Spice Spotlight: Cumin (Jeera)

I use a lot of spices here on My Fancy Pantry, so I reckon it’s about time I talk a little about them.  I decided to feature different spices in a new series called “Spice Spotlight.”  I hope you enjoy!

Today, I want to introduce you to cumin!

You see those tiny little seeds?  They don’t really look all that special; In fact, they look a lot like caraway seeds.

But trust me.  These little cumin seeds (known as Jeera in India) are quite extraordinary!

Flavor and Benefits:

The flavor that cumin seeds add to a dish is so unique, I’d even go so far as to say that it’s irreplaceable!

Cumin has a slightly nutty flavor with a mild citrus undertone.  It can also be described as somewhat “spicy” or “peppery,” which makes it fantastic for adding to curries, fajitas, soups and stews.  Cumin’s peppery taste is due to a certain chemical it contains which is similar to capsaicin–the active component in chili peppers.

Interesting.  I guess that explains why my mom thinks everything I make is spicy–even when I add no chili.   I thought it was all in her head…

Although cumin is primarily used as a flavor enhancer, it also has some added health benefits.  Cumin is an excellent source of iron, offers relief from acidity, and is even thought to aid in digestion.


Cumin is used both as whole seeds and as a ground powder.

Sometimes a recipe might even call for cumin seeds to be added first, and cumin powder to be added later; so I always have both forms on hand.

It is a popular ingredient in Indian, Mexican, Latin-American and Middle Eastern cuisine, and is often used to flavor meat or bean dishes (I’m guessing this has something to do with it’s digestive properties?!…).

To get the most flavor out of your cumin seeds, I always recommend giving them a quick toast in a dry skillet; or letting them cook in oil before the dish is finished.  Not only will this help prevent tummy-aches, but both the aroma and the flavor will also be drawn out of the spice–making your food taste better!

How to toast cumin seeds:

  • Place the raw seeds in an ungreased skillet (I prefer cast iron).  Turn the flame to medium-high and heat until the seeds become fragrant and start to change their color.
  • Keep moving the seeds around, so they toast evenly.
  • Remove from heat at this point, and use in your recipe (or store in a jar).

Purchasing and Storing:

I purchase my cumin seeds whole from a local Indian market.  They’re sold in different sized bags and they’re quite inexpensive.  

If there isn’t an Indian market or other ethnic market nearby, purchase them online or at a c0-op.  You’ll get a much better deal (and probably fresher spices) than buying from your local supermarket.  

Once I get the seeds home, I put some of the whole cumin seeds into a glass mason jar and store them in the cupboard, as is.  They can last a long time there–indefinitely, maybe?

I also take about 1/2 cup of the seeds and toast them in a dry pan (see directions above).  Once they’re warm, lightly browned and incredibly fragrant, I place them in a coffee grinder–which is never used for coffee–and grind them to a fine powder.

Once the seeds are ground, I put the powder into a glass mason jar and it joins my other spices in the cupboard.

Freshly ground cumin will retain it’s flavor for at least 6 months–but if you’re anything like me, it’ll never last that long!

I hope you all learned a little something about this fabulous spice!  I’m definitely not an expert, so if you notice I got anything wrong, please let me know.

I’d also love to hear how you use cumin in your home?  What is your favorite dish using this spice?  


3 thoughts on “Spice Spotlight: Cumin (Jeera)

  1. Pingback: Indian Spiced Hummus « My Fancy Pantry

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