Family: Apiaceae (Umbelliferae), Cuminum cyminum L.

Source: Simon, J.E., A.F. Chadwick and L.E. Craker. 1984. Herbs: An Indexed Bibliography. 1971-1980. The Scientific Literature on Selected Herbs, and Aromatic and Medicinal Plants of the Temperate Zone. Archon Books, 770 pp., Hamden, CT.

Cumin, Cuminum cyminum L., also known as Cuminum odorum Salisb., is a small annual herb native to the Mediterranean region. 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.

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 (4.1-31). 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 (11.129, 14.1-29).

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 three major types of cumin seed on the market, Iranian, Indian, and Middle Eastern, differ in seed color, quantity of essential oil, and flavor.

The odor and flavor of cumin is derived largely from the essential oil, which contains cuminaldehyde as the main constituent. Other ingredients of the oil are dihydrocuminaldehyde,

d,1-pinene, d--pinene, para-cymene, -pinene, dipentene, and cuminyl alcohol (14.1-7). 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. The characteristic odor of cumin is caused primarily by aldehydes that are present in the oil (6.4-114).

Cumin is used as a flavoring agent in cheeses, pickles, sausages, soups, stews, stuffings, rice and bean dishes, and liqueurs. Cumin is the key ingredient in all types of curries and chili powders. 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 (1.8-130). Distinct phototoxic effects have been reported from undiluted cumin oil (8.2-79) .

Black cumin, Bunium persicum B. Fedtsch., has smaller and sweeter seeds than Cuminum cyminum L. This plant, which grows wild in the Middle East, especially Iran, is not commercially significant (11.1-128). Black cumin, Nigella sativa L., which is sometimes called black caraway, is a herb native to the Mediterranean region and not related to cumin. The black seeds are used in seasonings.

Cumin is generally recognized as safe for human consumption as a spice/flavoring and plant extract/oleoresin (21 CFR sections 182.10 182.20 [1982]).

[Note: References listed above in parentheses can be found in full in the original reference].

Aromatic and Medicinal Plants Index

Last modified 6-Dec-1997