Spice Note: Cumin & Black Cumin or Shaha Jeera

Cumin is a very common spice used in Indian cooking and is related to carrots, fennel and caraway seeds. It is woody in flavor, with a lemony aroma and is plump in appearance. Fresh cumin has a slightly bitter taste. This bitterness reduces significantly when cumin is dry roasted.

Black cumin is common in many regional cuisines of India. Although it looks like caraway, it is smaller than caraway seeds and has a markedly sharper, more intense flavor. It has a sickle shaped appearance, unlike the cumin seeds which are oblong. Do not confuse it with nigella seeds or caraway seeds.


Whole cumin seeds are best purchased in bulk, because they can last a long while. If purchasing pre-packaged seeds, choose clear packaging. Because of its natural shape and color, packages may appear to have some loose dust, this is normal.

Whole black cumin seeds are available in smaller packages as well, although it is harder to differentiate seed dust from the whole seed in these packages.

Unless you have a definite use for a large quantity of powdered cumin, make your own in small batches. Because it is such a dry seed, the volatile oils are lost faster when the powdered form is stored for long, or stored improperly.

How and when to use cumin in cooking:

Cumin is used in powdered form, roasted and powdered form, and as part of spice blends. Whole cumin seeds is used as a basic spice, and is often seen as part of either the beginning or the end of a dish as a garnish. Powdered cumin is often added into the dish as part of the preparation.

Black cumin is often paired with other whole spices. Black cumin is a special spice, and frequently added as part of a dish that includes garam masala.

Cumin in Ayurveda:

Cumin has long been used as a digestive aid in Ayurveda. When consumed as is, it helps the body cool down. Because of its cooling properties it is included in many summer drinks like Jal Jeera. It helps with digestive concerns, is believed to help the ones immunity, regulating the metabolism of sugar and is filled with many nutrients.


Many dishes use Cumin to initiate the seasoning or tempering process. Varan is one such dish.


Nandita Godbole

Once a botanist & landscape architect.

Now a personal chef & author, an artist, graphic designer, blogger & poet. 


Loves freshly brewed chai, the crisp salty ocean breeze, watching monsoon rains & walking barefoot through cold mountain streams. 


Believes in the strength, positivity of the human spirit. Is spiritual but not a fanatic. 


Mom of one. Two, if she counts her husband.

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