Cumin is the dried seed of the herb Cuminum cyminum, which is a member of the parsley family. The flowering plant belongs to the family Apiaceae, and it’s native from the east Mediterranean to India. Both whole and ground cumin seeds, which are found within the dried fruit of the plant, are used for cooking in several cultures. It also has many uses as a traditional medicinal plant — particularly because of its ability to cure infections and aid the digestive system.
Cumin seeds are yellow-brown in color, with a flat and rectangular shape. The seeds are used for spice because of their distinctive flavor and aroma. When cumin is added to food, it creates a warm and earthy flavor — making it a staple in certain meat dishes, gravies, stews, soups and chili dishes.
Not only are cumin seeds used for their distinct and spicy flavor, they are also used for medicinal purposes. In Sanskrit, cumin is known as Jira, meaning “that which helps digestion,” and it is one of the most mentioned herbs in the Bible. For good reason, as it’s also believed that cumin is beneficial for heart disease, hemorrhoids, inflammation, insomnia, vomiting, weakened immune system and viral infections.
Cumin Seed Nutrition Facts
Cuminaldehyde, cymene and terpenoids are the major volatile components of cumin seeds. The seeds are an excellent source of dietary fiber, essential minerals such as iron and calcium, B-complex vitamins and antioxidant vitamins.
One tablespoon of whole cumin seed has about:
- 22 calories
- 1 gram fat
- zero grams cholesterol
- 10 milligrams sodium
- 3 grams carbohydrate
- 1 gram dietary fiber
- zero grams sugar
- 1 gram protein
- 76 international units vitamin A (2 percent DV)
- 0.5 milligrams vitamin C (1 percent DV)
- 0.2 milligrams vitamin E (1 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligrams thiamin (1 percent DV)
- 0.3 milligrams niacin (1 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligrams riboflavin (1 percent DV)
- 4 milligrams iron (22 percent DV)
- 0.2 milligrams manganese (10 percent DV)
- 56 milligrams calcium (6 percent DV)
- 22 milligrams magnesium (5 percent DV)
- 30 milligrams phosphorus (3 percent DV)
- 107 milligrams potassium (3 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligrams copper (3 percent DV)
- 0.3 milligrams zinc (2 percent DV)
11 Cumin Seed Benefits
1. Aids Digestion
Thymol, a compound in cumin, is known to stimulate the glands that secrete acids, bile and enzymes. This stimulation is responsible for the digestion of food in the stomach and intestines.
Hemorrhoids are caused by an increase in pressure on the veins of the anus and rectum, and up to 75 percent of people will experience hemorrhoids at some point in their lives. The pressure on the veins causes swelling, pain and bleeding. One major cause of hemorrhoids is constipation; because cumin seeds are a high-fiber food, they help to naturally treat hemorrhoids by stimulating the digestive system. Cumin seeds also have antifungal and antimicrobial properties, so if there is an infection in the anus, which is a symptom of hemorrhoids, the cumin will help to treat that issue as well.
Cumin helps with digestion by preventing the formation of gas in the gastrointestinal tract. Its carminative properties combat flatulence, which can lead to stomach aches and abdominal pain or pressure.
2. Boosts Immune System
The presence of vitamin C in cumin seeds allows the spice to serve as an immune system booster. Vitamin C is beneficial to individuals whose immune system has been weakened due to stress. Considering that stress has become a common condition in our society, a sufficient intake of vitamin C can serve as an ideal tool for one’s overall health.
By consuming vitamin C foods, you are fighting inflammation, lowering blood pressure, reducing the risk of stroke and heart attack, fighting oxidative stress that leads to cancer, and promoting healthy skin.
3. Treats Respiratory Disorders
Cumin seeds act as an expectorant and anticongestive agent; it aids in the clearance of mucus from the airways, lungs, bronchi and trachea. It also works as a stimulant and disinfectant, so once the mucus is cleared from the airways, cumin seeds can help to heal the initial condition that caused congestion.
Asthma, for example, is a respiratory illness that causes bronchial muscle spasms, swelling of lung lining and increased mucus production — leading to the inability to breathe. It’s generally caused by pollution, obesity, infections, allergies, exercise, stress or hormonal imbalances. By improving bronchial restriction, cumin seeds serve as a natural remedy for asthma.
4. Promotes Skin Health
The presence of vitamin E in cumin seeds acts as an antioxidant. Vitamin E helps to strengthen the capillary walls in the skin. It improves moisture and elasticity, acting as a natural anti-aging nutrient. Studies have shown that vitamin E helps to reduce inflammation both within your body and on the skin, helping to maintain healthy, youthful skin.
These antioxidant properties are also helpful when you are exposed to cigarette smoke or ultraviolet rays from sunlight, protecting against skin cancer. Taking vitamin E with vitamin C fights skin inflammation after exposure to UV radiation and can also be useful in naturally treating signs of eczema and acne. Another vitamin E benefit is that it stimulates the healing process in the skin. Because it speeds up cell regeneration, it can be used to treat scars, acne and wrinkles; this makes your skin look healthier and younger.
Cumin’s antifungal and antibacterial properties can also prevent and treat skin infections.
5. Treats Insomnia
Many adults experience insomnia at some point, but some people have long-term (chronic) insomnia. Some primary causes of insomnia include stress, indigestion, pain and medical conditions.
Fortunately, proper intake of vitamins, particularly B-complex vitamins, and maintaining good digestion are ways to treat insomnia without drugs. Cumin aids digestion, relieving bloating and discomfort, which can make you restless and unable to sleep. Additionally, cumin seeds are known to ease the mind and treat cognitive disorders.
6. Prevents Diabetes
Cumin seeds are able to help prevent diabetes by reducing the chances of hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. Hypoglycemia may result in a number of symptoms including sweating, shakiness, weakness, clumsiness, trouble talking, confusion, loss of consciousness and seizures. The risk of experiencing hypoglycemia is greater in diabetics who have eaten less than usual, exercised more than usual or consumed alcohol.
A 2005 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry suggests that cuminaldehyde, a component of cumin seeds, may be useful as a lead compound and a new agent for antidiabetic therapeutics because it helps improve glucose tolerance.
7. Has Antiviral and Antibacterial Properties
Cumin seeds help to fight viral infections and illnesses, such as helping to prevent the common cold or flu, by acting as a disinfectant and antiviral agent. Cumin seeds have even been tested against E. coli, which is bacteria that normally lives in the intestines of healthy people and animals. Most varieties of E. coli are harmless or cause relatively brief diarrhea. But a few particularly nasty strains can cause severe abdominal cramps, bloody diarrhea and vomiting.
A 2008 study investigated the antibacterial mechanism of carvacrol and thymol, two components in cumin seeds, against E. coli. The study included a 200 milligram treatment that proved carvacrol and thymol had the desired antimicrobial effect on E. coli.
8. High Source of Iron
Iron plays a critical role in the body, and the liver and bone marrow are able to store iron in case it’s needed. Without iron, the primary cells in the muscles, called myoglobin, cannot hold oxygen. Without oxygen, these cells will not be able to function properly, resulting in muscle weakness. The brain is also dependent on oxygen for proper function; if iron is not present, the brain will not receive the oxygen it needs — resulting in poor memory, decreased productivity and apathy. For this reason, iron-rich foods like cumin seeds are able to decrease the risk of cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Cumin seeds are a nutritious additive for people with anemia. Anemia is related to a problem with the hemoglobin cell that carries oxygen throughout the body. When the body is unable to get enough oxygen to the cells and tissues, it feels weak and fatigued. Because of the presence of iron in cumin seeds, it serves as a natural cure for anemia and combats symptoms such as fatigue, anxiety, cognitive malfunction and digestive issues.
9. High Source of Bone-Strengthening Calcium
Calcium is used for nerve transmission, blood clotting, hormone secretion, muscle contraction and reducing blood pressure. Calcium-rich foods, like cumin seeds, help to relax sore muscles; in fact, getting enough calcium is critical for teens and people in their early 20s because that is when bones are solidifying and the body is achieving its peak bone mass. The greater the peak bone mass, the longer one can delay osteoporosis or loss of bone mass at a later age.
Osteoporosis is when small holes or weakened areas are formed in the bone that can lead to fractures, pain and a Dowager’s hump. One major cause of osteoporosis is a nutritional deficiency, so consuming nutrient-rich cumin seeds in an osteoporosis-friendly diet will increase bone mass and reduce your chances of getting this painful disease.
10. Promotes Detoxification
Cumin seed components such as cuminaldehyde, thymol and phosphorus are good detoxifying agents. Phosphorus helps your body detox through urination and excretion. It’s important for kidney function, and the kidneys serve several essential regulatory roles. In addition to removing toxins through urine, they remove excess organic molecules from the blood. In order to balance levels of uric acid, sodium, water and fat within the body, the kidneys and other digestive organs rely on electrolytes like phosphorus, potassium and magnesium.
11. Prevents Cancer
Because of the presence of vitamins C and A, cumin seeds have anticarcinogenic properties. Vitamin A, for example, is known to help boost the immune system and prevent oxidative stress. According to a study conducted at the University of York, vitamin A intake could help treat several forms of cancer thanks to the vitamin’s ability to control malignant cells in the body. Another 2007 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that high intakes of vitamin A and retinol may reduce the risk of gastric cancer.
How to Use Cumin Seeds
You can buy cumin seeds from any health food store or online. Go for the organic and reputable companies when making your purchase. It’s also easy to find ground cumin seeds in the spice department, but experiment with toasted or infused cumin seeds first, because you will notice a difference. Whole cumin seeds are completely edible and safe to eat. When storing cumin seeds or ground cumin, keep it in a tightly sealed glass container. Just like the rest of your spices, it should be kept in a cool, dark place.
To toast whole cumin seeds, place them in a dry skillet for five minutes. You want to toast the seeds until they become fragrant, then remove them from heat so they don’t overcook. You can also infuse cumin seeds in hot oil. Let them sit in the oil until you hear cracking sounds. This will leave the oil with a earthy flavor.
You will notice that the flavor of toasted cumin seeds is more distinct and complex than ground cumin. Plus, they add a crunchy texture that works perfectly for hearty recipes. You can add cumin seeds to pretty much any meal. Try throwing them into potatoes and onions, hearty soups, salsas, grilled chicken dishes, hummus, stews and fish dishes. The taste isn’t overpowering, and it adds a feeling of warmth and depth to foods.
Cumin Seed Recipes
When adding cumin to a dish, you can use ground cumin seeds or toasted cumin seeds. It works either way, so give them both a try and see what you like best.
An easy way to get cumin into a meal is by adding the spice to hummus. Hummus is a versatile dip that can be added to grilled chicken, fish, wraps and vegetables. Explore my 29 Healthy Hummus Recipes. Some of the recipes already call for cumin, but even if they don’t, you can add a teaspoon to create a more earthy taste.
I mentioned how cumin is a great addition to soup, and here is a perfect example. My Black Bean Soup Recipe is loaded with fiber and flavor. Add as much cumin as you want — it will only enhance the flavor. You can also try my delicious Chilled Avocado and Zucchini Soup Recipe. It has anti-inflammatory properties and is high in potassium, magnesium and fiber.
Cumin is also a popular addition to chili recipes and stews. It creates the perfect warming and grounding flavor — great for a chili night or a Crockpot meal. Try my Buffalo Chili Recipe — it calls for a bunch of flavorful and aromatic spices that will have your kitchen smelling great!
Pico De Gallo Recipe
This classic Pico De Gallo recipe is healthy and full of flavor and nutrients, and it’s easy to make. It’s a great accompaniment to any meal, side or snack and always essential to keep on hand.
Total Time: 5–10 minutes
9 roma tomatoes, diced
3–4 green peppers, diced
2–3 limes, juiced (~3/4 cup)
1 onion, diced
1 large bunch of cilantro, chopped fine
1 tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons sea salt
1. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl.
2. Stir to combine juices.
Possible Side Effects
Cumin seeds are safe when consumed in regular food amounts; research also suggests that the seeds are safe when taken by mouth in medicinal amounts.
Cumin may slow blood clotting, so it should be avoided by people with bleeding disorders. Cumin might also lower blood sugar levels in some people. Watch for signs of low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, and monitor your blood sugar carefully if you have diabetes and use cumin. If you are having surgery, cumin might interfere with blood sugar control during and after the procedure. It’s best to stop using cumin at least two weeks before a scheduled surgery.