Chris's Weblog – City Chickens

Herbs and Spices 3 – Cumin – Cuminum Cyminum

This morning the postman bought me a parcel of twelve packets of seeds, ordered from my favourite supplier of the moment, Seekay. Amongst them was a packet of Cumin seeds. Another new spice to me and one I intend to learn how to grow and cook with. This is number three of my posts about herbs and spices. I am sowing a few of these this month in moist compost and sealing in a polythene bag. Germination should take up to 14 days. These seeds went in on 24th February and today, 10th March, after 14 days, six very spindly seedling are through. I have moved them on to the window ledge but think they may need more light than nature is giving to us at the moment.

Sow the seeds in April – May where they are to flower or indoors from February. For Apr / May sowings sow the seed where they are to flower 10 mm deep. Keep the soil moist but not waterlogged. Germination should occur within 10 -14 days. Thin out once the plants are large enough to handle. Harvest the seeds after flowering. Seekay

Number 3 – Cumin

Cumin is an aromatic spice native to eastern Mediteranean countries and Upper Egypt. This warm, flavoursome and slightly bitter spice derives from the seed of the Cumin plant and is traditionally added to curries, Mexican dishes and Moroccan lamb dishes. White cumin seeds are the most commonly available variety whilst black cumin seeds are slightly smaller and sweeter in flavour. The aromatic seeds are the part of the plant that is utilised. Cumin seeds are brown, oblong-shaped and are ground to make cumin powder. Seeds may be used both whole and ground. 

Every time spices are added to a dish they boost nutritional content without adding calories. Cumin is appreciated not only for its versatility but also because of its many health benefits. Thought to be the second most popular spice next to black pepper, cumin is harvested from an herbaceous member of the Apiaceae or Umbelliferae family, which includes parsley and fennel.

Cumin is highly valued in different cuisines. Mexicans, Indians and North Africans love using it to add color and flavor to their dishes. Cumin is also a primary component of curry powder. Cumin adds a nutty and peppery flavor. Cumin seeds strong flavor adds a warm perception on your taste buds, mainly due to the essential oils they contain. Dry frying cumin before grinding it brings out its flavour and softens its very spicy punch. Heat a frying pan, do not add oil, and add cumin seeds and toss until they expel a warm, rich aroma. Leave seeds to cool slightly, then grind and add to curry mixtures, soups and stews.

Cumin’s uses as a culinary spice have been well known ever since the ancient times but there are other uses for it too. Ancient Egyptians used cumin to mummify pharaohs, while in the Bible, it was mentioned that the spice was given to priests as tithes. Cumin even became a symbol of love and fidelity. Guests attending a wedding carried cumin in their pockets while wives sent their soldier husbands off to war with cumin bread.

The most popular use for cumin is as a seasoning or condiment adding a deep flavor to various recipes. This spice is a mainstay in curries and rice dishes. Cumin powder can be used in sauces and soups, rubbed on meats prior to grilling or roasting or for pickling. Cumin seeds are best gently toasted or roasted before adding to dishes. Grind the seeds when you’re ready to use them to keep its fragrance and flavor intact. Remember that ground cumin is spicy and peppery so don’t use excessively. If you have the seeds on hand make your own cumin powder by grinding them with a mortar and pestle.

Sowing the Seeds

Cumin doesn’t transplant well so start the seeds in 7″ deep pots. Using seed compost sow three seeds about 1/4″ deep in each pot. Place each container in a plastic bag to preserve moisture. Cumin seeds need heat to germinate. Check pots daily to aerate them and check soil moisture. Cumin can take 7-14 days to germinate.

After Germination 

The moment the seeds sprout they need light. Without enough light the seedlings can become leggy. After removing the pots from the plastic bags place them on a sunny window ledge and rotate them periodically so the seedlings grow upright and don’t have to reach for light. Alternatively suspend a daylight 40 watt bulb about 6″ above the pots. Keep the lamps on for 16 hours a day and move them up as the seedlings grow so they’re always 6 inches above the pots. Thin the seedlings to one strong seedling in each pot and continue growing the plants indoors. If you want to transplant them outside wait until after the frost when the plants are about 2″ tall and the temperature is at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Plant 1′ apart in a sunny area of the garden with well-drained, fertile soil. Although cumin is tolerant to drought it benefits from moderate water during dry, hot spells.