Black cumin, which is also known as nigella sativa, is a flowering plant indigenous to southern Europe and Asia. It may also be called: Black seed, black caraway, Roman coriander, Kalonji or fennel flower.
The plant is primarily found in dry and arid regions with warm summers and mild winters.
The plant thrives in both wet and dry climates as long as there is ample sunlight.
Black cumin is used as a herbal remedy for a variety of ailments and is widely used in the cuisines where it predominantly grows.
The plant is known for its antimicrobial, antispasmodic, hypotensive, sedative, anxiolytic, diuretic, laxative, and expectorant properties. However, the medicinal use of black cumin is still shrouded in mystery.
In cuisine, you will find the black cumin seeds used in abundance in Indian dishes as a garnish as well as an additional pungent flavour.
What Does Black Cumin Taste Like?
Black cumin seeds have a strong flavour with onion, oregano, and black pepper undertones.
A person’s perception of these flavours can differ significantly depending on their taste buds and individual taste preferences. Still, most people will say they also experience a hint of nuttiness with black cumin, especially if the seeds are toasted.
The best pairings for black cumin dishes are inherently savoury dishes. They bring out the natural flavours found in this spice and complement it well!
How to Use Black Cumin
In addition to it being a potent antioxidant, black cumin is delicious and can add some extra flavour. Black cumin seeds are most commonly used in Indian cuisine.
Still, they have the potential for use in many other dishes too!
Salads and Sandwiches
It can be ground into powder or left whole to add additional flavour when preparing salads and sandwiches for an extra layer of flavour.
Casseroles and Stews
Add black cumin to your favourite casserole or stew for a unique flavour.
Black cumin adds more depth and lends an earthy taste, unlike any other spice you have tried before, and works well in dishes with root vegetables, such as a casserole or stew.
Indian and Middle Eastern Dishes
Black cumin is a plentiful spice that has been considered an essential ingredient in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine. It’s often found on the table as a condiment for chaat, dahls, and curries, among other dishes.
When used whole, black cumin releases a warm and spicy fragrance that is reminiscent of cumin. This spice can be added whole to any baked bread, such as naan bread to bread roll topping, for an additional depth of flavour.
Black cumin works well when combined with other spices such as garam masala, cloves, black pepper, ginger, and garlic.
A homemade meat spice rub would welcome the addition of black cumin.
How to Store Black Cumin
Black cumin seeds are very flavourful and can lose up to 50% of their flavour within just a few months when stored improperly.
To prevent this, simply follow these steps:
- Keep your black cumin in a sealed container or zip-lock bag to protect it from light and moisture.
- Store your black cumin in a cool, dark place.
- Don’t store your black cumin in the refrigerator because extremely cold temperatures will kill the flavour.
- Make sure to store your black cumin seeds in a cool, dry place because excessive heat will cause the black cumin seeds to lose their flavour much quicker.
Black cumin can also be:
- Ground to powder and kept dry for use
- Infused into oil to preserve and flavour the oil
Black cumin, like most spices, will not expire for years. It will be fine to use as long as it is kept in airtight jars away from sunlight. You may find that the flavour degrades with time, however.
Substitutes for Black Cumin
Black cumin is not that easy to find, so when you are trying to find substitutes for it, you will inevitably run into some trouble.
That’s where we come in. We’ll help you get your hands on alternatives that are just as effective as the real deal. Give these a try:
- Black Sesame Seeds – Black sesame seeds are the best possible alternative to black cumin seeds. They can be used primarily in Middle Eastern cuisine, and you’ll barely notice any difference when using them as a replacement.
- Celery Seeds – Celery seed is a spice made from the seeds of wild celery. If your recipe calls for black cumin, you can use celery seed instead in many cases. However, the taste of the celery seeds can be a little more bitter than black cumin itself.
- Coriander Seeds – This parsley family member is native to parts of Europe and Asia. Coriander seeds are best known for their ability to add a robust and distinct flavour to many dishes, which is why it is frequently used in Indian and Mexican cuisine, making them an excellent substitute for black cumin.
- Caraway Seeds – Also known as carvi, caraway is a Mediterranean plant closely related to fennel and anise. It can have a similar effect in dishes to black cumin. It is used to flavour rye bread and is also known to treat digestive issues, flatulence, and colic. Caraway is easy to grow, and you can purchase seeds or plant them in your garden.
- Cloves – Also known as long cassia, this is a flowering plant native to Indonesia and the Philippines and is an excellent substitute for black cumin. It is used in many cuisines as a flavour and medicine. However, it is best known for its ability to treat digestive issues, including stomach ulcers and diarrhoea.
Where to Buy Black Cumin
Unlike normal cumin, black cumin can be a lot more challenging to find. So try these options:
- Online Retailers – Buying spices online is a good idea since finding them in mainstream stores can be challenging. You’ll have the opportunity to choose from many different merchants selling black cumin at specialty shops!
- Spice Markets and Spice Shops – Black cumin may be available at specialty markets and spice shops, where you would find lots of loose spices and herbs to buy in a specialist capacity. Though this is a rare spice in some parts of the world, it can be challenging to find places it is not widespread or commonplace.
- Health Food Stores – You may find black cumin in a health or specialty aisle of the supermarket. Still, it may also be found at your local health food store, given its remarkable health properties.
Black Cumin FAQs
If you’ve got other specific questions about black cumin and how to use them, then these might help:
Yes, black seed is another name for black cumin and these two ingredients are the exact same thing.
Black cumin is actually found across the world including in southwestern Asia and parts of the Mediterranean and Africa.
Got more questions about black cumin? Then ask away in the comments section at the bottom of this page and we’ll help out as much as possible!
Stacy is a UK Based lifestyle writer who writes in the food and nutrition niches, as well as within the health and wellness sectors. She is a mum of 4 and married to a musician, so sustainability and a pinch of humour are absolutely essential to get over every one of life’s obstacles!