In Ancient Egypt, a bottle of black cumin oil accompanied King Tutankhamen into his tomb for use in the afterlife. Black cumin may not get quite that much respect today, but it is still an important ingredient in many Indian and Middle Eastern dishes. It is also a confusing ingredient, as several different spices are referred to as black cumin. Probably the most common is nigella from the nigella sativa plant. Crescent-shaped kala jeera, a spice made from the bunium persicum plant, is sometimes also called black cumin.
Nigella sativa seeds are nutty and bitter if eaten on their own. Usually they are used in conjunction with other spices and ingredients to bring out their best taste. Nigella sativa is one of the few members of the buttercup family used in cooking. The small seed contains both flavor and nutrients, including B vitamins, calcium, protein, folic acid, copper, iron, phosphorous and zinc.
Breads and Treats
In Yemen and other Middle Eastern countries, bakers sprinkle whole nigella sativa seeds over breads. However, ground black cumin seeds also find their way into baked goods. In Palestine, cooks grind the seed into a bitter paste called qizha. This black cumin paste is similar to tahini, which is made from sesame seeds. By adding oil, sugar and roasted flour to the qizha paste, Palestinian cooks make a dessert called black cumin pie.
Indian cooks find many uses for nigella. Fried in clarified butter or roasted dry, nigella adds spice to vegetable dishes. In Bengal, cooks commonly add nigella to eggplant, dal and pumpkin dishes. Nigella is also used as one of the five spices in the Bengali panch-puran spice blend. You can incorporate ground black cumin seed into a sour tamarind chutney or other relishes.
Healers have long embraced black cumin seed. The tenth century Arabic physician Avicenna recommended black cumin to stimulate energy and overcome fatigue. Similarly, Indian Ayurvedic healers claim black cumin builds Agni, or internal fire. The spice is also used to treat digestive ailments, skin problems, parasites and respiratory problems, according to Natural News.