What is cumin

Cumin (Cuminum cyminum) is an annual, aromatic, herbaceous flowering plant in the family Apiaceae, native from the east Mediterranean to South Asia. Cumin seeds (each one contained within a fruit, which is dried) are used in the cuisines of many different cultures, in both whole and ground form. It also has many uses as a traditional medicinal plant.

Cumin is an important medicinal and spice crop cultivated in the arid and semi-arid regions of the world, where saline soil is widely distributed, unsuitable for agriculture 1). The cumin plant is good source of minerals like iron, copper, zinc and manganese and B-complex vitamins such as thiamine, niacin, riboflavin and antioxidant vitamins like A, E and C 2). Cumin and value added products of cumin seeds have gained importance in functional food with wide range of health benefits, dietary supplements, cosmetics and other nutraceutical applications.

Previous studies have also reveal that cumin seeds are excellent source of secondary metabolites, such as polyphenols with free radical scavenging properties and have wide applications in food industries 3). Major secondary metabolites isolated from cumin seed are 1-O-β-D-glucopyranoside 4), β-D-glucopyranoside 5) and cuminoside A and B 6).

Figure 1. Cumin seeds (Cuminum cyminum)


Black cumin

Black cumin (Bunium bulbocastanum)  is related to cumin and has a smoky, earthy taste. But black cumin is often confused with Nigella sativa (which is also blackseed and black caraway). Dried black cumin fruits are used as a culinary spice in northern India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Iran. It is practically unknown outside these areas. The tuber-like root is locally collected for food; the “pignut” or chestnut” names refer to it.

The small, rounded taproot is edible raw or cooked, and said to taste like sweet chestnuts. The leaf can be used as an herb or garnish similar to parsley.

The black cumin seeds are most valued as a garnish to high value, very special Indian dishes; they should not be ground as their flavor would be reduced.

Figure 2. Black cumin (Bunium bulbocastanum)

black cumin

What is cumin used for

Cumin is globally popular and essential for flavoring in many cuisines, particularly South Asian, Northern African and Latin American cuisines 7). Cumin seeds are used as a spice for their distinctive flavor and aroma. Cumin can be found in some cheeses, such as Leyden cheese, and in some traditional breads from France. Cumin can be an ingredient in chili powder (often Tex-Mex or Mexican-style), and is found in achiote blends, adobos, sofrito, garam masala, curry powder, and bahaarat. In South Asian cooking, it is often combined with coriander seeds in a powdered mixture called dhana jeera.

Cumin can be used ground or as whole seeds. It helps to add an earthy and warming feeling to food, making it a staple in certain stews and soups, as well as spiced gravies such as curry and chili. It is also used as an ingredient in some pickles and pastries.

Cumin Nutrition Facts

In a 100 gram amount, cumin seeds are nutritionally rich, providing high amounts of the Daily Value for fat (especially monounsaturated fat), protein and dietary fiber. Values for B vitamins, vitamin E, and several dietary minerals, especially iron, are also considerable when expressed in this 100 gram amount.

Cumin contains key nutrients such as iron and copper, which are needed for healthy red blood cells. Just one teaspoon of cumin seeds contains around 3mg of your daily iron intake (that’s 20% of daily iron intake for women and 34% for men).

Potassium, needed for controlling blood pressure and heart rate, can also be found in cumin along with zinc, which plays an important role in immune function.

Cumin also contains calcium, important for helping to build strong bones and teeth and regulating muscle contractions, as well as magnesium which aids the process of turning food into energy and is a natural relaxant.

Table 1. Cumin seeds

NutrientUnitValue per 100 g
Total lipid (fat)g22.27
Carbohydrate, by differenceg44.24
Fiber, total dietaryg10.5
Sugars, totalg2.25
Calcium, Camg931
Iron, Femg66.36
Magnesium, Mgmg366
Phosphorus, Pmg499
Potassium, Kmg1788
Sodium, Namg168
Zinc, Znmg4.8
Copper, Cumg0.867
Manganese, Mnmg3.333
Selenium, Seµg5.2
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acidmg7.7
Vitamin B-6mg0.435
Folate, totalµg10
Folic acidµg0
Folate, foodµg10
Folate, DFEµg10
Choline, totalmg24.7
Vitamin B-12µg0
Vitamin B-12, addedµg0
Vitamin A, RAEµg64
Carotene, betaµg762
Carotene, alphaµg0
Cryptoxanthin, betaµg0
Vitamin A, IUIU1270
Lutein + zeaxanthinµg448
Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)mg3.33
Vitamin E, addedmg0
Vitamin D (D2 + D3)µg0
Vitamin DIU0
Vitamin K (phylloquinone)µg5.4
Fatty acids, total saturatedg1.535
Fatty acids, total monounsaturatedg14.04
16:1 undifferentiatedg0.212
18:1 undifferentiatedg13.618
22:1 undifferentiatedg0
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturatedg3.279
18:2 undifferentiatedg3.103
18:3 undifferentiatedg0.176
20:4 undifferentiatedg0
20:5 n-3 (EPA)g0
22:5 n-3 (DPA)g0
22:6 n-3 (DHA)g0
Alcohol, ethylg0
[Source 8)]


Cumin health benefits

The plant is an active reservoir of numerous bioactive compounds with various therapeutic applications 9). A total of 45 differentially expressed metabolites were identified in cumin plants (see Table 2. below). Essential oil extracted by hydrodistillation from Tunisian cumin contain 21 active components and some of the major components are cuminlaldehyde (39.48%), gamma-terpinene (15.21%), O-cymene (11.82%), beta-pinene (11.13%), 2-caren-10-al (7.93%), trans-carveol (4.49%) and myrtenal (3.5%) 10). Moreover, cumin oil exhibited higher antibacterial and antifungal activities with a high effectiveness against Vibrio spp. strains. On the other hand, the cumin oil was investigated for its antioxidant activities and the results showed that cumin oil exhibit a higher activity in each antioxidant system with a special attention for beta-carotene bleaching test and reducing power 11). In the light of these findings, some scientists suggested that cumin essential oil may be considered as an interesting source of antibacterial, antifungal and antioxidants components used as potent agents in food preservation and for therapeutic or nutraceutical industries.

Cumin is also used in the treatment of fever, loss of appetite, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal distension, edema and puerperal disorders 12), 13). In traditional medicine of Tunisia, cumin is considered abortive, galactagogue (promotes or increases the flow of a mother’s milk), antiseptic, antihypertensive herb , while in Italy, it is used as bitter tonic, carminative (relieves flatulence) and purgative (laxative) 14). In indigenous Arabic medicines, cumin seeds are documented as stimulant, carminative, and attributed with cooling affect and therefore form an ingredient of most prescriptions for gonorrhea, chronic diarrhea and dyspepsia; externally, they are applied in the form of poultice to allay pain and irritation of worms in the abdomen 15). In Iranian traditional medicine, cumin is considered stimulant, carminative and astringent and its therapeutic effects have been described on gastrointestinal, gynecological and respiratory disorders, and also for the treatment of toothache, diarrhea and epilepsy 16). Cumin seeds reduced to powder, mixed with honey, salt and butter are applied to scorpion bites 17).

Cumin shoots own metabolites having various pharmacological activities, such as antimicrobial, anti-diabetic, antiepileptic anti-infertility, anticancer, antioxidant and immunomodulatory 18), 19). Cumin oil was found to attenuate seizures induced by maximal electroshock and pentylenetetrazol in mice 20). A methanolic extract of cumin seeds reduced the blood glucose and inhibited glycosylated hemoglobin, creatinine, blood urea nitrogen and improved serum insulin and glycogen (liver and skeletal muscle) content in alloxan and streptozotocin (STZ) diabetic rats 21). Eight-week sub-acute administration of cumin to STZ-diabetic rats reduced hyperglycemia and glucosuria accompanied by an improvement in body weight, blood urea and reduced excretion of urea and creatinine 22). Oral administration of cumin also showed hypoglycemic effect in normal rabbit, resulting in significant decrease in the area under the glucose tolerance curve 23). Metabolites with bioactivity such as anticancerous (docetaxel) and antimicrobial (megalomicin) were also identified along with intermediate metabolites involved in different pathways. Gagandeep et al. 24) demonstrated that cumin has an anticancer effect and inhibits the induction of gastric squamous cell carcinomas in mice.

Numerous investigations have revealed a potential antimicrobial activity of cumin products (oils as well as their aqueous and solvent derived extracts). This antibacterial action was assessed against a range of useful and pathogenic gram-positive and gram-negative bacterial strains 25), 26). Cumin seed oil and alcoholic extract inhibited the growth of Klebsiella pneumoniae and its clinical isolates and caused improvement in cell morphology, capsule expression and decreased urease activity. This property was attributed to cuminaldehyde 27). Biofilm-formation preventive properties were found against Streptococcus mutans and Streptococcus pyogenes 28).

Cumin seeds are reported to be estrogenic 29). The presence of phytoestrogens in cumin has been shown and also related to its anti-osteoporotic effects. In the animals receiving a methanolic extract of cumin, a significant reduction in urinary calcium excretion and augmentation of calcium content and mechanical strength of bones was found. Animals showed greater bone and ash densities and improved microarchitecture, with no adverse effects like body weight gain and weight of atrophic uterus 30).

Oral administration of cumin to alloxan diabetic rats reduced body weight, plasma and tissue cholesterol, phospholipids, free fatty acids and triglycerides. Histological observations demonstrated significant decrease in fatty changes and inflammatory cell infiltrates in diabetic rat pancreas 31). Cumin suppressed alcohol and thermally oxidized oil induced hyperlipidemia. It decreased aspartate transaminase (AST), alkaline phosphatase (ALP) and γ-glutamyl transferase (GGT) activities and decreased the tissue (liver and kidney) levels of cholesterol, triglycerides and phospholipids and prevented the changes in the composition of fatty acids in the plasma of rats administered with alcohol and/or thermally oxidized oil. The activity of phospholipase A and C decreased significantly 32). Hypocholesterolemic effect of methanolic extract of cumin is also documented in ovariectomized rat in relation to its anti-osteoporotic effect 33). Cumin added to a hypercholesterolemic diet decreased serum and liver cholesterol in rats 34).

In a recent study, oral treatment with cumin showed immunomodulatory properties in normal and immune-suppressed animals via modulation of T lymphocytes′ expression in a dose-dependent manner. It stimulated the T cells′ (CD4 and CD8) and Th1 cytokines′ expression in normal and cyclosporine-A induced immune-suppressed mice. In restraint stress-induced immune-suppressed animals, the active compound of cumin countered the depleted T lymphocytes, decreased the elevated corticosterone levels and size of adrenal glands and increased the weight of thymus and spleen 35).

Table 2. Probable metabolites and their possible application/ role identified in cumin 

Probable Metabolites0 mM50 mM100 mMPossible Properties/ Function/ Applications
MethylhexacosanePlant origin nutritive acyclic alkanes (acyclic hydrocarbons)
DimethylpentacosaneA sex pheromone component
Small peptides [Asn + Asn + Gly + Asn]ndndSmall peptide
Sulfoacetyl-CoAndndEnzyme involeved in NADP redox reaction
CDP-DG(16:0/18:0) or CDP-DG(18:0/16:0)ndndInvolved in amino sugar and nucleotide sugar metabolism
Salvianolic acid LndndA phenolic compound with antioxidant activities
LuteolinndndA flavone (a type of flavonoid) compound
SyringetinndndAn O-methylated flavonol (a type of flavonoid)
PetunidinndndAn O-methylated anthocyanidin (a natural organic compound)
IsorhamnetinndndAn O-methylated flavonol (a type of flavonoid)
SexangularetinndndA plant origin flavonoid
Glycan:Galb1-3[Neu5Aca2,6]GalNAca-ThrndndA glycan
Jionoside B1ndndAntioxidant
Precorrin 1ndndAn intermediate of vitamin B12 biosynthesis
Docetaxel M2ndndAn anticancerous compound
Megalomicin C2ndndA macrolides and lactone polyketides with antiparasitic, antiviral and antibacterial properties
Sphingolipids [SP]: cer(d18:1/24:1(15Z))ndndSphingolipids
Phosphatidylinositol phosphatendInvolved in biosynthesis of secondary metabolites
2-Hydroxy-6-ketononatrienedioatendAn intermediate of phenylalanine metabolism
3-(2-Carboxyethenyl)-cis,cis-muconatendA plant origin flavonoids (flavan-3-ol)
KaempferolndA natural flavonol (flavonoid)
QuercetinndA natural flavonol (flavonoid)
PeonidinndAn O-methylated anthocyanidin (a primary plant pigment)
CarthaminndndA natural plant pigment used as a food additive (dye and a food coloring agent)
SalvianinndndA polyacylated anthocyanin
CyanidinndndA natural organic compound (a type of anthocyanidin)
2-Hydroxy-3-chloropenta-2,4-dienoatendndAn intermediate in fatty acid metabolism
Prenol Lipids [PR]: Epoxy isoprenoidndndA plant origin isoprene (branched-chain unsaturated hydrocarbon)
7-PentacosanonendndAliphatic Acyclic Compounds
Glycerophospholipids: PA(O-16:0/15:1(9Z))ndndLipid
Glycerophospholipids: PG(12:0/13:0)ndndPolar Lipid
LinoleamidendndAn unsaturated analog of endogenous sleep-inducing lipid
CoixenolidendndFA (fatty acid)
5,9-tetracosadienoic acidndndFA (fatty acid)
3-EpidemissidinendndA plant origin alkaloid
YGM 5BndndFlavonoid
N1-(5-Phospho-D-ribosyl)-ATPndndInvolve in amino acid (histidine) metabolism
Sphingolipids [SP]: Cer(d18:1/26:1(17Z))ndndLipid
Nonanoyl-CoAndndA medium-chain fatty acyl-CoA involve in fatty acid metabolism
Octanoyl-CoAndndInvolve in FA degradation (beta oxidation) in peroxisomes
2,6-Dihydroxycyclohexane-1-carboxyl-CoAndndEnzyme involve in FA metabolism
6-Carboxyhexanoyl-CoA (Pimeloyl-CoA)ndndEnzyme involve in FA metabolism
Tetradecanoyl-CoAndndEnzyme involve in FA metabolism
SpinacetinndndAn O-methylated flavonol
MesembryanthinndndFlavonoid O-Glycosides

nd: not detected and √: present (detected)

[Source 36)]

Thus cumin seeds are of considerable importance because of its nutritional values and other health benefits. Dried cumin seeds contain volatile oil (5%), fat (22%), protein (10%), fibre (11%) and free amino acids 37). A diverse array of compounds have been revealed in essential oils, oleoresins and seeds of cumin; the major compounds occurring in cumin are cuminaldehyde, limonene, α- and β-pinene, 1,8-cineole, o- and p-cymene, α- and γ-terpinene, safranal and linalool. The characteristic aroma of volatile oil, obtained from dried cumin seeds are attributed to the presence of 3p-menthen-7al, β–pinene, p-cymene, γ-terpinene, p-mentha-1, 3-dien-7-al, p-mentha-1 and cuminaldehyde in combination with other related aldehydes 38). Cuminaldehyde, cymene and terpenoids are the major volatile components of cumin. Cuminaldehyde has also antimicrobial and antifungal properties, which could be shown with Escherichia coli and Penicillium chrysogenum 39). The anti-carcinogenic activity has also been studied and cumin seeds are found potent inhibitor of both squamous cell carcomas and hepatomas 40). In herbal medicine, cumin oil is known to possess several pharmacological activities, such as antimicrobial, anti-diabetic, antiepileptic, anti-infertility, anticancerous and immunomodulative effects due to presence of active chemical constituents. Aqueous or solvent extract of cumin is known to inhibit growth of many pathogenic micro-organisms 41), 42).

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