The first thing I think of when I hear the word “cumin” (jeera) is: Seeds or powder? Growing up, we used both forms, and when my mom said “jeera”, my first question for the longest time was “Seed or powder?” Eventually I caught onto the fact that the answer always depended on what step of the recipe we were discussing. Now when I think of cumin, I think of a cooling, carminative spice that kindles the digestive fire.
Like cinnamon and black pepper, cumin is an aromatic spice that is pungent in taste. However, unlike cinnamon or black pepper, cumin is also slightly bitter and cooling. Although it’s cooling, cumin still kindles the digestive fire (agni), in turn preventing the build up of toxins (ama) and helping us to better absorb the nutrients from our food.
Cumin’s cooling energy (along with coriander and fennel) makes it great for Pitta-dominant constitutions, Pitta imbalances, and counterbalancing heating, spicy, and acidic foods. This energy also makes it a great addition for balancing a pantry filled with heating spices like garlic, oregano, basil, and ginger.
As far as flavor goes, cumin makes a great partner. Its earthy flavor blends well with an array of spices from oregano to saffron. Often found in spices mixes from Morocco, Latin America, and Thailand, cumin (seeds and powder) is a pantry staple. It complements a wide variety of veggies to meats. Most importantly, it’s delicious. No wonder we see it in recipes spanning from the northern to the southern hemispheres.
Well, tell me, tell me—what are the benefits of cumin?
- Improves digestion
- Removes toxins
- Helps absorb nutrients
- Prevents bloating, gas, belching, acidity (Pitta imbalances)
- Helps with nausea
- Mild abdomen pain reliever for cramps
- Helps restores tissues
- It’s cooling, thus it pacifies Pitta
- It’s tri-doshic—great for all: vata, pitta, and kapha
How do I incorporate cumin into my next meal?
- Next time you saute some onion and garlic, add 1 tsp of cumin seeds (about 20 seconds before you add in the main ingredient so it toasts up but does not burn)
- Infuse it in hot oil and drizzle over your favorite steamed veggie
- Toast 2 tsps and mix with a cup of yogurt, salt, and cucumber
- Blend it with some oregano and salt to make a rub for chicken or meats
- Add a heaping teaspoon or two to your favorite soup or stew and let simmer for at least 20 minutes
- Mix with some oil and lemon and toss over your favorite salad
Taste/Energy/Post-Digestive Effect: Pungent.Bitter/Cooling/Pungent
Frawley, Dr. David and Lad, Dr. Vasant. The Yoga of Herbs. Twin Lakes, Wisconsin; Lotus Press, 2001
Kerala Ayurveda Academy. Lessons 101-109. Foster City, CA, 2009
Kshirsagar, Dr. Manisha and Magno, Ana Cristina R. Ayurveda: A Quick Reference Handbook. Twin Lakes, Wisconsin; Lotus Press, 2011