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Black cumin


Botanical name: Nigella sativa



The term 'black cumin' refers to several spice plants of the genus Nigella. Among these are Damascene black cumin, field or wild black cumin, zira and true black cumin. We are dealing here primarily with true black cumin, Nigella sativa. It belongs to the wild-growing plants that are meanwhile common to southern and central Europe, the Middle East and North Africa and are also now cultivated. Black cumin originated in the Middle East and North Africa and arrived in our regions during the Middle Ages.


Black cumin must have been of some importance for human beings very early on, as it has been found as a burial object in tombs of the pharaohs.



It is the seeds of black cumin that are used. They are sold whole or ground. They can be found in well-assorted supermarkets, but with certainty at booths selling herbs and spices at weekly markets. Black cumin oil is also sold.


Appearance, taste, characteristics

The plants that produce the true black cumin seeds belong to the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae) and grow to a height of about 50 cm. The white blossoms develop pseudocarps in which the irregularly shaped seeds form. These are 3-4 mm long and brown-black to black with a matte surface. Their scent is like caraway and their flavour resembles that of pepper and caraway, being spicy-sharp.



The pepper- and caraway-like aroma is owed to the composition of essential oils; among others thymoquinone, p-cymene and citronellyl acetate are found. The main component of the bitter substances is nigelline.


The 30-35% fatty oil in the seed is composed up to 50% of linoleic acid, phytosterols and gamma linolenic acid. It also contains tannins and saponines.


Quality criteria, optimal storage conditions

It is preferable to store the seeds whole and then to crush the desired amount fresh in a mortar; in this way the aromatic substances remain longer and the black cumin does not lose its strength.


Presumed effect on health

In the areas where it is grown black cumin has been used for centuries as a spice and as a remedy. It stimulates the gastric juices, and it is supposed to be a remedy for flatulence and to strengthen the immune system. In North Africa the oil is used for heart and lung conditions.


The positive effect of black cumin on the skin in neurodermatitis is attributed to the α-linolenic acid. The omega-6 fatty acids are supposed to be helpful in alleviating allergies and for asthmatic patients.


Owing to its presumed effects, black cumin is meanwhile of interest to the pharmaceutical industry, which is conducting detailed investigations.


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

We are familiar with black cumin seeds as a seasoning on pita bread. It is also suitable for flavouring other types of bread, for oriental-type salads and dressings and it goes extraordinarily well with cheese dishes. Soups, sauces and hearty curd cheese recipes can be enhanced with black cumin.






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