Cumin has been a part of the human diet for thousands of years. It’s grown in the Middle East, Mediterranean, India, and China. Today, most cumin sold in the United States originally comes from India.
People across the world use cumin as a seasoning in food and extract its oil for perfumes. It’s also a popular remedy in traditional medicine—and for good reason. Cumin packs a lot of health benefits into a few tiny seeds.
For generations, people have used cumin to treat conditions ranging from indigestion and diarrhea to headaches. People in India have used it to treat kidney and bladder stones, eye disease, and even leprosy.
Now, scientific research is finding evidence that backs up many of these traditional uses.
Research has shown that cumin may help kill some bacteria that can get into your body and make you sick. In the lab, cumin has been shown to limit the growth of microorganisms, including E. coli—a bacteria that can cause food poisoning. Its antibacterial properties might explain why people have traditionally used cumin as a preservative.
Cancer develops when cells in the body start to multiply out of control. Tumors are collections of these abnormal cells. In several animal studies, scientists have found that cumin seeds may prevent the growth of different kinds of tumors, including those caused by liver, stomach, and colon cancers. More studies are needed to determine if cumin can help prevent cancer in humans.
Several studies have shown that cumin may help people control their cholesterol levels. In one study, cumin powder dissolved in yogurt helped reduce “bad” (LDL) cholesterol and triglycerides while increasing “good” (HDL) cholesterol.
Cumin may help people living with diabetes manage its symptoms and effects. Traditionally used as an antidiabetic drug, one study found that eating cumin can help lower urea in the blood—an organic compound that may interfere with how your body responds to insulin. Animal studies have also shown that cumin may help keep blood sugar at healthy levels, but more research is necessary.
Research has shown that cumin can help with several types of digestive issues. In one study, cumin extract significantly relieved irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms like belly pain, bloating, and the urgent need to go to the bathroom.
Cumin has long been a popular folk remedy for diarrhea, and some initial studies have shown strong evidence to support this use.
Several early studies have revealed that cumin may help people lose weight as part of a healthy diet. In one study, people who took cumin powder reduced their weight, waist circumference, fat mass, and body mass index (BMI). Another study found that cumin supplements may be as effective at reducing weight and BMI as a commonly used weight loss drug.
Cumin contains compounds called flavonoids that work as antioxidants in the body. Antioxidants can help neutralize unstable particles called free radicals that cause cell damage. By neutralizing these particles, antioxidants can help prevent diseases like cancer, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
Cumin is also a good source of:
- Vitamin A
Nutrients per Serving
1 teaspoon of cumin contains:
Things to Watch Out For
Dried cumin seeds may be processed into ground cumin powder on machinery that has also processed common allergens, such as peanuts or tree nuts. If you have a peanut or tree nut allergy, be sure to check the label of any cumin you use to make sure it is free from allergens. If you are particularly sensitive to tree nuts or peanuts, you may consider purchasing whole cumin from a health food store then toasting and grinding the spice yourself.
How to Prepare Cumin
Cumin is a popular seasoning in many Indian and Latin American dishes. Some recipes call for use of the whole cumin seed while others use the powdered form.
Both cumin seed and powder have a rich, earthy, nutty flavor. If you’re using whole cumin seeds, try toasting them in a nonstick pan to bring out more of their unique flavor.
Here are just a few ways you can experiment with using cumin as a seasoning in your food:
- Add cumin to a spice rub for grilled chicken or fish.
- Mix cumin with yogurt, veggies, and other spices to make a traditional Indian raita.
- Toss cumin seeds with rice or couscous.
- Stir cumin into your favorite chili recipe.
- Sprinkle a little cumin onto a salad for an extra kick.