You’ve probably seen cumin listed before in recipes for various curries and hummus dips, maybe you even keep it stocked in powder form in your pantry. But did you know that along with adding an incredible and unique flavor to your food, cumin has been used for its medicinal benefits for thousands of years? Turns out, cumin seeds have been used for their health benefits since the days of the Ancient Egyptians, and with good reason.
What are Cumin Seeds and Where Do They Come From?
Cumin seeds are actually the tiny dried fruits from a small, flowering plant native to the Middle East and now grown in several countries all over the world. Truly an ancient spice, cumin was used to mummify Pharohs in Ancient Egypt, given as tithes to priests in biblical times, and the ancient Arabs combined it with honey and pepper to be used as an aphrodisiac.(1, 2, 8)
There are two varieties of cumin seeds: white and black. Both impart flavor and health benefits, but the black cumin seeds are spicier and have more of a peppery flavor, and those characteristic make it the more potent and powerful of the two. Most often you will see cumin finely ground in powdered form, however when purchasing it this way buying quality is highly important. Some brands will blend them with lesser spices to decrease cost, so be sure you aren’t basing your purchase solely on price. (1, 2, 7)
Nutritional Qualities of Cumin Seeds
Cumin seeds have nutritional qualities that rival those of dark leafy greens and other “superfood” fruits and veggies. Add them into your cooking along with those inflammation-fighting foods? Nutrition gold! Here’s what every single cumin seed has to offer for your health:(1, 2, 4)
Fiber: for the health and function of your intestines, colon, and bowels.
Iron and copper: essential minerals for oxygen transport and fighting fatigue.
Zinc: crucial for immune health
Potassium: an important electrolyte for the nervous system
The best part about the nutrient value of spices like cumin is how highly concentrated they are. For example, one tablespoon of cumin contains 22 percent of your daily intake of iron.(4) Compare that to cooked Swiss chard, which has the same percentage but in half a cup.(5)
Cumin Benefits for Your Health
Thanks to their potent nutrient status, there are several cumin benefits for fighting disease and improving your health.
1. Respiratory Disorders
Cumin seeds are a natural expectorant that loosens mucus and phlegm in the throat and chest, having an anti-congestive effect. Coupled with its disinfectant properties, cumin has the ability to help heal the airways from what was causing the infection in the first place, once all of the mucus is gone. Cumin seeds, especially when brewed into a tea, can be hugely beneficial for those suffering from chronic bronchitis and asthma. (1, 2, 3, 7)
2. Digestive Aid
Cumin has been found to be beneficial for those suffering from diarrhea and dyspepsia, and has been used in India for hundreds of years to treat indigestion. Much of this is related to its anti-gas effects, but a study done in rats also shows cumin seeds stimulate the liver to secrete more bile, aiding in the breakdown of fats and enhancing nutrient absorption. (1, 2, 3, 7)
3. Sleep Aid
Insomnia is often caused by stress, anxiety, indigestion, and the inability to relax and go to sleep. Cumin helps in all of these areas, as already mentioned, making it much easier for you to fall asleep and have better sleep quality each night. (1, 2, 3, 7)
In animal studies, cumin has shown to help prevent hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) in people with diabetes. More studies need to be done to determine if it has the same effect in humans. (1, 2, 3, 7, 8)
5. Weight Loss
A study done on 78 overweight men and women aged 18 to 60 years found the active components of cumin had the same benefits for insulin, metabolism, and weight loss as the popular weight loss drug orlistat120. (1, 2, 3, 6, 7)
With all of the nutrition and health benefits of cumin, there’s no reason you can’t start cooking with it right away! Check out these simple, tasty recipes with cumin: