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The health benefits of cumin

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Nicola Shubrook discovers what makes this aromatic spice so good for you, including the ways it can help improve digestion, immunity and circulation.

What is cumin?

Cumin (Cuminum cyminum) is a spice that comes from a small herbaceous plant, belonging to the same family as parsley and fennel. The aromatic seeds are what we commonly recognise as cumin and is a staple ingredient in Mexican, Indian and North African cooking.

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Although, the cumin most of us have in our kitchen cupboards is brown, black cumin seeds (Nigella sativa), from an unrelated plant, boast a higher concentration of active oils.

Discover our full range of health benefit guides and check out some of our delicious cumin recipes, from cumin-scented chicken curry to chole with cumin rice & raita.

Chole with cumin rice & raita

Nutritional benefits of cumin

One teaspoon (3g) of cumin seeds provides:

  • 14Kcal / 57KJ
  • 0.6g Protein
  • 0.8g Fat
  • 1.0g Carbohydrate
  • 0.3g Fibre

Top 5 health benefits

1. Rich in antioxidants

Cumin seeds contain natural compounds called flavonoids, including apigenin and luteolin, which have protective antioxidant properties. These antioxidants help reduce the risk of chronic disease by minimising the damage done by molecules called free radicals.

2. May be cancer protective

Animal studies suggest the spice may have an anti-cancer effect in both the stomach and cervix. The active constituents appear to work by stopping the cancer cells from multiplying and cumin seems to be one of the most effective of the culinary spices.

3. May aid digestion

Black cumin seeds contain a number of active compounds including one called thymoquinone that stimulates our salivary glands, enzymes and bile, all of which are involved in the breakdown of our food.

Black cumin, thanks to its thymoquinone content has gastro-protective properties and is a carminative, which means it may help to relieve gas in the stomach and intestines, and be effective in the alleviation of irritable bowel symptoms.

4. Does cumin affect diabetes?

There have been a number of studies evaluating the effect of cumin on blood sugar management, although with some variation in results. Certainly black cumin may help reduce fasting blood sugar in people with diabetes and similar benefits have been seen with the cumin spice when used in animal studies.

5. Has anti-microbial properties

As well as adding flavour to food, the spice cumin acts as a food preservative having antimicrobial properties. It has been found to inhibit bacterial growth, including that of Staphyloccus aureus.

Red lentil & squash dhal

Is cumin safe for everyone?

As a culinary spice, cumin is considered safe for most people although in some rare circumstances, allergy may occur. Those with a cumin allergy may experience a cross-reactivity to related plants such as coriander and dill.

Speak to your GP or healthcare provider if you’re concerned about allergies.

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

Now read...

The health benefits of cinnamon
The health benefits of turmeric
The health benefits of ginger
More health benefits guides


This article was last reviewed on 6 October 2021 by Kerry Torrens.

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.

Kerry Torrens is a qualified nutritionist (MBANT) with a postgraduate 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 past 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.

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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 health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

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