Spices 101: What is Cumin?

Cumin is an awesome spice. Cumin is by far my favorite spice. The best way I can describe it, is that it smells like an armpit and makes everything taste like a taco.

I know that sounds kinda weird but trust me, cumin is really useful. It complements other flavors really well in spice blends and despite its funky smell, it’s never overbearing when you use it in cooking. I love throwing it into everything from curries to dry rubs to breading. It’s exotic enough to be interesting, but not something you have to pay top-dollar for.



Origin: Mediterranean / India
Appearance: Greyish-tan powder OR long, tan seeds with lines
Scent: B.O., Peppery
Taste: Warm, earthy
Indian cuisine, Latino cuisine
Rareness: Average




The most common form of cumin you’ll find is in its powdered form, which is a ground down version of the dried seeds. You can also buy it as whole seeds which feature a stronger smell and slightly spicier taste. If you’re wondering where to buy cumin, the powder itself is pretty easy to find in any grocery store, however the seeds may be a bit trickier to find. If you would like some, you can find them in many ethnic grocers, or even upscale/natural food markets with loose spice sections. The whole seeds aren’t really as vital or commonplace, but they are nice to have for certain dishes which require you to make a spice paste, or even as a garnish. The plant itself is reminiscent of parsley.



Don’t worry, the seeds aren’t furry IRL.


Some of you might be turned off by the fact I said cumin basically smells like body odor. Yeah it’s kinda weird when you think about it, but if you’re a wuss you’ll just have to get past that. Cumin is delicious and has a flavor reminiscent of many Tex-Mex foods, contrary to what it smells like. Besides, everybody knows armpits taste like onions, not tacos. It’s really useful for being that ‘secret ingredient’ in many a dish. In my experience everyone and their mom tends to consider cinnamon as the end-all be-all ‘secret ingredient’ but to be frank, cinnamon kind of sucks and is easily distinguishable since it doesn’t really blend well with other flavors. If you’re one of those people, I suggest incorporating cumin into your recipes. Like I said, I love using it in dry-rubs for chicken, especially on the grill.

As a spice, cumin is incredibly heavily involved in Indian cuisine. It’s one of the official unofficial curry spices and as such goes into lots of dishes like chicken tikka and chicken jalfrezi . The beautiful thing about it is like I said, it blends with other tastes really well. So you can use just a little to give your meal a zing, or you can dump half of a container in it to something and it’ll taste super cumin-y, but without being overly intense or pungent.

Interestingly enough, cumin has medicinal uses too. The Indian word for it ‘jira’ loosely translates to ‘that which helps digestion’, and well, yeah it helps with digestion. You can eat the seeds or brew cumin tea and it helps for gastrointestinal distresses like indigestion, bloating, gas pressure, and cramps. So not only is it delicious, but it’s good for you too! Be sure to pick up a sachet of it sometime and see why we love it so much. Just make sure to wear extra deodorant or eat it with a partner since sweating out a B.O.-scented spice will basically result in meta-B.O. which while delicious for you, may not be the greatest for people around you.


Posted on May 29, 2014, in Food 101 and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.


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