Ancient Wisdom Part 20: Weight loss to cholesterol control; amazing benefits of cumin seeds
Cumin seeds have been used in traditional medicine and culinary practices for centuries due to their powerful flavour and impressive health benefits.
Note to readers: Ancient Wisdom is a series of guides that shines a light on age-old wisdom that has helped people for generations with time-honoured wellness solutions to everyday fitness problems, persistent health issues and stress management, among others. Through this series, we try to provide contemporary solutions to your health worries with traditional insights.
Spices and herbs can transform even the blandest of dishes bringing flavour and taste to the food and making it more palatable. One such spices that is often referred to as the king of condiments is cumin, an aromatic and wonderful addition to your snacks, curries, salads, raitas, and chutneys. Cumin or Cuminum cyminum L. is an annual, herbaceous, spice glycophyte that can be used as a flavouring as well as therapeutic agent. Cumin has bioactive constituents such as terpenes, phenols, and flavonoids and is used in various ethnic cuisines globally.
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Cumin has been a valuable spice since time immemorial and finds mention in ancient text like Charak Samhita and Bible. In Charak Samhita, cumin has been described as 'shoola prashamana maha kashaya' or the spice that can help in pain relief. In Egypt, cumin was used for mummification. In ancient Greece, cumin was quite popular and kept at dining table like pepper and salt in today's times. In middle ages, it was believed that keeping cumin could keep chickens and lovers from wandering. Apart from this cumin was also used for treating indigestion and preserving food due to its antimicrobial properties.
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Myths and legends apart, cumin seeds still remain relevant in modern times with its culinary and medicinal uses. Roasted cumin seeds are popularly used as seasoning to salads, raitas, smoothies and other snacks. Apart from the powerful flavour and aroma that cumin seeds bring to a delicacy, they also have multiple wellness and health benefits.
Health benefits of cumin seeds
Cumin seeds can stimulate production of digestive enzymes which could help in tackling bloating, acidity and other gut health issues. A study on obese and overweight women found that consuming 3 g of cumin powder per day can work wonders for lowering total cholesterol and LDL (low-density lipoprotein) or bad, cholesterol, and triglycerides. Studies also confirm that cumin seeds can help reduce blood glucose, insulin, and haemoglobin A1c levels apart from improving signs of insulin resistance and inflammation.
Cumin seeds have been used in traditional medicine and culinary practices for centuries due to their numerous health benefits. Nutritionist Sakshi Lalwani lists some of the benefits of cumin seeds.
1. Digestive aid: Cumin can help in the digestion process and relieve symptoms of indigestion, gas, and bloating.
2. Rich in iron: Cumin seeds are a good source of iron, which is vital for carrying oxygen in the blood and for energy production.
3. Anti-inflammatory properties: Compounds in cumin have been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects.
4. Antioxidant: Cumin contains antioxidants that can help combat damage from free radicals.
5. Blood sugar regulation: Some studies suggest that cumin may help regulate blood sugar levels.
6. Cholesterol reduction: Cumin may help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.
7. Promotes weight loss: Cumin can increase metabolic rate and may have a role in weight management.
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Payal Grover, Founder at Ashpveda shares more benefits of cumin seeds.
1. Powerful antioxidants
Cumin seeds are a rich source of antioxidants, which play a crucial role in fighting harmful free radicals within the body. These antioxidants help reduce the risk of chronic diseases by protecting cells from damage.
2. Essential iron content
Cumin seeds provide a significant amount of iron, a vital nutrient necessary for maintaining healthy blood cells and preventing iron deficiency anaemia.
3. Digestive aid
Cumin seeds stimulate the production of digestive enzymes, making them a valuable aid for digestion. They are known to ease discomfort associated with digestive issues like bloating and indigestion.
4. Metabolism boost and weight management
Research suggests that cumin seeds may enhance metabolic rates, potentially assisting with weight management. However, it's essential to note that cumin seeds are not a standalone solution for weight loss but can complement a balanced diet and active lifestyle.
5. Anti-inflammatory properties
Cumin seeds contain compounds with potential anti-inflammatory effects. These properties may help reduce inflammation associated with various chronic diseases, making them a valuable addition to an anti-inflammatory diet.
6. Respiratory health support
Cumin seeds are believed to support respiratory health through their antimicrobial properties. They can combat respiratory infections and assist in clearing mucus, providing relief for those with respiratory ailments.
How cumin seeds were consumed in ancient times
Payal Grover shares how cumin became a king of condiments in ancient times and how people in earlier times used it for culinary, medicinal and ritualistic purposes.
"Cumin seeds, renowned for their unique aroma and earthy flavour, have left an indelible mark on culinary traditions spanning centuries. In ancient times, they were celebrated not only for their culinary merits but also for their therapeutic potential. Among the first civilizations to appreciate cumin were Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the Indus Valley, where these seeds were cherished for their digestive properties. Cumin played a role in their cuisine, and the Egyptians even attributed magical qualities to these seeds, using them in rituals and ceremonies," says Grover.
In ancient times, cumin seeds were an integral part of people's diets and used in a variety of ways.
- Culinarily, cumin seeds were used extensively as spices and seasoning for meats, sauces, stews and baked goods to add flavour.
- Cumin seeds were also available on dining tables as a condiment and steeped in hot water to make cumin tea.
- Medically, cumin seeds were employed in traditional medicine systems for their digestive and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Cumin seeds were additionally used to preserve food through pickling and storage due to their antimicrobial properties.
- Culturally, cumin seeds held symbolic significance and were used in religious rituals in some ancient cultures.
- Ancient Greeks and Romans commonly used cumin as a seasoning alongside salt, regarding it as the 'king of condiments.’ Cumin seeds enhanced the flavour of ancient dishes while also potentially providing health benefits, making them a prized ingredient in many ancient cultures.
Ways to add cumin to the diet for health benefits
Nutritionist Sakshi Lalwani shares delicious ways to incorporate cumin seeds into the diet.
1. Spices in cooking: You can use ground cumin or cumin seeds as a spice in various dishes like curries, stews, and soups.
2. Cumin tea: Boil cumin seeds in water and then let it steep for a few minutes. Drinking this can be a good digestive aid.
3. Salad dressing: Add a pinch of ground cumin to your salad dressings for an added flavour kick.
4. Breads and rotis: You can knead cumin seeds into the dough when making bread or rotis.
5. Roasted snack: Roast cumin seeds with a little bit of ghee or oil and salt, and have them as a snack.
6. Yogurt mix: Stir some cumin powder into yogurt for a tasty side dish.
7. Marinades: Ground cumin can be added to marinades for meats or vegetables.
"Incorporating cumin seeds into your daily diet is a straightforward way to reap these health benefits. They can be used as a spice in a variety of cuisines or added to herbal teas for an extra health boost. However, it's advisable to consult with a healthcare professional before making significant dietary changes, especially if you have specific health concerns or conditions," says Grover.
1. Cumin-roasted vegetables
Toss a mix of your favourite vegetables (like carrots, cauliflower, and bell peppers) with olive oil, ground cumin, salt, and pepper. Roast in the oven until tender for a delicious and healthy side dish.
2. Cumin-spiced chickpea salad
Combine cooked chickpeas with diced tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, and fresh herbs. Drizzle with olive oil, lemon juice, and a generous pinch of ground cumin for a refreshing salad.
3. Cumin-spiced quinoa
Cook quinoa as directed and fluff with a fork. Season with ground cumin, coriander, and a dash of lemon juice for a flavourful and nutritious grain side dish.
4. Cumin-crusted salmon
Mix ground cumin with other spices like paprika, garlic powder, and a touch of salt. Rub this mixture onto salmon fillets and pan-sear or bake for a flavourful and heart-healthy main course.
5. Cumin-infused vinaigrette
Create a cumin-infused salad dressing by whisking olive oil, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, honey, and a pinch of ground cumin. Drizzle it over your favourite salads for an extra burst of flavour.
6. Cumin-spiced hummus
Add ground cumin, garlic, and a squeeze of lemon juice to your homemade hummus for a unique and delicious dip. Serve with pita bread or fresh vegetables.
7. Cumin-scented rice
While cooking rice, add cumin seeds to the pot for an aromatic twist. The seeds will infuse the rice with a delightful flavour and aroma.
8. Cumin-infused oil for grilling
Mix cumin seeds with olive oil and let it sit for a week to infuse the oil with cumin's flavour. Use this oil to brush on meats and vegetables before grilling for a tasty and aromatic barbecue.
9. Cumin smoothie
Blend banana, yogurt, milk, ground cumin, honey, and ice for a nutritious cumin smoothie. Sprinkle with cumin for added flavour.
10. Cumin bread dough
Create cumin-infused bread by mixing yeast, flour, cumin, and olive oil. Shape and bake into loaves, rolls, or flatbreads for a unique flavour. Enjoy homemade cumin-infused bread.
"Cumin is a versatile spice, and you can experiment with it in various dishes to suit your taste preferences. Whether you're cooking Indian, Middle Eastern, Mexican, or any other cuisine, cumin can be a delightful addition to your culinary creations, enhancing both flavour and potential health benefits," says Grover.
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Who shouldn't have cumin seeds?
It's important to note that while cumin seeds offer a range of health benefits, there are certain individuals who should avoid consuming them. If you fall into any of the following categories, it may be best to steer clear of cumin seeds in your diet, says Grover.
1. Allergy or sensitivity: If you have a known allergy or sensitivity to cumin seeds, it is crucial to avoid them entirely. Allergic reactions can vary from mild symptoms like itching or hives to more severe reactions such as difficulty breathing or anaphylaxis. It's always wise to consult with a healthcare professional if you suspect you might have an allergy or sensitivity to cumin seeds.
2. Gastrointestinal disorders: Individuals who have gastrointestinal disorders like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may find that cumin seeds exacerbate their symptoms. Cumin seeds can be quite potent and may trigger acid reflux or digestive discomfort in some cases. If you have these conditions, it's advisable to consult with a healthcare provider before incorporating cumin seeds into your diet.
3. Pregnancy and breastfeeding: While cumin seeds are generally safe for consumption, pregnant and breastfeeding women should exercise caution. It is recommended to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the appropriate amount of cumin seeds to consume during this period. Moderation is key to ensure the well-being of both the mother and the baby.
4. Bleeding disorders: Cumin seeds possess anticoagulant properties, which means they can potentially interfere with blood clotting. Individuals with bleeding disorders or those taking blood-thinning medications should be mindful of their cumin seed intake. It is always recommended to consult with a healthcare professional to assess the potential risks and benefits.
5. Children and infants: Cumin seeds should be introduced cautiously to infants and young children, as their digestive systems are still developing. In general, it's safer to use cumin in small quantities when preparing age-appropriate foods.
6. Underlying medical conditions: Individuals with specific medical conditions, such as liver disease, kidney disease, or gallbladder issues, should consult their healthcare providers before incorporating cumin seeds into their diet. Cumin may affect these conditions.
It's essential to note that the potential adverse effects of cumin are relatively rare, and many people can enjoy cumin seeds as part of a balanced diet without any issues. However, if you have concerns or underlying health conditions, it's wise to seek guidance from a healthcare provider or a registered dietitian before significantly altering your cumin consumption.
Interesting facts about cumin seeds
Here are some interesting facts about cumin seeds as listed by Grover:
1. Pyramid workers' currency: In ancient Egypt, cumin seeds were considered so valuable that they were used as a form of currency to pay workers, including those who constructed the famous pyramids.
2. Mentioned in the Bible: Cumin seeds are mentioned in the Bible, both in the Old and New Testaments, highlighting their historical significance.
3. Sibling of parsley: Cumin belongs to the same plant family (Apiaceae) as parsley, and its seeds have a unique, warm flavour compared to the herb.
4. Gourmet tradition: Cumin was referred to as the 'king of condiments' by the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder, showcasing its high culinary regard in ancient Rome.
5. Superstitions: In some cultures, cumin seeds were believed to possess protective qualities and were used in rituals or as talismans to ward off evil spirits.
Next in series
Hope you enjoyed reading Part 20 of our series on Ancient Wisdom. Part 21 which discusses benefits of cardamom will be out on October 27. Stay tuned.