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Cook with Cumin Seeds to Help Digestion & Immune System

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Cumin seeds - Dr. Axe

You are probably familiar with the earthy, nutty and spicy flavor of cumin seeds or ground cumin. After all, humans have been using cumin in culinary dishes since ancient times — but did you know that cumin seeds have also been used for a variety of medicinal purposes, from digestive issues to respiratory conditions?

In Sanskrit, cumin is known as Jira, meaning “that which helps digestion,” and it is one of the most mentioned herbs in the Bible. It’s also believed that cumin is beneficial for:

  • heart disease
  • hemorrhoids
  • inflammation
  • insomnia
  • vomiting
  • weakened immune system
  • viral infections

So next time you’re throwing together a hearty soup or pot of chili, be sure to take out your jar of cumin so you can take advantage of these amazing benefits.

What Are Cumin Seeds?

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 to the East Mediterranean all the way 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, including Indian cuisine. The herb also has many uses as a traditional medicinal plant — particularly because of its ability to help fight 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 taste 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.

Since ancient times, cumin seeds have been used for the treatment of various conditions in healing systems across the world. In Ayurvedic medicine, cumin seeds are valued for their carminative (relieving gassiness), antispasmodic and astringent properties.

Cumin is used to help alleviate mild digestive conditions, gassiness, diarrhea, colic, morning sickness and bloating. Cumin seeds are also known to improve liver function and promote the assimilation of other herbs.

In Iranian traditional medicine, cumin is considered a stimulant that helps relieve gastrointestinal and respiratory disorders. It’s also used to treat toothaches and epilepsy.

In Arabic medicine, cumin seeds are valued for their cooling effect. The seeds are reduced to powder and mixed with honey, salt and butter to soothe scorpion bites too.

Research indicates that in traditional medicine of Italy, Great Britain and the U.S., cumin seeds are used medicinally to soothe digestive issues, reduce inflammation and even improve skin conditions like eczema.

Cumin Seed Benefits

1. Aids Digestion

Thymol, a compound in cumin, is known to stimulate the glands that secrete acids, bile and enzymes.

Animal studies have shown that spices like cumin produce significant stimulation of the activities of pancreatic lipase, proteases and amylase. Studies prove that these enzymes are responsible for the proper digestion of food in the stomach and intestines.

Because cumin seeds are high-fiber foods, they work to stimulate the digestive system and fight constipation. Research also suggests that cumin seeds can help to improve IBS symptoms.

When patients with irritable bowel syndrome were given 20 drop of cumin essential oil every day, they experienced an improvement of symptoms, including abdominal pain, nausea, painful defection, changes in stool consistency and presence of mucus in stool. Patients received 10 drops of cumin essential oil in the morning and 10 at night in a glass of warm water, 15 minutes after a meal.

Cumin seeds also help with digestion by preventing the formation of gas in the gastrointestinal tract. Research shows that they have carminative properties that combat flatulence, which can lead to stomach aches and abdominal pain or pressure.

2. Boosts Immune System

Cumin has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties.

A review published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences found that cumin and other spices — including clove, oregano, thyme and cinnamon — possess significant antibacterial and antifungal activities. That’s why cumin seeds can be used to prevent food spoilage caused by pathogens and harmful fungi.

Cumin can also increase your vitamin C intake. The presence of vitamin C in the culinary ingredient 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 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 wellness.

3. Helps Manage Respiratory Disorders

Cumin seeds act as an expectorant and anti-congestive agent. They aid in the clearance of mucus from the airways, lungs, bronchi and trachea.

Cumin also works as a stimulant and disinfectant, so once the mucus is cleared from the airways, cumin seeds can help reduce inflammation and assist in alleviating the initial condition that caused congestion.

Cumin also works as a relaxant, and animal studies indicate that it may be useful for relieving asthma symptoms. Asthma, for example, is a respiratory illness that causes bronchial muscle spasms, swelling of the 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

Cumin seeds are rich in powerful antioxidants that work to reverse signs of aging and damage to the skin. Cumin’s antifungal and antibacterial properties can also help improve skin infections.

Cumin also contains small amounts of vitamin E along with vitamin C. These two vitamins help fight skin inflammation after exposure to UV radiation and can also be useful in naturally relieving signs of eczema and acne.

Cumin oil can also be used to help speed up cell regeneration and reduce the appearance of scars, acne and wrinkles.

5. May Relieve Insomnia

Many adults experience insomnia at some point, but others have long-term (chronic) insomnia. Primary causes of insomnia can include stress, indigestion, pain, medical conditions and more.

Fortunately, proper intake of vitamins, particularly B-complex vitamins, and maintaining good digestion have proved to be ways to help alleviate 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 help manage cognitive disorders.

Cumin seeds - Dr. Axe

6. May Help Prevent Diabetes

Cumin seeds are able to help prevent diabetes by reducing the chances of hypoglycemia, aka low blood sugar. Hypoglycemia may result in a number of symptoms, including:

  • sweating
  • shakiness
  • weakness
  • clumsiness
  • trouble talking
  • confusion
  • loss of consciousness
  • 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.

A 2017 study found that administering cumin supplements to patients with type 2 diabetes decreased serum levels of insulin, fasting blood sugar and glycosylated hemoglobin. Patients receiving 100-milligram and 50-milligram cumin capsules a day experienced beneficial effects.

A 2019 study also shows that Cuminum cyminum works as a promising anti-diabetic agent and may be able to mitigate symptoms of diabetes mellitus.

7. Has Antiviral and Antibacterial Properties

Cumin seeds help fight viral infections and illnesses, such as helping prevent the common cold or flu, by acting as a disinfectant and antiviral agent. Cumin has 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. A few particularly nasty strains, however, 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 against the bacteria.

A 2015 lab study found that a combination of cumin essential oil and nisin significantly decreased the growth of Salmonella typhimurium and Staphylococcus aureus, which are food-borne pathogens.

A 2020 study indicates that not only do Cuminum Cyminum seeds exhibit high antioxidant activity, but they also have interesting antibacterial activity, giving the seeds multipurpose value in foods.

8. High Source of Iron

Research indicates that 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 are not 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 does 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 is a nutritious additive for people with anemia. Anemia is related to a problem with the hemoglobin cells that carry 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, they help improve anemia symptoms like fatigue, anxiety, cognitive malfunction and digestive issues.

9. Good Source of Bone-Strengthening Calcium

Cumin contains calcium, iron and manganese — three minerals that are important for bone strength. Research shows that chronic iron deficiency induces bone resorption and risk of osteoporosis.

Iron, in combination with calcium, manganese and zinc, can help reduce bone loss. Manganese helps with the formation of enzymes that are involved in bone metabolism.

One major cause of osteoporosis is a nutritional deficiency, so consuming nutrient-rich cumin seeds and other foods high in bone-strengthening minerals — like oats, chickpeas, liver, grass-fed beef, kefir, yogurt, almonds and raw broccoli — is part of a natural osteoporosis treatment plan that helps increase bone mass.

10. May Improve Cholesterol

A number of studies indicate that taking cumin extract may be helpful for improving cholesterol levels. One study published in the International Journal of Health Sciences found that when three to five drops of cumin extract were added to a patient’s diet three times per day for about 45 days, it resulted in a significant decrease in LDL levels.

Another 2014 study suggests that adding three grams per day of cumin powder to yogurt at two meals for three months led to reduced levels of fasting cholesterol, triglycerides and LDL cholesterol. Plus, it caused HDL cholesterol to increase and slightly reduced weight, body mass index, fat mass and waist circumference.

11. Aids Weight Loss

A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial published in 2016 concludes that taking cumin and lime capsules helps improve metabolic profiles in people who are overweight. Researchers found those taking high doses of cumin (75 milligrams), plus lime, experienced significant weight loss after eight weeks.

Plus, this regime had beneficial effects on BMI, triglycerides, total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels.

Nutrition Facts

Cuminaldehyde, cymene and terpenoids are the major volatile components of cumin. The seeds are an excellent source of dietary fiber, essential minerals, such as iron, calcium and antioxidant vitamins.

One tablespoon (approximately six grams) of whole cumin seeds contains about:

  • 22.5 calories
  • 2.7 grams carbohydrates
  • 1.1 grams protein
  • 1.3 grams fat
  • 0.6 grams fiber
  • 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)
  • 76 IUs vitamin A (2 percent DV)

Risks and Side Effects

Cumin is safe when consumed in regular food amounts. Research also suggests that the seeds are safe when taken by mouth in medicinal amounts, but be sure to consult with your doctor before using cumin extract or supplements for medicinal purposes.

Cumin may slow blood clotting, so it should be avoided by people with bleeding disorders. It 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 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.

Cumin Seeds vs. Cumin Powder

You can buy cumin in seed form or already ground into cumin powder. When you cook with cumin seeds, it’s common to let them sit in heated broths so the oils begin to disperse the seeds’ flavor and fragrance.

You can also add cumin seeds to oils, sauces and marinades, where they can sit for a longer period of time and add to the taste of the food before using it to cook. Toasting cumin seeds before you use them intensifies their flavor, giving you optimal results.

If you are looking to add that warm, spicy and earthy cumin taste to a dish immediately, you’ll typically opt for powder instead of the seeds. The powder is commonly used on rubs to season meat or added to vegetable dishes to boost the flavor profile. You can also add to soups, stews and sauces.

If you have a mortar and pestle at home, you can ground cumin seeds into powder yourself.

How about cumin seeds vs. other seeds? Here’s how they stack up:

Cumin Seeds

  • Cumin is an herb that’s a member of the parsley family. The seeds have a warm, earthy and slightly bitter taste.
  • Cumin seeds are a great source of fiber, iron, manganese and calcium. They are valued for their ability to aid digestion, boost the immune system and relieve respiratory conditions.
  • Both whole and ground cumin seeds are used in a number of culinary dishes from across the globe. Perhaps some of the most well-known meals to incorporate cumin seeds include chili dishes, soups and stews.

Fennel

  • Fennel is a root vegetable that has a licorice-like flavor. It’s high in fiber, potassium and vitamin C.
  • Fennel benefits include its ability to aid digestion, lower blood pressure, improve infant colic and ease menopausal symptoms.
  • Typically, fennel is sliced and either eaten raw or added to stir-fries and a variety of other dishes. You can also eat fennel leaves, use fennel seeds as a spice and use fennel essential oil.

Caraway Seeds

  • Caraway seeds are often confused with cumin seeds, but they are darker in color and taste more bitter. The flavor of caraway is often described as slightly minty and similar to anise.
  • Like cumin seeds and fennel, caraway seeds are used to support digestive health. They stimulate gastric juices that are involved in the digestion of foods. Caraway seeds are also used to relieve gassiness and bloating.
  • There are many ways to use caraway seeds. They are often added to breads as whole seeds or ground. The seeds are also used to make tea.

Coriander Seeds

  • Coriander is an herb that’s also known as cilantro or Chinese parsley. We usually call the herb cilantro and the dried seeds coriander, even though they come from the same plant.
  • Coriander seeds are known to help ease digestive issues, like stomach pain, gassiness and even IBS symptoms. Like cumin seeds, coriander seeds are also valued for their ability to help improve cholesterol levels and fight food poisoning.
  • You can find dried coriander seeds either whole or ground. This spice goes well with a variety of dishes, from fish, lamb and turkey to stuffings, lentil soup and even salad dressings.

Related: Cashews Nutrition: Helps Prevent Cancer, Diabetes & More

How to Use

You can buy cumin seeds from grocery stores or online. Go for 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 — you will notice a difference. Whole cumin seeds are completely edible and safe to eat.

When storing cumin, keep it in a tightly sealed glass container. Just like the rest of your spices, store 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, and 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.

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 recipes, hummus, stews, and fish dishes.

The taste isn’t overpowering, and it adds a feeling of warmth and depth to foods.

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.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • 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 these 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.
  • Cumin is a great addition to soup, and here is a perfect example. This black bean soup recipe is loaded with fiber. Add as much cumin as you want — it will only enhance the taste.
  • Cumin creates the perfect warming and grounding taste. It’s great for a chili night or a slow cooker meal. Try this Paleo chili recipe — it calls for a bunch of flavorful and aromatic spices that will have your kitchen smelling great!

Final Thoughts

  • Humans across the globe have been using whole and ground cumin seeds for culinary and medicinal purposes since ancient times, and today you’ll find it as an ingredient in Indian cuisine and a range of other recipes.
  • These earthy, spicy and slightly bitter seeds are rich in fiber, iron, manganese, calcium and magnesium. They also contain small amounts of B vitamins.
  • Cumin is well-known for its ability to aid digestion, relieve gassiness, inhibit the growth of bacteria and fungi, improve insomnia, and ease congestion.
  • Use the seeds to add depth to broth or oil, or ground cumin seeds and add the powder to your favorite soup, stew, chili or meat recipes.
Josh Axe

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