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Caraway seeds

 

Synonyms: meridian fennel, Persian cumin

botanical name: Carum carvi


Kümmel

 

The home of the caraway plant is probably the temperate zone of Asia. Today it is widespread and found almost everywhere in the world. Caraway is one of the oldest spices known to man and was used as early as in the New Stone Age. Its use in Central Europe has been proven back to the early Middle Ages.

 

Important areas of cultivation today are in Egypt, Morocco, the USA and Europe, here especially in Hungary, Turkey, the Netherlands, Poland, Denmark and Spain. India and parts of Central Asia are also among the main producers of caraway seeds.

 

Availability

The fresh leaves and roots of the caraway plant are only rarely used for seasoning and normally not offered for sale. The seeds are harvested in July with combines. They are dried and sold all year round.

 

Appearance, taste, characteristics

Like dill, fennel and anise, caraway belongs to the family of umbellifers. The biennial to perennial plant grows to 0.3-1 m. Only a leaf rosette develops in the first year, with leaves that are uniformly pinnate. The flowers and seeds do not form until the second year.

 

The inflorescence of caraway is from May to July. Each plant has one to three pedicels, on which there are numerous umbelliferous white to light-pink flowers.

 

From the flowers, 3- to 7-mm-long, grey-brown fruits develop that separate into two thin schizocarps. The schizocarps are slightly crescent-shaped, each with five yellowish ribs that stand out.

 

Caraway is aromatic, smells pleasantly sweet, and has an earthy-spicy, slightly bitter, sharp taste. Some people claim that it reminds them of dried orange peel with a distinct note of anise. The young leaves of the plant resemble dill in taste and appearance.

 

Ingredients

The most effective ingredient of caraway is the essential oil, which constitutes 3-8% of the seeds. The principal constituents of this oil are carvone and limonene, whereby carvone greatly influences the smell of caraway. The chief components of Egyptian seeds are carvone and cymene.

 

In addition, caraway contains flavonoids and various acids, e.g. caffeic acid.

 

Harmful substances

The consumption of large amounts of caraway extract or of the essential oil, for example with caraway liqueur, can lead to irritation of the kidneys. In contrast, the use of caraway as a spice entails no such danger.

 

Quality criteria, optimal storage conditions

The darker the seed, the lesser its quality. Caraway from the Netherlands, termed "Amsterdam quality", is generally considered to be of especially high quality.

 

The whole dried seeds should be protected from air, light and heat. Caraway can be stored for several years in well-closed containers. Ground seeds quickly lose their aroma; thus, like most spices, they are best crushed or ground just prior to use.

 

Fresh roots and leaves can be kept in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for several days.

 

Presumed effect on health

Caraway develops a digestive effect in the body. It stimulates the production of digestive juices, i.e. of saliva, gastric juices and bile, and increases bowel function. In addition, due to its antispasmodic property, it is recommended for digestive problems in the stomach and intestines, for the feeling of fullness and for flatulence. Normally for this purpose, seeds are crushed and infused with hot water.

Caraway is frequently added prophylactically to certain dishes such as cabbage or legumes / pulses because it makes heavy and flatulent foods more digestible.

 

Caraway tea is also used in folk medicine as a remedy to promote the production of breast milk and help with menstruation.

 

Form of consumption, use, processing, practical tips for preparation

Normally, dried caraway seeds are sold, either whole, broken or ground.

 

Caraway is most popular in Germany and Austria, where is it used especially to season soups and stews and potato and cabbage dishes. It lends a particular aroma to many specialty breads, such as farmers' bread, pumpernickel and caraway bread.

 

However, caraway is also used as a seasoning in Russian cuisine, in Egypt, in Scandinavia and by the Arabs.

 

It tastes good in many types of sausage and meat dishes, particularly with pork, but also with lamb, veal, goose and duck, and it is contained in many mixed spices. It is often used to season curd cheese and other cheeses, fish sauces, dips and vegetables such as carrots, celeriac, beetroot and onions.

 

Many people like a pinch of caraway to round off the flavour of rhubarb jam, compote, apple pie and baked apples.

 

More rarely, the fresh leaves and roots of the plant are used, the leaves similar to fresh parsley, while the roots are eaten in Russian cuisine as an addition to soups or marinated and cooked with sugar and honey.

 

Essential caraway oil is used to make many liqueurs and spirits, such as Bommerlunder, Goldwasser and Maltese-cross aquavit.

 

Seasoning tip

Caraway should be added to foods about 10 minutes prior to the end of cooking. It is used chiefly as a spice by itself, but it harmonizes with coriander, cloves, juniper berries, bay leaves or pepper. It also goes well with chives, parsley, thyme and garlic.

 

Miscellaneous

If you don't like to bite on whole caraway seeds when you eat, you can add them for cooking in an egg-shaped herbal infuser or herb pouch.

 

 

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