Cumin (also known as jeera) is a delicious spice that is used to flavor a variety of dishes across a range of cultures. You may not even realize how often you eat it, but it's present in a lot of Mexican food, where it is used to help flavor tacos and fajitas, and numerous curries and other fragrant dishes from Asia and beyond.
Aside from being delicious, this versatile herb also comes back with numerous health benefits that make it an absolute must for your herb rack at home. This article will introduce you to plenty of good reasons to add a dash of cumin to your regular cooking plan, and give you some ideas about how you can do so!
What is cumin?
Cumin is actually a flowering plant that can grow up to around a foot (0.30 meters) tall. It's native to a number of countries across several continents, including India, Mexico, China and the Mediterranean countries of Europe. White or pink flowers blossom on the plant during hot summers, but it's the yellow-brown colored seeds that are harvested for their edible qualities.
The small, flat seeds are either ground down into powder or used whole in Mexican dishes to provide a fragrant, earthy flavor, or in combination with other spices such as turmeric in Indian curries, Middle Eastern food and some Chinese cuisine. Eastern cultures in particular have long recognized that the seeds are not only a delicious spice with various culinary uses, they also bring a number of medicinal qualities to those who eat them regularly - and other cultures are now starting to wake up to the health benefits of cumin too.
1. It's excellent for digestion and stomach complaints
Cumin contains a number of essential oils including thymol, that helps promote the production of saliva, bile and other enzymes responsible for digesting food. Indeed, the very aroma of cumin has been shown to stimulate the salivary glands and prepare the body for the digestion process due to the presence of an aromatic compound called Cuminaldehyde.
In addition to this, cumin is also a great carminative - so it helps relieve feelings of bloating and gassy build ups - and it can also help flush out hemorrhoids. A couple of spoonfuls of cumin are a great option if you want to ensure that you digest your food better and avoid painful, annoying stomach aches.
2. Helps prevent anemia and iron deficiency
Cumin is an incredibly powerful source of iron - one of the best around in fact. 100 grams contains 66 milligrams - more than 5 times the daily recommended amount for adults. This means that just a couple of spoonfuls of cumin provides you with all the iron you need for the day (although a little extra can't hurt) and encourages the production of red blood cells, the transfer of oxygen around the body and avoidance of symptoms relating to iron deficiency and conditions like anemia, which include fatigue, dizziness, decreased cognitive function and loss of energy.
3. Great if you want to lose weight!
Research has shown that a single spoonful of cumin a day can help encourage weight loss and decrease body fat. Research by the University of Medical Sciences in Iran, tested two groups of overweight or obese women and gave them 3 grams of ground cumin a day, while the other group ate none.
Across a three month trial period, the group that had taken cumin lost considerably more weight than those who did not, and shed over 10% more body fat. These fantastic weight loss properties are believed to originate from high levels of phytosterols in the spice, which are also known to inhibit absorption of cholesterol in the body.
4. It can help you sleep better
Cumin contains high levels of the substance melatonin, which helps regulate sleep cycles. If you are an insomniac, or someone who struggles to get a good night's sleep, then consuming cumin as part of your evening meal can help. Melatonin is not the only way it helps you sleep at night - it also contains other essential oils that help keep you stress-free and provide tranquilizing qualities.
Nutritionists recommend that the very best way to use cumin to help you sleep is to include a spoonful with some mashed up bananas before bed, as the bananas help the melatonin work better. The combination will help you establish a sleeping pattern when used regularly, but is non-addictive unlike some sleeping pills.
5. It helps your breathe more easily
Cumin is also a great anti-congestive agent because it acts as an expectorant thanks to the presence of a number of essential oils in its make-up. Expectorants loosen up phlegm and mucus that accumulate in the respiratory tract so that they can be expelled through the nose or mouth, leaving you feeling less blocked up and able to breathe more easily.
The process is cyclical, so by eliminating plenty of mucus and phlegm in the first place, it will also discourage future excessive formation of these secretions. This means that cumin is also great for respiratory disorders like asthma and bronchitis.
6. It fights the common cold
The common cold is an unavoidable annoyance we could all do without, so it's great to fight it via as many means as possible. The same essential oils that help fight respiratory issues, also act as great disinfectant that combat the viral infection that causes a cold to develop. Because it's also high in vitamin-C and iron, cumin also helps strengthen your immune system to help you fight off a cold should you develop one.
7. It could help prevent diabetes
Research into the ways in which cumin can help prevent diabetes remains ongoing, but early studies suggest that it can have a significant impact. Testing on diabetic animals has shown that cumin seed can cause a reduction in blood glucose levels, improve insulin content, and reduce the risk of hypoglycemia. More studies are needed but the early indications show that cumin could be a great tool for both easing and preventing symptoms of diabetes.
8. It helps sharpen the mind and improve memory
Cumin is packed full of minerals that are great for cognitive function and memory, including riboflavin, vitamin B6 and niacin. High iron content helps further boost your grey matter as well, because it encourages good circulation, which oxygenates the brain so that you can remain sharp and focused. In Ayuverda medicine, cumin has actually been used to treat amnesia patients thanks to these properties.
9. It can help fight some cancers
Research carried out by the Cancer Research Laboratory in South Carolina, USA, found that cumin can help fight cancer, thanks to active properties of cuminaldehyde, which have been shown to slow the growth of tumors. It also has characteristics that accelerate the production of detoxifying and anticarcinogenic enzymes, which can aid the prevention of colon cancer.
10. It's great for the skin
Cumin contains an abundance of vitamin-E, known for its excellent ability to keep your skin looking young and glowing. It acts as an antioxidant that fights harmful free radicals responsibly for ageing your skin cells and promoting the appearance of wrinkles. The essential oils contained within the spice also have anti-fungal properties that can diminish the effect of infections that have a negative impact upon the appearance of your skin.
Great ways to add cumin to your diet
There are loads of ways to add cumin to your diet. You can sprinkle it in sandwiches, add it to fresh bread, use it to top salads, into nut and grain mixes or add it to mayo of avocado paste (those are just a few examples). Here are three more great ideas:
1. Make cumin rice using 1/2 teaspoon of cumin powder or seeds, 2 cups of water and 1 cup of dry jasmine rice. Lightly brown the cumin seeds in the oil first, add the rice and fry for a minute before adding the water and bringing to a boil. Cook for approximately fifteen minutes thereafter.
2. Make a DIY taco seasoning powder using 1 tablespoon of chili powder, 1. 1/2 teaspoons of cumin, 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder, 1/4 teaspoon of onion powder, 1/2 teaspoon of paprika, 1 teaspoon of black pepper and 1 teaspoon of salt. Simply mix all the ingredients and keep them in an airtight container. Use about 2 tablespoons per 1 pound (16 oz./450 grams) of meat.
3. Add a spoonful of cumin to your favorite roast veggies - it goes really well with sweet potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, squashes and even cauliflower.
Sources: 1 & 2