Cumin: A Bit of Botany
a little botanical information on cumin

Cumin is from a flowering plant of the Apiaceae family. Cumin is the dried seed of the herb Cuminum cyminum. The cumin plant grows to 30–50 cm (0.98–1.6 ft) tall and is harvested by hand. It is an annual herbaceous plant, with a slender, branched stem 20–30 cm tall. The leaves are 5–10 cm long, pinnate or bipinnate, with thread-like leaflets. The flowers are small, white or pink, and borne in umbels. The fruit is a lateral fusiform or ovoid achene 4–5 mm long, containing a single seed. Cumin seeds resemble caraway seeds, being oblong in shape, longitudinally ridged, and yellow-brown in color, like other members of the umbelliferae family such as caraway, parsley and dill.

common names & nomenclature
The English "cumin" derives from the Old English cymen (or Old French cumin), from Latin cuminum, which is derived from the Greek kuminon.

Also known as:
cumin, jeera, cuminum aegyptiacum. cuminum hispanicum. cuminum sativum

Cumin, the cuisine staple
Cumin: Where in the World
habitat and range for cumin

Cumin was originally cultivated in Iran and the Mediterranean region, introduced to the Americas by Spanish and Portuguese colonists. Today, the plant is mostly grown in China, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Iran, Turkey, Morocco, Egypt, Syria, Mexico, Chile and India.

Cumin: Cultivation & Harvesting
considerations for growing and harvesting cumin

Cumin grows best in a sunny location in warm temperate and tropical zones.

Prefers a warm fertile well-drained sandy loam soil.

Sow seeds in early spring in individual pots in a greenhouse. Grow the plants on fast, and plant them out after the last expected frost. Give the plants some temporary protection such as a cloche for their first few weeks in the open ground to make sure that they keep on growing in the cooler weather of early summer.

Harvest the seeds when fully ripe and then dry them thoroughly.

Store dried cumin seeds in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.

Cumin: The Rest of Story
cumin history, folklore, literature & more

Cumin seed refers to the seed of Cuminum cyminum, an annual herb related to parsley, dill and caraway. Like other members of the Umbelliferae family, the plant bears a fruit that contains a single, oblong-shaped, highly aromatic seed. Cumin seed is a very popular seasoning in many cultures, most notably Indian, North African, Brazilian and Mexican cuisines. Aside from being a common flavoring in curries, chilis and stews, cumin seed is also used to season classic Dutch cheeses.

Cumin is originally native to the Mediterranean and has been cultivated for centuries. The herb is mentioned in the Bible several times and a stash of the seeds were discovered at Tell ed-Der, an ancient city that once stood north of Babylon that dates to the second millennium BC.

The Greeks kept cumin seeds in a container at the dining table to be freely dispensed much like pepper is today. In Medieval Europe, it was said that cumin seed prevented true love and barnyard foul from straying; hence it was carried by newlyweds while undertaking their nuptials and frequently fed to chickens and homing pigeons to ensure their return to the roost.

Aside from imparting a warm, earthy flavor, chemical compounds in cumin seeds are carminative. The seeds may be chewed whole, or steeped into a tea. As a culinary flavoring, the seeds may be added to soups, stews and other foods whole or as a ground powder.