An initiative of :

Wageningen University

Sitekeuring.NET Award> Food Products > Spices

Cumin (Cuminum cyminum L.)

Plant family

Apiaceae (parsley family)

Botanical synonyms

Cuminum odorum Salisb


Western Asi, where it is cultivated since Biblical times. Main production countries today are India, Iran, Indonesia, China and the South Mediterranean.

Used plant part

Fruits (frequently called “seeds”).

Sensoric quality

Strongly aromatic.

It has earthy, pungent, aromatic, penetrating and peppery flavour with slight citrus overtones, which is slightly bitter. The aroma is characteristic and is modified by frying or dry roasting.

Main constituents

Cumin fruits have a distinct bitter flavour and strong, warm aroma due to the essential oil content. The odour and flavour of cumin is derived largely from the essential oil (2.5-4% on dry basis), which contains cumin aldehyde (p-isopropyl-benzaldehyde, 25 to 35 %) as the main constituent, furthermore perilla aldehyde, cumin alcohol, a- and ß-pinene (21%), dipentene, p-cymene and ß-phellandrene were found.

In roasted cumin fruits, a large number of pyrazines has been identified as flavour compounds. Besides pyrazine and various alkyl derivatives (particularly, 2,5- and 2,6-dimethyl pyrazine), 2-alkoxy-3-alkylpyrazines seem to be the key compounds (2-ethoxy-3-isopropyl pyrazine, 2-methoxy-3-sec-butyl pyrazine, 2-methoxy-3-methyl pyrazine). Also a sulfur compound, 2-methylthio-3-isopropyl pyrazine, was found. All these Maillard-products are also formed when fenugreek or coriander are roasted.

The tissue of the fruits contains a fatty oil with resin, mucilage and gum, malates and albuminous matter, and in the outer seed coat there is much tannin. The yield of ash is about 8 % .

Cumin fruits


Cumin fruits are used as a spice for their distinctive bitter flavour, and strong and warm aroma due to their essential oil content. It is used as an ingredient of curry powder. It is also a critical ingredient of chili powder, and is found in achiote blends, adobos, garam masala and baharat.

Cumin was also popular as an efficient digestive food flavour for ceremonial feasting. In ancient India it is mentioned as s ugandhan “well-smelling”. It is a very popular spice in Western to Central Asia (Near and Middle East), Burma, India and Indonesia ; as well as in Central and South America.

Indian cumin finds worldwide use in foods, beverages, liquors, medicines, perfumery and toiletries. It grows abundantly in the mild, equable climate of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh in India . Rich, well-drained, sandy, loamy soil and the sun are the basic requirements for perfect and ample growth. Indian Cumin is exported in its natural as well as powdered form. The essential oil is exported to USA, Singapore, Japan, UK and North Africa.

In India vegetarian and non-vegetarian food preparations are mixed with cumin seeds either whole or as powder. The flavour of cumin plays a major role in Mexican comino, Vietnamese and Indian cuisines as well as in Thai and Malaysian cooking.

It is best lightly roasted and then ground in a mortar and pestle. Lightly dry roasting the seeds before use enhances their unique flavour and aroma. Legumes, especially lentils are normally flavoured by cumin fried in butterfat. It also forms an essential part of the Bengali spice mixture, panch phoron, besides being used in Northern Indian tandoori dishes.

In imperial North Indian cuisine (Mughal or Mughlai) the mixture of cumin is prepared to relish sweet and aromatic flavour. This spice mixture is sometimes used for cooking, but more frequently sprinkled over the dishes before serving. It is used in conjunction with coriander seeds.

It is used to season many dishes, as it draws out their natural sweetness. It is traditionally added to falafel (Middle East), gado gado (Indonesia), chili con came (Texas and Northern Mexico), enchiladas, tacos, nachos, couscous and salsa to give it extra flavour. This spice helps give any dish a tex-mex taste.

It can also be used to make an infusion (tea) by simply pouring hot water over the seeds and letting the brew steep for 10 minutes. It is also, sometimes, extracted with wine or vinegar. It makes a nice addition to salad dressings and even stir fry dishes, when combined with lemon.

Cumin can also be found in some Dutch cheeses and in some traditional bread from France. In herbal medicines, cumin is classified as a stimulant, carminative and antimicrobial agent.

Source :

European Masters Degree in Food Studies - an Educational Journey

Master in Food Safety Law is an initiative of Wageningen University, The Netherlands