seeds, what are the differences? The caraway seeds have a darker color compared to the cumin seed. It is also smoother and a bit curved in shape. This curved shape is the most distinctive feature of the caraway seed. About the taste, it tastes more bitter with an aroma like mint or anise. For countries that like stronger cuisines taste, caraway seeds are usually added to their cuisine.

Black Cumin Seed (Kala Jeera)

Black cumin seeds that are called Kala jeera in India look similar to cumin seed with a darker color than both cumin and caraway seeds. The tastes of the Kala jeera are much more bitter and harsher. The use of the seeds itself is only for specific dishes in western and northern India. 

Black Cumin Seed (Nigella Seeds)

One seed that is very different both in appearance and taste is the black cumin seed. The color is black and it is the darkest color among those spices. Also called nigella seeds from its botanical name, Nigella Sativa. In history, these black cumin seeds are used for medicinal benefits. The consumption of black cumin has been linked to treating hypercholesterolemia.


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