The complexity of the flavor of cumin seeds makes it a popular ingredient of several dishes in Indian, Mexican and Middle East cuisines. However, cumin health benefits are so significant that it is much more than a mere flavoring agent. The biological source of cumin is the seed obtained from the Cuminum cyminum plant belonging to the family Apiaceae, also known as Umbelliferae. This plant thrives in hot weather and therefore, is widely cultivated in India, China, Egypt, North Africa and Mexico.
Cumin is similar in appearance to several other seeds such as caraway, dill and parsley which also belong to the same family and is not to be confused with black cumin, Nigella sativa, also known as Kalijeera. In India, it is commonly known as jeera, ajaaji or jarana, which refer to its digestive properties as specified in Ayurveda.
Ayurveda on Cumin
According to the Ayurvedic system of treatment, cumin health benefits centre on its value in the digestion of food and to reduce the flatulence that arises from a heavy meal or indigestion. Besides, it is also said to have appetite-stimulating properties. Ayurveda recommends cumin to those seeking relief from pain and inflammation, including the condition of uterine inflammation in women. Lactating mothers are given cumin to increase their production of breast milk. Cumin is also helpful as a blood purifier and aphrodisiac to increase sexual desire.
Why Cumin is Beneficial?
Most of the cumin health benefits arise from the volatile oil component, which contains the chemical called cuminaldehyde. In addition to the oil, cumin contains carbohydrate, protein, vitamins and minerals, and is considered a rich source of magnesium, manganese, iron and calcium.
Cumin Health Benefits
The widespread use of cumin in cooking is an indication of its effectiveness in relieving digestive problems such as indigestion, gas and a lack of appetite. Scientific investigations now reveal many significant cumin health benefits.
Digestive Benefits : Cumin has strong digestive properties and helps relieve indigestion and fullness of the stomach. Studies have attributed this action to cumin’s ability to increase the activity of enzymes such as amylase, lipase, protease and phytase which are actively involved in the process of digesting food. Cumin is part of home remedies for gastric troubles and stomach aches, as it is Carminative. Another benefit related to digestive properties is relief in constipation related diseases such as piles, fistula and fissures. Cumin improved digestion which helps in recovering from these problems.
Benefits against Cancer : Studies have compared cumin with commonly used synthetic antioxidants that are added to processed foods. The results show that antioxidant action is one of the most significant of cumin health benefits. This antioxidant action implies that cumin has a protective role in preventing the damage that free radicals can cause to cellular structures. These findings indicate that cumin may have a role to play in preventing cancer. Some studies have also highlighted the cumin health benefits against tumors of the liver and stomach in laboratory animals.
Immune System Benefits : The high concentration of iron it contains is responsible for certain cumin health benefits such as an improved immunity. Iron is present in hemoglobin, the respiratory pigment, and plays an important role in the transportation of oxygen to the body tissues and cells. Besides, it is an important constituent of enzyme complexes in the body which catalyze important biochemical reactions within the body systems. Cumin also proves to be valuable for menstruating women because it helps replenish the iron they lose every month. Pregnant women and lactating mothers benefit from consuming cumin because it helps meet their higher requirement for iron.
Benefits against Inflammation : The traditional cumin health benefits in pain and inflammation are partially corroborated by research findings. In laboratory studies on platelets from human blood, cumin extracts showed an ability to reduce the clumping of platelets as well as to reduce the biosynthesis of compounds called eicosanoids. Both platelets and eicosanoids are important mediators that determine the magnitude of the body’s inflammatory response. Therefore, cumin’s ability to keep these inflammatory mediators under control is possibly responsible for its anti-inflammatory actions.
Benefits in Diabetes and Hyperlipidemia : Animal studies indicate that cumin health benefits exist even in areas such as diabetes. Extracts obtained from cumin seeds have shown an ability to reduce blood glucose and increase the levels of the glucose-metabolizing hormones insulin and glycogen in both the skeletal muscle as well as the liver. Such studies also show that when cumin is administered orally to diabetic rats, there is a significant reduction in the animals’ body weights. Similarly, concentrations of phospholipids, cholesterol, triglycerides and free fatty acids both in the tissues as well as plasma tend to drop as a result of cumin administration. Considering that high lipid level or hyperlipidemia is a common complication observed in diabetic patients, this finding holds a lot of promise for further exploration of the efficacy of cumin against diabetes and hyperlipidemia.
Stress-buster : When scientists induced memory loss in animals and then studied the effect of cumin extract on them, they found that cumin helps to reverse the memory loss. Similarly, they also found that urinary changes that are induced by stress are overcome by administration of a cumin extract. These results point to the probable stress relieving activity of cumin.
Miscellaneous Cumin Health Benefits
Researchers have found that oil from cumin seeds and an alcoholic extract from cumin inhibit the growth of several microorganisms such as Streptococcus pyogenes, Klebsiella pneumonia, yeasts, mycotoxin and dermatophytes. This anti-microbial property is due to cuminaldehyde.
Studies on male albino rats have shown that treatment with cumin inhibits the process of spermatogenesis, thereby exerting a contraceptive action, but without any noticeable toxicity.
How to Select and Store Cumin
Cumin health benefits are due to the presence of cuminaldehyde in the volatile oil. This oil tends to volatilize faster from cumin powder than the entire seeds of cumin and therefore, the seeds are more effective. Rather than using the cumin powder purchased at the store, it is preferable to powder the seeds just before adding them into the food being cooked. When the recipe calls for roasting the cumin seeds, it is important to avoid heating it too much to prevent the loss of the volatile oils. An effective way of doing this is to roast cumin seeds using low heat until it is just warm to touch. Always store the cumin in a tightly closed container made of glass in a place that is dry, dark and cool and you can easily store it for at least a year.
Cumin is one of the few spices for which there are no reports of allergies or reactions and it is generally considered safe for use by all individuals. This, along with the significant cumin health benefits coming to light through recent scientific research only adds to the popularity of this spice.