Cumin is an integral part of the Indian, Mexican, and North African cuisine. It is known for its unique taste and flavor, and people have used it since ancient times. This earthy spice is also famous for its medicinal properties as it can improve digestion, boost immunity, and also help treat diabetes and high cholesterol.
What is cumin?
Cumin comes from Cuminum cyminum plant, which belongs to the same family as parsley and fennel. The aromatic seeds of this small herbaceous plant are used both ground and whole in various dishes.
The word ‘cumin’ comes from the Latin’ Cuminum,’ which was derived from the Greek ‘kyminon.’ The cumin plant is indigenous to Turkistan or northern Egypt but is today widely cultivated. The primary producers of cumin include India, Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq, Morocco, Turkey, Syria, Sicily, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Malta, Sudan, Cyprus, Czechoslovakia, China, and Indonesia.
These yellow-brown seeds have a flat and rectangular shape. Cumin seeds have a warm, earthy flavor.
Cumin seeds are rich in vitamins and minerals such as iron, potassium, vitamin C, B12, B6, and folates. Cuminaldehyde, cymene, and terpenoids are some of the major components of cumin seeds.
History of cumin
Cumin has been used for food and medicinal purposes for over 5000 years. The ancient Egyptians used cumin in foods and during the mummification process. The Greeks and Romans also used this beneficial spice for medicinal purposes. The Ancient Greek and Egyptian physicians document the health benefits of cumin.
There is even a reference to cumin in the Bible. According to the Bible, cumin had such powerful medicinal value that it could be used as money. Cumin was a common plant seen growing in the medieval monasteries.
Cumin was amongst the most common spices during the Middle Ages. People believed that it promoted love and fidelity. People carried cumin seeds to weddings and walked around with cumin in their pockets. Married soldiers were sent off to the battle with a freshly baked loaf of cumin bread.
Nutritional value of cumin
One tablespoon of whole cumin seeds contains (1) –
- Calories: 23
- Fat: 1 gram
- Carbohydrate: 10 mg
- Dietary fiber: 1 gram
- Protein: 1 gram
- Sodium: 10 mg
- Iron: 4 mg (22% DV)
- Manganese: .2 mg (10% DV)
- Calcium: 56 mg (6% DV)
- Magnesium: 22mg (5% DV)
- Phosphorus: 30 mg (3%DV)
- Potassium: 107 mg (3% DV)
- Copper: .1 mg (3% DV)
- Zinc: .3 mg (2% DV)
- Vitamin A: 76 IUs (2% DV)
Health benefits of cumin
1. Aids digestion
Cumin has been traditionally used for thousands of years for indigestion. Cumin contains thymol which stimulates the glands that secrete acids, bile, and enzymes.
Studies have shown that cumin stimulates the activities of pancreatic lipase, proteases, and amylase. These enzymes help in the digestion of food in the stomach and intestines (2). Cumin is also rich in dietary fiber, which helps prevent constipation.
According to a study from Iran, cumin can also help improve the symptoms of inflammatory bowel syndrome. During this study, 57 patients with IBS consumed 20 drops per day of cumin essential oil for four weeks. The results showed that the symptoms of IBS like abdominal pain, bloating, incomplete defecation, fecal urgency, and the presence of mucus discharge in stool were significantly decreased (3).
2. Boosts immunity
Cumin seeds have powerful antiseptic and antimicrobial properties, which is the reason why people use cumin in food preservation (4).
Studies show that when animals with compromised immunity consumed cumin, it helped boost their immune function by increasing the weight of the thymus and spleen.
Cumin is also a rich source of vitamin C, which helps to improve the immune system. Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that is known to stimulate the function and activity of white blood cells.
3. Prevents diabetes
Cumin seeds can also help to prevent and treat diabetes. A 2015 study from Iran showed that when overweight subjects took cumin supplements for eight weeks, it had beneficial effects on insulin metabolism, and it helped to decrease weight and BMI (5).
Cumin also helps to deal with the long term effects of diabetes. Long-standing hyperglycaemic state in diabetes can lead to the formation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs). These can lead to diabetic complications like retinopathy, nephropathy, neuropathy, cardiomyopathy, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, and aging (6).
Studies show that cumin contains antiglycative compounds that help reduce AGEs (7).
4. Has antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties
Cumin has strong antibacterial and antiviral properties, which help to fight infections and illnesses like flu and the common cold. It has the ability to drug-resistant bacterial colonies called biofilms, and it demonstrates antifungal activity against animal and human fungal pathogens.
Studies have also shown that cumin has a considerable inhibitory effect against food-borne bacteria like Escherichia coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Staphylococcus aureus (8).
According to a 2015 study cumin oil inhibits the growth of S. Typhimurium and S. aureus bacteria so that we can use it as a substitute for chemical food preservatives (9).
5. Helps treat respiratory diseases
If you have a cough with phlegm or asthma, cumin seeds can help. Studies have shown that they have potent expectorant and their antitussive properties (10).
Cumin seeds act as an expectorant as they help to clear the mucus from the airways, lungs, bronchi, and trachea. Cumin also helps in reducing the inflammation and alleviates the condition that caused congestion in the first place (11).
6. Relieves insomnia
Cumin is used in traditional ayurvedic medicine to induce sleep. The oil extracted from cumin seeds has a soothing and tranquilizing effect on the body. Consuming cumin tea can also help in treating tiredness and fatigue related to lack of sleep.
Often indigestion and pain can lead to insomnia. Cumin improves digestion, relieves bloating, and discomfort, which helps you to sleep better. Cumin also helps to manage cognitive disorders.
7. Improves cholesterol
Cumin is also helpful in lowering blood cholesterol levels. According to a study published in the International Journal of Health Sciences, when patients took three to five drops of cumin extract three times a day, their LDL levels decreased significantly (12).
Another study showed that when overweight volunteers took 75 mg of cumin for eight weeks, their triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol levels came down (13).
During a 2014 study from Iran, 88 obese women took eight three grams of cumin powder with yogurt or plain yogurt (without cumin) for three months. The results showed that cumin powder reduced serum levels of fasting cholesterol, triglyceride, and LDL cholesterol and increased HDL cholesterol (14).
8. Aids weight loss
Cumin supplements also help in weight loss. During one study, 72 overweight volunteers received high doses of cumin and lime capsules for eight weeks. The results showed a decrease in weight, BMI, triglycerides, and cholesterol levels in these volunteers (15).
During another study, 78 overweight males took cumin capsules for eight weeks. The results showed that the volunteers that consumed the capsules lost 2.2 pounds more than those who did not receive the capsules (16).
9. Improves skin health
Cumin contains detoxifying agents like cuminaldehyde, thymol, phosphorus. They remove toxins from the body and keep the skin free from boils and pimples. Cumin also contains vitamin E, which helps to keep the skin healthy and glowing.
Cumin oil helps to speed up cell regeneration and reduce the appearance of wrinkles and scars.
10. Rich in iron
Without iron, our brain will not receive oxygen, and this can lead to poor memory, decreased productivity, and apathy. Food rich in iron helps to reduce the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Iron-rich cumin also helps to improve anemia symptoms like fatigue, anxiety, cognitive malfunction, and digestive issues. Children need iron to support their growth, and women need iron to replace blood loss during menstruation.
11. Contains beneficial compounds
Cumin contains beneficial compounds like terpenes, phenols, flavonoids, and alkaloids. They work as antioxidants and help reduce damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals can cause inflammation, which may lead to diseases like diabetes and cancer. Consuming cumin provides protective health effects (18).
12. Improves bone health
Cumin is a good source of calcium, iron, and manganese, all of which are essential for bone health. Calcium helps to build bones and keep them healthy throughout our lifetime. Iron prevents bone reabsorption and lowers the risk of osteoporosis. Manganese helps to form the enzymes that are involved in bone metabolism.
Having nutrition-rich cumin seeds help prevent bone loss and improves bone health.
13. Reduces drug dependence
Drug abuse is a huge problem worldwide. Narcotics create an addiction that leads to continued and increased use. According to a study from Neuroscience Research Centre, Shahid Beheshti University, Iran, specific components of Cumin Essential Oil can reduce addictive behavior and withdrawal symptoms in mice (19). Further research is needed to see if cumin can have the same effect on humans.
Side effects and precautions
Cumin is safe to use in food and medicinal amounts. However, you must contact your health care professional if you want to use it as a supplement or extract.
Cumin can lower blood sugar levels. So, watch out for signs of low blood sugar and monitor your blood sugar levels. If you are already taking medication to lower your blood sugar levels, check with your doctor before taking cumin supplements.
Cumin can also slow down blood clotting, so people with bleeding disorders should not use cumin extracts. If you are scheduled for a surgery, you must not take cumin at least two weeks before the date of surgery.
Cumin comes from Cuminum cyminum plant, which belongs to the same family as parsley and fennel. Cumin has been used for food and medicinal purposes for over 5000 years. It is rich in iron, calcium, and beneficial compounds which provide it antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties.
Cumin helps to aid digestion, boost immunity, prevent diabetes, lower cholesterol, treat respiratory diseases, relieve insomnia, improve skin health, and reduce drug dependence. Avoid cumin supplements if you are taking medication for lowering blood sugar or have a bleeding disorder.