Rich in iron, potassium and zinc, cumin is often considered to have health boosting properties. Discover what makes this aromatic spice so good for you.
What is cumin?
Cumin is a spice that comes from a small herbaceous plant that belongs to the same family as parsley and fennel. The aromatic seeds of this plant are what most of us recognise as cumin, either as whole seeds or ground, and it's a staple ingredient in Mexican, Indian and North African cooking.
The more well-known cumin seeds are brown, however, you can also buy black cumin seeds boasting a much higher concentration of oil – and it's this oil which contains the beneficial chemical compounds.
Nutritional benefits of cumin
Cumin contains key nutrients such as iron and copper, which are needed for healthy red blood cells. Just one teaspoon of cumin seeds contains around 2mg of your daily iron intake (that's 14% of daily iron intake for women and 23% for men). Animal studies suggest that consuming cumin seeds may be a useful means of improving serum iron levels.
Potassium, needed for controlling blood pressure and heart rate, can also be found in cumin along with zinc, which plays an important role in immune function.
Cumin also contains calcium, important for helping to build strong bones and teeth and regulating muscle contractions, as well as magnesium which aids the process of turning food into energy and is a natural relaxant.
What about other health claims surrounding cumin?
As well as adding flavour to food, cumin is associated with many health benefits including antimicrobial, antibacterial and antioxidant properties. It has been found to inhibit bacterial growth through its powerful antimicrobial effects, as well as having an anti-inflammatory effect on the body.
Can cumin improve digestion?
Cumin seeds contain a number of active compounds including one called thymol that is known to stimulate our salivary glands, enzymes and bile, all of which are involved in the digestion of food. Cumin also has a carminative effect, which means that they help to relieve gas in the stomach and intestines and therefore could be of benefit to our digestive system as part of a healthy diet.
Can cumin help reduce stress and improve memory?
There has also been some early research that shows cumin may counteract stress and improve memory, but you would need to eat a lot of it in order to get these benefits – around 100-300mg per kg of your body weight a day, so at least 50 teaspoons. More research is needed at this stage, but there may be a future role for cumin supplementation.
Does cumin affect diabetes?
There have been some studies into the impact of cumin on diabetes with mixed results. However, cumin may help reduce fasting blood sugar and improve immunity in those with diabetes. However, more research needs to be done in this area and any cumin supplementation must be done under the supervision of a GP or doctor, although using cumin in food should be safe for those with diabetes.
How to store and cook with cumin
Both cumin seeds and cumin powder should be kept in a tightly sealed jar or glass container and stored in a cool, dry and dark place to ensure they keep their flavour. Ground cumin will keep for around six months while the seeds can last for about a year. Spices don’t tend to go off but they do lose their strength over time.
When cooking, cumin seeds are best toasted in a dry frying pan, first to release their flavour, then they can be used whole or ground, once cooled, if you need a powder for your recipe. Alternatively, you can just add cumin powder straight to a dish for flavour.
Healthy cumin recipes
Carrot & cumin salad
Cumin roast peppers & tomatoes
Cumin chicken & avocado salad
Honey-roasted swede with chilli & cumin
Spiced carrot & lentil soup
Squash, chicken & couscous one-pot
Red lentil & squash dhal
This article was published on 8 August 2018 by Kerry Torrens.
Kerry Torrens is a qualified Nutritionist (MBANT) with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.
Nicola Shubrook is a nutritional therapist and works with both private clients and the corporate sector. She is an accredited member of the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT) and the Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). Find out more at urbanwellness.co.uk.
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