The health benefits of cumin

Find out the health benefits of cumin, its key nutritional elements such as iron and copper and how this can affect your diet and overall health

Ground cumin and cumin seeds

What is cumin?

Cumin is a spice that comes from a small herbaceous plant, which also belongs to the same family as parsley and fennel. It is the aromatic seeds of this plant that most of us recognise as cumin, either as whole seeds or ground, and it is a regular staple within Mexican, Indian and North African cuisine.

The more well-known cumin seeds are brown but you can also buy black cumin seeds which have a much higher concentration of oil, for it is the oil within the seeds that carry the medicinal chemical compounds and benefits. Cumin is reported to be the second most popular spice in the world after black pepper.

Nutritional benefits of cumin

Squash, chicken & couscous one-pot
Cumin contains some key nutrients such as iron and copper, which are needed for healthy red blood cells. Just one teaspoon of cumin seeds contains around 3mg of your daily iron intake, which is about 20% of daily iron intake for women and 34% for men.

Potassium, which is 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 contain calcium which is important for helping build strong bones and teeth and regulating muscle contractions, as well as magnesium which is the body’s natural relaxer and helps turn the food we eat into energy.

What about some of the health claims for cumin?

Red lentil & squash dhal
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 against some drug-resistant diseases, through its powerful antimicrobial effects, as well as having an anti-inflammatory effect on the body which can promote good health.

Can cumin be good for digestion?

Cumin seeds contain a number of active ingredients including one called thymol which is known to stimulate our salivary glands, enzymes and bile, all of which are involved in the digestion of food. They also have a carminative effect which means that they help to relieve gas in the stomach and intestines and therefore can 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 that cumin may help support our bodies during times of stress and improve memory, but this would require a significant amount of the spice in order to get these benefits, around 100-300mg per kg of body weight a day which would equate to at least 50 teaspoons a day! More research is needed at this stage but there may be a future role for cumin supplementation.

Can cumin help prevent cancer and heart disease?

Some research has shown that cumin, as a nutraceutical food supplement, can play a significant role in the prevention and management of degenerative diseases such as colon cancer and breast cancer. A food supplement would be required to achieve these anticancer benefits as again the volume of cumin required would be vast in the diet and is unrealistic, and this should always be done under medical supervision.

Can cumin be good for diabetes?

There is increasing evidence that cumin may be beneficial to those with diabetes as it helps to regulate blood sugar levels or insulin sensitivity, and may help improve immunity. 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. Adding cumin to food is completely safe for diabetics though.

Does it matter how you store or cook cumin to get the nutritional benefits?

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 doesn’t tend to go off but they do lose their strength over time.

As for cooking, cumin seeds are best toasted in a dry frying pan first to release their flavour and then they can always be ground, once cooled, if you need a powder for your recipe or used straight in your recipe. Alternatively, you can just add cumin powder straight to a dish for flavour.

Discover more ingredient focused guides in our ingredient hub.

Cumin recipes: 

Cumin scented chicken curry
Toasted cumin flatbreads
Cumin-spiced roasted carrots
Cumin & onion marinated beef
Beets & carrots with cumin & haydari
Smoked haddock and cumin chowder

More healthy guides...

The health benefits of coconut milk
The health benefits of lemon water
The health benefits of ginger
The health benefits of garlic
The health benefits of soya


This article was published on 15 May 2017.

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.

All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

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