Cumin — health benefits and cooking tips

Cumin is Cuminum cyminum, a spice that I associate with shawarma, that Middle Eastern dish that hit the Philippines as a fad streetfood back when I was in medical school. I remember not taking to cumin and shawarma at first, as one of my classmates grossly described the aroma as funky and somewhat like BO. However, when I did take a bite of shawarma, the funky smell of cumin assailed my senses, wrapped around my nasal passages and then, began to beguile me in no time. I remember the many times a hefty, 25-peso serving of shawarma served as my ready-to-eat meal during those times.

Today, cumin is a mainstay in my spice rack, ready for times when I’m hit with the craving for something Tex-Mex. A teaspoon of cumin in some sauteed ground meat and beans does the trick.

Cumin is a seed that belongs in the same family as caraway, dill and parsley. It is a distinctive spice that figures more prominently in Mexican, Middle Eastern and Indian cuisines — think Nachos and tortilla-based dishes.

Health Benefits:
Excellent source of iron
Just 2 teaspoons of cumin provides 17% of your daily need for iron which is important for blood formation, oxygen transport to cells, energy production and metabolism. Iron is especially important for the actively growing phases of childhood and adolescence as well as during pregnancy and lactation.

Rich source of other minerals
Cumin is classified as a very good source of manganese and a good source of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and Vitamin B1.

Enhances digestion
Cumin has been found to stimulate the production of pancreatic enzymes which facilitate the digestion and breakdown of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Well-digested food means greater assimilation of nutrients into the cells.

May lower blood sugar levels
A 1998 study published in Nutriion Research showed that diabetes-induced rats fed for 8 weeks a diet containing 1.25% cumin demonstrated hypoglycemia (reduction of blood sugar levels) and glucosuria (elimination of sugar through the urine). This result was supported by a 2005 study published in the International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition which shows cumin, just like turmeric, demonstrates sugar-reducing powers.

Cumin has demonstrated anti-carcinogenic properties in a study. It is theorized that the cancer-fighting power of cumin is due to its free radical-scavenging property as well as its ability to boost the detoxification enzymes of the liver.


  • Buy whole cumin seeds rather than ground cumin as the seed holds the flavor longer.
  • Ground cumin keeps for about 6 months while whole cumin seeds keep for up to a year.
  • Whole cumin seeds can be easily ground with the use of a mortar and pestle.
  • Sprinkling a little cumin in a vegetable dish will instantly give it an exotic North African flavor.
  • Adding in cumin in sauteed beans and legumes makes for a perfect Tex-Mex side dish or dip.

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