Cumin and black cumin

Other Names: Cominho (Portuguese); comino (Spanish); cumin blanc, cumin du Maroc, or faux anis (French); cumino (Italian); jamda or kisibiti (Swahili); jeera (Hindi); jinten (Indonesian); kamoun (Arabic, Hebrew); kemun (Amharic); kimino (Greek); kimyon (Turkish); kmin (Russian); kreuzkümmel (German); kuming (Chinese); white cumin; yeera (Thai); zireh (Farsi).

General Description: Cumin (Cuminum cyminum) has small, curved, khaki-colored fruits (commonly called seeds) with a warm, earthy, lingering aroma and pleasingly bitter, pungent flavor. Cumin is highly popular in the Middle East, India, North Africa, western and central Asia, Spain, and Latin America. Iran is reputed to produce top-quality cumin seeds. Toasted cumin combined with coriander is characteristic of south Indian and Sri Lankan cuisine, where it flavors dal (thin lentil soup). It’s used whole and either fried in ghee (frequently with onion) or dry-roasted. Cumin is essential for northern Indian tandoori dishes and is typical for North African tagines (meat stews) and for many Mexican and Tex-Mex dishes. Although not as common in Asia, cumin is important in Burmese cooking and is also used in Thailand and Indonesia.

Rare and more expensive, black cumin (Bunium persicum) grows wild in Iran and Kashmir. Called royal cumin, or kala jeera in India, the small, dark brown, curved seeds are highly aromatic, with a resinous, astringent flavor that’s sweeter and more complex than common (white) cumin. It’s preferred for northern Indian meat kormas and shows up in savory dishes of North Africa and the Middle East. It is sometimes confused with the unrelated nigella seed.

Purchase and Avoid: Cumin will lose its most subtle flavor notes soon after grinding, so buy it in small quantities and choose oily-textured, khaki-colored powder. Look for whole black cumin seeds in Indian groceries.

Storage: Whole cumin seeds will keep for about 3 years.

Serving Suggestions: Sprinkle flatbreads, crackers, and breadsticks with cumin seeds just before baking. Season Mexican bean dishes with toasted, ground cumin.

Food Affinities: Barbecue sauce, beans, carrot, chicken, chickpeas, cilantro, corn, curries, garlic, lamb, lemon, onion, orange, peppers, tandoori chicken, turmeric.

from Quirk Books: www.quirkbooks.com